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leadership lab

President, Intuit Canada

Canada's work force is in a state of flux. The average age of retirement is steadily increasing, and the number of senior citizens still working has skyrocketed by around 62 per cent over the past 10 years. At the same time, there's an entirely new generation joining the labour market: Generation Z, or those born roughly from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. The result? Today's business leaders have found themselves in the unprecedented situation of managing four generations working side-by-side.

How can today's leaders successfully manage a multigenerational work force and adapt to the rapid evolution of the expertise their teams need to thrive? Here's my advice.

Don't dwell on differences. Generational stereotypes are precisely that, stereotypes, and not useful tools for creating an inclusive, positive office culture. Your employees – Gen Zs, Millennials, Gen Xs and boomers alike – have diverse needs, priorities and goals. Don't assume people hold certain beliefs or require special treatment. Get to know your team members individually to understand how best you can set them up for success.

While this is a best practice for any leader, keeping a close pulse on your employees is especially crucial in a multigenerational work force where your employees have likely experienced vastly different leadership styles and office cultures over the course of their careers.

Keep context in mind. You can be a more empathetic leader instantly by simply understanding the economic landscape that shaped how professionals view their careers and what they expect from their employers. For instance, members of Generation Z were brought up in the economic crisis and have witnessed firsthand the shifting future of work. Automation, digital platforms and the explosion of the on-demand and sharing economies have led to the creation of jobs and businesses that didn't exist even a decade ago.

This trend is only accelerating. According to the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children entering primary school today could end up working a job that hasn't yet been invented, and Intuit Canada research projects that freelancers, independent contractors and on-demand workers will make up 45 per cent of the work force by 2020.

What does this mean for managing the newest demographics entering the work force? Flexibility is paramount. According to Intuit Canada's latest report, The Future of Entrepreneurship: Generation Z, almost half of Gen Zs agree that flexibility is a stronger indicator of professional success than salary.

Empower your team to pursue their passions; encourage people to bring their whole selves to work; allow employees to define what balance means to them. In addition to creating a happier, more satisfied work force, placing a premium on flexibility can also help you cultivate a more well-rounded team with diverse perspectives.

Never stop up-skilling. This blistering pace of technological innovation also means that skills are becoming outdated more rapidly than ever before. This applies to workers of all demographics, whether they have decades of industry experience or graduated from university last year. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, nearly half of the knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree is already obsolete by graduation day.

This shift towards lifelong learning means that business needs to take a larger role in education. Simply put, if you want to stay competitive, you need to offer continuing opportunities for upskilling, so your employees can keep pace with innovation.

In today's multigenerational workplace, keeping your team up to date on the latest skills, tools, and platforms also means offering diverse opportunities for continuous learning based on unique learning styles and preference. Online learning tools like LinkedIn Learning are a great option for workers looking to reinvigorate their skill sets, but understand that some employees may benefit more from in-person training or from the opportunity to attend an industry conference and hear from others in their field.

Amid significant demographic, technological and economic change, today's business leaders face many challenges, and managing multiple generations is no exception. However, if you take a vested interest in your employees' unique goals and needs, give them the flexibility to make their role work for them, and offer continuous opportunities for professional growth, you can promote a more motivated, productive team across all generations.

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