I heard the following conversation between two young colleagues on the elevator as I was coming up to write this article.
Person # 1: How are things?
Person # 2: It’s Wednesday. How are things in your department?
Person # 1: It is what it is.
It wasn’t very inspiring, to say the least. There was an air of tedium and detachment that should make any executive cringe. Any executive, that is, who recognizes the value in connecting to their young talent.
Young employees aren’t motivated by the external incentives that drove previous generations. They are motivated by a call to adventure, where incentives are built into the purpose of their mission. Aligning personal and professional purpose for young employees is the primary challenge for today’s leaders.
I’m reminded of the difference between Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Where the elder Bilbo is the reluctant hero dragged from his comfortable life, the younger Frodo sets out willingly (albeit under strain and pending doom) to fulfill his destiny.
It’s clear from the exchange above that the younger generation is currently losing the battle for Middle-earth.
The inter-generational fault lines that affect the workplace are deeper and more complicated than many of the solutions to correct them.
Let me explain quickly what I mean by inter-generational fault lines.
There are three dominant generations active in the contemporary workplace, and broadly speaking each has a different approach to work: Baby Boomers live to work, while Gen X’ers work to live and Millennials see their work and life as undivided and so are drawn to a livelihood that aligns to what they see as their purpose in life.
Most office environments are disconnected from what motivates Millennials. Interactions tend to be stilted and cautious with people hiding behind a veneer of professionalism. This type of office culture is strongly Gen X influenced, strictly dividing personal from professional.
There’s a popular movement afoot to improve the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) quotient in many workplace environments. This is an important step to integrate Millenials into the workplace. EQ distinguishes four categories of emotional maturity: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management. Each has a subset of emotional competencies that determine maturity in any of these areas.
Introduced properly, this trend can help capture and unleash the passion that Millennials have to offer. A skeptic might point out that the office is not an appropriate arena to express emotions, but such a skeptic, besides being decidedly not a Millennial, is emphasizing the Emotion and overlooking the Intelligence portion of EQ.
Any decent psychologist will agree that emotions like fear, anger, joy and love hold important intelligence. Most work environments now are cold, calculating and cerebral, comfortable for Boomers who are emotionally repressed and Gen X’ers who are emotionally divided but for Millennials this is Mordor, the destitute land ruled by the evil lord Sauron.
If Millennials can’t be expressive they will become disengaged. The challenge for managers is to learn how to find appropriate outlets for this emotional intelligence to cultivate and grow. Be willing to ask personal questions and share from your own personal life. Give constructive feedback that is specifically relevant to an EQ competency you are trying to help your young staff develop. And most importantly find out how they see their work aligning to their sense of purpose in the world.
It won’t be easy for many Boomer’s and Gen X’ers. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable much like Bilbo felt when he was forced out into his unwelcome adventure. But stick with it. Middle-earth will be won by organizations that can harness the EQ dormant in their organizations and inspire a call to adventure in their young talent.