Intergenerational Communications in the Workplace
We are tired of the bad jokes. From ‘Ok, Boomer’ to diatribes on millennials and their avocado toast and Gen Z fashion choices, no generation is left unscathed. Instead of tired stereotypes, we should be focusing on the value of having a multigenerational workforce and learning how to best communicate across generations.
What can generational stereotypes teach us? That multiple tiers of information and methods of communication are valued inside a workplace. A flexible organization caters to multiple generations and personality types amongst your workers.
Gen Z are those born between 1997 and 2015, and currently make up around 5% of the workforce, though the oldest of this generation have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic and were particularly vulnerable to job loss.
Millennials are those born between 1980 and 1996. This is the largest workforce generation at nearly 35% of the workforce in the US and is estimated to make up more than 75% by 2025.
Generation X (1965-1980) makes up roughly 33% of the US workforce. This generation also holds the majority of senior management positions.
Baby Boomers (1947-1964) hover around 25% of the US workforce, and Traditionalists (1927-1946) are around 2%. The COVID-19 pandemic inspired many ‘excess’ retirements: 2.4 million more than an average year, predominantly from these two generations.
These five generations have encountered very different workforce experiences. The rise of technology between the first traditionalists entering the workforce and Gen Z has created, for many, very different experiences and opportunities. Having a multigenerational workforce ensures that you have rich history and experience to lean on, with the ability to pivot seamlessly into new technologies and cultural shifts.
DEVELOP GENERATIONAL AWARENESS
Understanding the world each generation grew up in and their communication preferences helps us understand and grow beyond one viewpoint. For every person that fits a generational stereotype, you’ll find someone who breaks the mold. This is our opportunity to grow beyond a single generational viewpoint and requires us to rethink how and where we communicate. Change and evolution often happens through the collaboration of different voices, experiences and demographics. An intergenerational perspective can only strengthen your work.
At CEL, we know that everyone learns differently. We participated in Kolbe assessment and training facilitated by certified trainer Michael Roby to honor our differences to learn our unique strengths. The Kolbe System “is the only program measuring conation – how people take action.” It explains how we approach our work and the traits with which we lead when taking on a new project.
Through this program, we learned more about each other—and ourselves. Some of our staff thrive when they have all the facts and a very clear path forward; others are comfortable starting with brainstorming. And that brainstorming session a few of us love? It sends others into a tailspin. By identifying our preferences and strengths, we’ve developed a better understanding of how to approach new projects at work and identify who is best suited for each project.
It’s important to note that we lean into our natural strengths in the Kolbe and our workplace. We need people who take different approaches to work; it makes us stronger as a team. When we’re confronted with a task that isn’t our strongest area, we know which colleagues to turn to for mentorship and growth. Rather than looking at another personality type or generation and seeing differences, look for ways to use strengths and bolster growth.
INTERGENERATIONAL OFFICE COMMUNICATION
“No matter the context, using generational labels is divisive. It perpetuates the illusion that “we” are different from “them.” The labels, used in any context, create separateness and encourage the stereotyping associated with social identity.”
― Jessica Kriegel, Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes
There is value in looking at generational preferences and statistics: understanding the rich history that raised each generation can provide a basic understanding in how these different groups approach work. But focusing on each generation divides us: it is important instead to look at the talents and strengths of your workforce. Instead, think of ways to cross the communication divides between people, which are more likely created by personal experiences, not age.
Wanted: Digital Overlord
You’ve probably seen companies get creative with job titles and descriptions, but luckily, you don’t have to develop outlandish postings to entice younger generations. Honesty and clarity in your organizational expectations, beginning with your job descriptions, will ensure you’re inviting the right hires to your team.
“Clearly articulate your company mission, values, and what differentiates your organization, shares Nancy Dall, founder of Executive Talent Partners. “Bring clarity to the specific job, your expectations, and what the candidate will learn in this role.”
Hiring managers may find themselves loathe to discuss the less pleasant aspects of a job opening, but honesty is important for both the organization and the interviewee. Open and honest communication about the job will ensure the right candidates are matched to the right roles.
Mentorship During Onboarding
A great way to cross communication divides is to offer mentorship during the onboarding process. Pairing new hires with experienced employees can benefit both. Your new hires will feel supported as they adapt to company culture, and experienced employees can build community, gain confidence and grow their leadership skills, and reinforce (or take a critical eye) to workflows as they explain them.
Personalize Your Communications
Everyone wants to feel valued, and sometimes, it’s easy to find yourself only celebrating certain groups. Don’t fall into the trap where the only recognition an employee receives is when they’re retiring. “Something simple like a Happy Birthday email or recognition of a work anniversary can go a long way to making people feel valued in the work environment,” shares Kristin Boyd-Edwards, CEL Content Strategist. “Think about celebrating your employees on social media. Give them a little recognition for their great work, and at the same time, you’re developing your digital footprint, showcasing how you value and support employees. It’s a win-win for the employee and your organization.”
Adapt Your Communication Styles
We tend to default to communicating in our own preferred styles, but mirroring the communication style of your intended audience may bridge some gaps. If a colleague sends you a message via email, resist the urge to pick up the phone and mirror their communication channel preferences. Additionally, consider letting your colleagues know your preferred channel of communication. While some prefer a phone call to gather the facts, others work best when they have a written record of requests via email or messaging platforms.
Set Clear Company Expectations
Very often; you’ll have employees who complete work outside of typical 9-5 business hours. Set healthy boundaries and be clear on expectations for when people should be plugged in and when they can safely shut down. Otherwise, you may find employees feeling pressured to answer work emails, Slack messages, or voicemails at night, on weekends, or even on vacation. It’s better for everyone’s mental health and wellness to know that it’s okay to shut down digital communications.
Limit Communication Channels for Time-Sensitive Requests
With so many possible communication channels, it can be difficult to remember where a request originated. Is it in your email? Instant messaging app? Tasked in your project management software? Mentioned in a conversation at the lunch table? It’s important to limit how employees collect requests and tasks, especially for time-sensitive requests.
Encourage Focus Time
Interruptions to work time can throw us off—so much so that the majority of our workdays may be spent getting back into our work, not completing it. Learning to time-block and set focus time for important projects can prevent much of this fragmentation. Though email is a preferred communication channel for many, it may also be swallowing up hours of the workday. Help employees learn how to time block, silence phones and email, and finish important tasks. The ability to be constantly connected through technology is a gift—but it doesn’t mean we should be available 24/7.
By taking a proactive approach to developing an inclusive office that is friendly to all generations, you can ensure that your communication styles meet the needs of a diverse workforce. Being aware of the communication preferences and shifts across generations can help you review your culture, website, recruitment practices, and internal communications with a critical eye. If you feel that your office isn’t meeting the needs of some of these groups, it may be time to evolve.
Published on: May 3, 2022