You are likely in an intergenerational workplace, and may often ask yourself, “Who are these people, and how did they get here?!” For all practical purposes there are now 4 generations populating the US workforce.
- The Veterans or Traditionalists were born before 1946, making them at least 68 years old.
- Baby Boomers, born between 1947 and 1965, are between 49 and 67.
- GenXers, born between 1966 and 1980, are between 34 and 48.
- And then there are the Millennials, who were born after 1980, the oldest of whom are now 33.
This mix of cultures is creating communication challenges throughout the workforce.
A communication divide between generations is probably as old as mankind. Younger generations have always chomped at the bit to take over, to implement their ideas, to be in charge. The older generations, though, have always had superior knowledge, years of experience, and long-developed networks influence, all of which allowed them to take their time giving opportunities and relinquishing power to the next generation. So, though there was a communication divide, it was the younger generation’s problem. They were simply expected to adjust.
There has been a shift in that paradigm, however. As hierarchical management styles have given way to today’s flat, egalitarian styles, workers at all levels frequently affect all aspects of organizational culture, including communication styles. Add to that the fact that in today’s workplace, the youngest workers are being courted, catered to, and given management responsibilities very early in their careers. Promotions are most often based on merit, with digital skills, social media prowess, and creative ideas frequently carrying much more weight than real world knowledge, experience, and institutional memory.
As a result, resentments can be simmering under the surface adding another subtle impediment to smooth and open communication. Baby Boomers find themselves answering to Millennials, and GenXers often feel that they’re being passed over just as they are reaching their most productive years. In this new paradigm newcomers aren’t automatically expected to adjust to the prevailing culture of communication. All parties are called upon the adapt to new standards and techniques.
Rather than simply inculcating new hires into the existing culture, supervisors and managers are negotiating between the generations to modify communication styles. To be effective the changes made must take the preferences of all parties into account, be sensitive to existing resentments, and keep the primary goal of opening lines of communication in order to focus on work.
When approaching company-wide or department-wide changes involving multiple generations, the two foremost considerations to keep in mind are:
1) What are the values and expectations of each generation? Each of the four generations in the current workforce has different values and expectations. When making changes, and also when introducing the changes, it’s important to take those differences into account. For each group to buy in to change they must be assured that their priorities have been considered and met. Traditionalists value respect for authority and discipline. Good grammar and spelling, respectful forms of address, and professional language in organization communications are important to them. Baby Boomers are optimistic and value involvement. Including them in memos, emails, and any communication relating to their department or project is crucial to their whole-hearted cooperation. GenXers are skeptical. They value fun and informality. To keep the trust of this generation it’s important to keep them in the loop whether through written communication or informal chats. The GenY generation values collaboration, social life, and feedback. They are friendly, like to work on teams, and value feedback and acknowledgement of their contributions.
2) What mode of communication does each generation prefer? Technology has altered modes of communication drastically in the last 20 years. One size no longer fits all. The generations have different preferences, which must be acknowledged and as must as possible accommodated. Traditionalists prefer to communicate face-to-face, by writing memos, or by phone. Baby Boomers, who are frequently considered workaholics, communicate most often by phone, often making themselves available anytime of day or night. GenXers prefer email or to use their cell phones, but only during work hours. GenYers strongly prefer texting and email.
Ideally closing the communication divide will include new hires adapting to the organizations formal language for correspondence as well as upper management regularly checking email and using texting and email in less formal situations. Every person and group should be encouraged to modify their style, to acknowledge and experiment with the preferences of others.
The flow of communication is imperative to an organization’s success and the modern management styles and new technology demand adaptation across all levels and generations within the organization.
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EDSI programs that address generational issues in the workplace are some of the most impactful programs we offer. They give attendees a fresh perspective and the tools to make the most of each other’s strengths. We invite you to learn more. www.employeedevelopmentsystems.com