Change Facililtation April 03, 2019

Emotional intelligence in a multigenerational workplace

- Door Ioannis Lagoudakis, Training Consultant

“What should I buy as a welcome gift for my new colleague?” I asked. My friend stopped sipping his drink and looked slightly annoyed. “God, I wish I had your problems!” “Well, I realise it doesn’t sound important to you, but I’d really like her to feel welcomed and motivated to do her best.” My friend still didn’t seem convinced, but at least he tried to be helpful: “Ok. How old did you say she is? Has she seen a floppy disc in her life?”

Motivating people has always been a challenge for organisations. Fortunately, the times when a Don Draper type of manager would ask his secretary to buy presents for his kids while he took a nap have passed. Today, understanding and managing employees’ needs and emotional states, otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence, is a predictor for successful performance. Nevertheless, how can a manager do that when he has to deal with so many generational differences in the workplace?

The notion of emotional intelligence has been popularised by academia due to its positive impact on employee performance and is sometimes examined in parallel to social intelligence. Individuals that are emotionally intelligent demonstrate better skills in people-oriented functions such as recruiting, sales, management and customer service. A socially intelligent workforce is able to work harmoniously as a strong collective team. Moreover, it develops relationships and business networks that will promote the interests of the organisation in the long term. Therefore, many organisations strive to educate and help their managers and employees to incorporate elements of emotional intelligence into their everyday communication, such as giving praise for their colleagues’ achievements, showing empathy, listening and asking questions when it comes to resolving a dispute.

In most workplaces today, we have four generations working side by side. These include the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965 until the early ‘80s), Millennials (early 1980s up to 2000), and Generation Z. Different preferences regarding the use of technology at work, work-life balance, flat or more hierarchical corporate culture, risk-taking, and career advancements make it all more difficult for managers to figure out how to respond to diverse needs.

But how different is “different”? Recent studies show that different generations in the workplace have much more in common than early literature shows. For example, according to the Four Drive Model, we all have a drive to acquire resources and rewards (money etc.), a drive to bond with others, a drive to learn, and a drive to defend and protect ourselves. Therefore, managers can increase employee motivation by satisfying fundamental emotional drives or basic needs, such as security, recognition, and belonging. So for instance, telling someone how much you appreciate what he did or reaching out to offer help when you see someone struggling doesn’t have to be generation-specific. It’s simply human-specific.

“So, what did you finally get her?” my friend asked over the phone the next day. “Actually, she got me something first.” I smiled and looked at the box of chocolates on my office desk. Despite the age difference, my new colleague and I proved to have more in common than I expected!

Harvard Business Review: The four drives underlying our Human Nature

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