Generativity: Unlocking the Hidden Wisdom in Today’s Multigenerational Work Environment

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For the first time in history, Canada is home to more people over the age of 65 than those 15 and under. As a result, organizations need to prepare for the loss of knowledge, skills and business relationships that boomers will leave behind when they leave the workforce.  To adjust, businesses will need to practise authentic, non-judgemental communication among the five generational cohorts working in today’s work environment. Developing interpersonal skills like trust and humility are critical to fostering collaboration, problem-solving, and conflict resolution capabilities in an organization.

One of today’s most unpredictable forces of change in the workplace is the shifting age and youth bubbles. This article is a primer on what you need to know about these generational shifts and where you want to invest your personal and professional development resources over the next three to five years. 

Finance professionals are tasked with getting results but also need to build and foster lasting relationships. To influence others in today’s virtual, multigenerational environment leaders must establish a “trusted advisor” relationship. Trusted advisors demonstrate practical wisdom by listening to their multigenerational stakeholders’ values and needs without judgement. Easier said than done.  

A Lesson in Empathy 

My daughter’s daycare is a good example of empathy in action. Seeing the world from different perspectives. Every day, the five children she cares for—all under the age of two—look forward to helping my 85-year-old mother-in-law, Barb, out of bed. The event is the highlight of their day. Together, they say “up” with great energy, passion, and enthusiasm. They are thrilled to fetch her walker and slippers and prepare Barb to face another day of vascular dementia. 

The children don’t see Barb as an older person, but a person who needs help and kindness. People start their lives generationally intelligent. In this case, the kids have not yet been influenced by social norms, outdated mindsets and conditioned apathy. Unfortunately, without positive intervention, this intelligence will be short-lived. 

One way to safeguard this intelligence is to give empathy a voice in every conversation, be it personal or professional. Empathy allows us the opportunity to try to understand how another person, or colleague might feel so we can appreciate them without judgement or biases. This happens naturally at my daughter’s daycare. Empathy from children is instinctive.

How Generativity Fits In

While being mindful of the need for empathy, a practical approach in the workplace is to embrace a generativity mindset. The dictionary definition of generativity is “a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation.” However, a more useful goal in the workplace is to promote generativity as a willingness to engage in behaviour that enhances the well-being of all generations. 

The five generational cohorts are profiled below, followed by ways to leverage the inherent and diverse perspectives within each group. 

The challenge is that each generation’s perspective is a product of their life experience and shapes their value system and preferred way to work. Every generation believes its value system is the “gold standard” and rails against the values of others. (See footnotes below.) This is why generativity is a prerequisite for developing intergenerational communication skills as an individual or within a team.

Quick Reference Guide to the Five Generational Cohorts 

Silent Generation (born 1928–1945)
They are known for their loyalty to their jobs, family, friends and country. Raised during the Great Depression, they protect their resources, understand how to save money and still manage much of the economy’s current wealth. These philanthropists honour their commitments but are risk-averse and consider patriotism an expected corporate value.

Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964)
Born into a booming post-Depression economy, baby boomers are idealistic. Early-career challenges included competition for promotion and pressure to create the next big idea. Their strong work ethic propelled them to climb the corporate ladder. They appreciate being included in business decisions and given time to perform due diligence before taking action. Retiring at a fast pace, they leave a hole in the industries they built and dominated. 

Generation X (born 1965–1980)
Known as the “lost generation,” many were raised in single-parent homes or homes where both parents worked. This made many GenXers resourceful and highly creative. Although they work easily in teams, many prefer to work alone. They are well known for their work-life balance and being the first adopters of technology as part of their everyday lives. They are now moving into senior leadership roles.

Millennials (born 1981–1995)
Despite being called “lazy and entitled” when they entered the workforce, they are now the fastest-growing group of millionaires. The economic recession of 2007–2009 caused many millennials to continue to live at home with their parents. They pursue cultural diversity in their teams, both at work and elsewhere; value career control more than compensation; need to be recognized, but not validated; and don’t care for rank and would like to eliminate organization charts. 

Generation Z (born 1996–2010)
This generation is just entering the workforce and seem to be returning to traditional values of loyalty and conformity. They are resourceful and pragmatic as children of the Great Recession of 2009. They could be risk-averse, resistant to change, and given to Group Think—reaching a consensus without critical evaluation of alternatives. 

A Functional Framework You Can Start Using Today for Better Communication Among Cohorts 

Communication is the key to surfacing, acknowledging and leveraging the practical wisdom in any generational cohort. And effective communication requires connection. 

The following four-style framework illustrates how to convey information and increase understanding among generations. Use the channel(s) that best suit the person on the receiving end. An example from a virtual communication scenario is provided for each style. 

1. Kinesthetic channels are popular with The Silent Generation. These communicators prefer to figure things out on their own with minimum communication. They prefer to receive information through touch E.g., this group gets excited when asked to use a new formula to calculate their current level of generational intelligence and record their results on a whiteboard.

2. Auditory channels are popular with Generation X. These communicators relate well to stories and use a sense of tone. They are curious and want to ask questions. E.g., this group enjoys having content presented on slides and seeks airtime for their thoughts instead of asking only for a chat-based response. 

3. Visual channels are popular with baby boomers. These communicators want the facts but vary the detail. They prefer the least human interaction. They prefer concrete terms rather than abstracts. E.g., this group thrives on seeing interesting and comprehensive visuals on slides. 

4. Haptic channels (all channels) can be used by any cohort. These communicators are high energy and need tremendous mental stimulation to stay engaged. They are challenged to maintain focus to get to the core of someone else’s communication and not lose the listener with sudden changes. This style shuts down when emotions get too intense. E.g., this group responds to virtual learning tools like Miro, a fast, free, and simple online whiteboard collaboration tool.

Putting it All Together 

Embracing a generativity mindset and proactively exploring your younger and older generational colleagues’ knowledge, wisdom and insights will likely lead to better business outcomes. This exploration can yield valuable insights on how to solve problems and innovate new ideas. 

  • Knowledge is information. 
  • Wisdom is application of that information. 
  • Insight is knowing why you need to explore the issues in the first place.

Kate Sheridan, Generational Intelligence: The Struggle Is Real|Managing Multi-generational Teams and Companies (Nashville: New Realm Publishing, 2021).
Bruce Tulgan, “The Great Generational Shift—2020 Edition,” Rainmaker Thinking®, 2020,

Bill Richardson is a talented speaker who possesses the rare combination of an extensive professional background and a natural ability to connect with people. Whether it’s a sold-out conference hall or a small, intimate retreat, his presentations bring even most academic or abstract topic alive through storytelling, stimulating dialogue and interaction.

Reprinted with permission of UpNext.

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