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Whenever there are generational shifts in the workforce, there is typically an initial surprise or hesitancy as employers try to assess whether they should adapt or ask their employees to do so. What follows is often a call to organizations and leaders to apply nuances in their approach 

The entry of Gen Z employees into the workplace has encouraged important conversations about inclusivity, understanding and the value of being people-centric in business. It’s also stimulated discussion around the impact of empathetic employers.  

While these conversations have typically centered around Gen Z (and millennials to an extent), they are not the only people who benefit from a compassionate style. In fact, all stakeholders – no matter their age – have the potential to feel more fulfilled, engaged and loyal when their leaders approach them with emotional intelligence (EQ).  

The Impact of Empathy on Each Generation 

Before I dive into how EQ supports a span of age ranges, let’s level set on the definition of an empathetic leader, which I describe as someone who exerts influence by demonstrating care and consideration for others’ experiences, needs and points of view. They value diverse opinions and appreciate that individuals are whole people.  

Traditionalists (1925-1945) 

Workers of this generation are associated with traits like dependability and loyalty. Purdue University found that those born of this era are often motivated by respect as well as recognition, and they thrive when they have an opportunity to deliver long-term impact. 

EQ and respect go hand in hand. Genuine interest in the knowledge and experience a person brings to the workforce demonstrates appreciation. Support their lasting impact by giving them a chance to share their expertise with those in the earlier stages of their careers. By embracing an approach that honors their wisdom, leaders will engage traditionalists and inspire meaningful contributions. 

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) 

This age group is generally known for their work ethic, confidence and sense of responsibility. They are usually motivated by teamwork and achievement. 

Departments that operate efficiently are the ones that know how to listen to one another, embrace multiple viewpoints and use their cognitive diversity to drive results, which are all practices underpinned by EQ. Additionally, empathetic leaders are innately invested in others’ success, so achievement-minded personnel are likely to believe that this empowering style will serve to support and enhance their performance. 

Gen X (1965 – 1980) 

Independent and results-driven, Gen X tends to see change as opportunity. They were one of the first generations to challenge traditional workplace standards and push for greater work-life balance. 

An empathetic style can speak to this demographic because it encourages employers to recognize that their team members bring broad experiences, perspectives and backgrounds to their work. Taking a holistic view encourages people managers to be more understanding of an employee’s desire to define boundaries.  

Millennials (1981 – 2000) 

This generation is often engaged by high achievement and recognition. Millennials typically want to contribute to a cause that extends beyond themselves and wish to participate in real change that prioritizes people and well-being.   

Compassion is key to connecting with millennials. By gathering their insights, employers can help this age group feel seen and motivated to contribute their best work. Taking an emotionally intelligent approach with this demographic includes celebrating their contributions and supporting their wellbeing at and outside of work.  

Gen Z (2001 – 2020) 

One of the most diverse generations, Gen Z is viewed as a globally-minded group that is entrepreneurial, innovative and inclusive. They are typically quick to question traditional practices and want to have two-way conversations with leaders. 

Engaging this generation requires empathy. To embrace diversity, leaders must be willing to consider a variety of perspectives. When they do, they can produce more innovative outcomes, which supports both Gen Z and the bottom line. Creating a platform where ideas, concerns and interests can be shared and being open to authentically discussing differences where they exist creates a workplace where this generation can thrive. 

While these sentiments describe common trends within different age groups, it’s important to remember that these statements are generalizations. It’s entirely likely that a 25-year-old will behave more like a “typical” Traditionalist than a Gen Zer, or that a Gen X employee will embrace the mindset of a millennial. From my perspective, recognizing that there are even more nuances to consider beyond age demographics simply underscores the value of empathy and EQ in the workplace. 

When we recognize that each person is distinct with their own backgrounds, needs, interests and viewpoints, it allows businesses to benefit from the rich array of ideas that is readily available. Embracing every individual as their authentic self stimulates a company culture where employees are inspired to participate, motivated to perform and invested to achieve.  

How can you amplify empathy in your work? Explore our programming for leaders or fill out the form below to speak with one of our teammates today. 


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