How Best to Communicate in a Multi-Generational Work Environment

Contributed by Steve Cibull  

There are presently as many as four generations working side by side in the workplace. This is due in part to longer life spans, retirement plans, and the great recession.

It behooves us to understand each group’s values to enhance communication and collaboration while working alongside one another.

The four generations are: the Traditionalists; the Baby Boomers; Generation X; and, the Millennials.

  • The Traditionalists were born between 1930 and 1945 and are the smallest part of the current workforce.  Traditionalists are generally conservative, loyal, and respect authority. Traditionalists believe in hard work and paying their dues, their word is their bond.  Their careers identify “who they are.”

                  Preferred methods of communication – memos, letters or personal notes

  • The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers are typically idealistic, politically correct and tend to be rule breakers.  Boomers value peer competition, thrive on constant change, and are typically “workaholics.”  They are the “show-me” generation and embrace teamwork.

                     Preferred methods of communication – phone calls or personal interaction

  • The Generation X workers, born between 1965 and 1980, are the independent “latchkey” kids.  Those falling in the Generation X category are more pragmatic, self-sufficient, skeptical, flexible, media/information/tech savvy, and entrepreneurial.  Generation X workers value a work-life balance, value access to information, and require a constant flow of feedback.  Because they are “latchkey” kids, they wish to manage their own time and resolve their own problems in lieu of having them managed by others.

Preferred methods of communication – voice mail or email

  • The Millennials, who were born after 1980. They number around 80 million and continue to grow in size as they graduate and join the workforce. Millennials are well-educated, tolerant, team builders and are socially/politically conscious. Millennials embrace technology and are adept at multi-tasking, value positive reinforcement, and view money as a means to enjoy their free time. Because Millennials are the cyber generation, they have been exposed to more diversity than the other three groups.

                  Preferred methods of communication – blogs, instant messages, text messages or email

Because each generation of employee has its own set of needs and values, when communicating with a member from another generation, it is critical to remember that he or she likely has different preferences and interests.

When communicating with a member of the Traditionalist Generation consider the following: Words and tone of voice should be respectful, with good grammar, clear diction, no slang or profanity.
Language should be a bit formal and professional, and the message should relate to company history and long-term goals.

When communicating with a Baby Boomer consider the following: This conversation should be more relational, perhaps over coffee or lunch. Boomers tend to see relationship and business results as intertwined. Make the conversation participative by getting the other’s input, and link the message to the team or individual vision, mission, and values.

When communicating with a Generation Xer, consider the following: Do not waste the person’s time. Be direct and straightforward. Avoid corporate-speak. Send an email or leave a voice mail that states clearly what you want, how it will serve the Generation Xer, and when you want it.

When communicating with a Millennial, consider the following: Be positive. Send a text message or meet face-to-face. Tie the message to the Millennial’s personal goals or to the goals the whole team is working toward. Do not be condescending. Avoid cynicism and sarcasm.

Bottom line:  One communication style does not fit all.  When working in a multi-generation environment, developing a flexible communication style that adjusts to the needs unique to each generational employee demonstrates respect and should yield better results.

By leveraging nearly 3 decades of experience in the “art and science” of human resources management, Steve offers solutions to organizations that have determined it best to outsource all or portions of their HR function.To contact Steve Cibull please send an email to [email protected].

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