The entry of millennials into the workforce was seen as some sort of catastrophe to hit offices around the world. Millennials were labelled ‘the entitled and molly-coddled generation’. There was a lot of hype about their perceived incompatibility with others. But with the GenZ hurricane in waiting now, workplaces need to gear up before the frenzy hampers workplace relations and growth.
Generational traits are a good form of demographic storytelling to delve into the common characteristics that a section of the population may exhibit due to their reactions to shared exposure to events and happenings in a given period of time. There are presently five active generations logging into work every day: Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. And thanks to social media (and to the horror of most organisations), they are all aware of their differences now more than ever!
Generational isolation bugs many of us in the present workforce. Millennials may feel a disconnect in their strategy-building and modus operandi vis-à-vis baby boomers or GenXers. If we are unable to speak the language of generations it may rob us of opportunities, networking connects and instill a gap where our words don’t find support and our work doesn’t influence stakeholders. Enter Generational Intelligence (GQ).
Top generation expert Amy Lynch defines generational intelligence as “…raising your awareness of cross-generational interactions.” She goes on to say that growing this awareness can help develop “the awareness and social savvy it takes to lead, influence and work with people who are not like you.”
Practicing Generational Intelligence
One of the best ways to practice GQ is to set practices that allow for cross-generational perspectives to flow. Setting context is crucial for any discussion that is based on the foundation element of generation-gap.
We spend an obnoxious amount of time catching up on stereotypes or memes associated with a generational subset. Yet we do not actually engage in addressing the issues or misunderstandings between generations and micro-generations. The Boomer vs Millennial differences get hyped up, when actually these two also possess commonalities like their sense of loyalty and willingness to put in dedicated hard work.
So, is the perception of each band of generations being radically different from each other actually designing a self-fulfilling prophecy, where we start to feel left out from the preceding and succeeding generations?
The worst impact of the generational gap is how certain skill sets and strengths are divided and deployed at the organisational level. If anything, the recent years have seen greypreneurs, i.e. Boomers or Traditionalists who embarked on their entrepreneurial journey and made their mark in the gig economy by using social media/tech platforms with great panache. We have grandmas who have become Tik Tok and Youtube sensations and are completely at ease on the digital platforms. Mastanamma, one of the oldest Youtubers at the age of 105, shot to fame with her videos which showcased local and unusual dishes made from scratch.
However far apart we may be in terms of our life choices and financial decisions, at work people tend to mostly desire similar things: flexibility, team support, growth and appreciation (and probably fun work retreats!). It is not the differences among generations, but the fragmented work culture towards them that raises obstacles in work efficiency and team morale. So how do we go about implementing GQ?
- Running after generational traits is always going to be exhausting. Workplaces would always be chasing behind one study after another. What can be done instead is to just know your employees better. Conversational channels (both intra and inter-teams) should be established to filter out tangible differences in skills which should be addressed irrespective of generational tensions like tech adoption and collaborative attitudes in team efforts. In many situations, issues masquerading as generational gap can be attributed to skill gap, which can be rectified by offering in-house courses/workshops.
- At a high-GQ workplace, leaders reflect on their own set of values, preferred leadership and communication styles and adapt when relating to people from different generations. None of us work with generations; we work and interact with people. What works with Millennial A may not appeal to Millennial B and GQ tells us to not bucket them together. For example, millennials may not see management emails as diktats, rather they may see them as an invitation for an open conversation. Their honest responses in these cases should not be taken as disrespect, but as a sign to engage in decision-making. Management needs to put emphasis on active reworking and evolution of cultural and leadership values, as democratically as possible.
- If discussions at the workplace have touched upon generational differences, it is imperative they also mention similarities and work out collaborative networks for teams. Perhaps include OK Boomer memes at Fun Fridays? Actively addressing these differences is key.
- Always expect unexpected reactions and dilemmas when introducing change. The introduction of digitalisation would have resulted in a diverse array of reactions in Boomers in contrast to GenXers. It is crucial for the management to step in, contextualise these reactions and normalise each of them, so as to not make anyone feel that their adaptation journey is easier or difficult than others.
Generational traits should make the organisation’s job easier, not worse. If it’s getting chaotic, maybe it’s time to set your GQ compass straight.