Art of Communication: Bridging the Gap between a multi-generational workforce

research and draft written by Rabab Fatima

article written by Wayne Brown

History of communication is probably as old as the history of mankind. Man has been communicating ideas and thoughts since stone ages. Those cave drawings may not have been as sophisticated as forms of communication as we have today but they were adequate enough to deliver the message.

Early forms of communication

Interestingly, some may argue that in today’s world we have come full circle from communicating with the help of cave drawings to expressing our selves with emojis!

However, it is no denying that with advent of technology our communication options and styles are now limitless. Emails, memos, texts, tweets, pictures and videos are all at our disposal. Nevertheless, in work places written communication tends to be used more as compared to spoken or oral communication.

Workplaces are increasingly becoming a multi-generational hub. More and more people are working past the traditional retiring age. Alongside, younger generation is stepping into professional careers for the very first time. As we talk and advocate diversity in workplace, we should also not forget that age is a critical factor that may fly under the radar.

Age Matters…

You may have come across this type of scene in your workplace: A veteran subordinate is working under a young and energetic supervisor. You can see that there is a clear lack of bonding between them.

Why? This is where age comes in. Age plays an important role in shaping relationships in the workplace, especially among supervisors and their subordinates. Younger supervisors, in particular, have a hard time managing older employees. This is because older employees tend to perceive younger generation as inexperienced and dismiss their thoughts/ideas without fully grasping the concept behind them.

Differences in mindset lead to challenges in communication

On the other hand, it may be hard for the younger generation to learn and absorb from the experiences of older employees, thinking their plans are archaic and might not be agreeable with the current populace.

As an executive, it is important that you do not down play this critical factor while communicating with your employees. You may hear people argue that generational difference is no big deal, or they are just a myth, or it’s not that critical an issue that you would need to study and perceive it carefully before stepping into your executive duties.

All these talks will make you wonder, does generational difference really matters? Our answer- yes it does! And here is why…

Understanding & Communicating with your Multi-generational Workforce…

Thanks to the scientific advancements we now have as many as five generations working side by side in the same office, on the same floor and in the same departments!

Each generation has their own preferred style of working, speed and conducting themselves in the office. Therefore, it is important to understand how to communicate with each of them and get your message across efficiently.

A 2017 study from Robert Half Management Resources revealed that communication is one of the most difficult aspects when dealing with a work force that comprises of as many as four generations. Specifically, 30% of the executives claimed that difference in communication skills are the greatest in employees from different generations. [1]

Let’s break down your multigenerational workforce and how they communicate differently from each other:

5 generations locked together in the workforce

The Baby Boomers…

First on the list are baby boomers. They are the ones born between 1946 and 1964. They might be the oldest employees you’ll find in your office. Here are some things to remember:

  • Baby boomers grew up in an entirely different environment from the one in which we are living today.
  • They did not have access to internet or technological devices like we have today.
  • They are less adapt to technology and prefer to do their work manually.
  • In spite of such hindrances, baby boomers are thought to have the strongest work ethics!
  • Baby boomers work very hard and want their hard work to be acknowledged. Not in the form of regular feedback, mind you! They want this acknowledgement to come in the form of yearly raises, bonuses and promotions.
  • They work so that they can continue to pay their own bills without being dependant on someone else.
  • As they are near retirement age, their job is like a financial security blanket to them.
  • They respect their work and expect this same attitude from younger generation.
  • You guessed it right, they are basically workaholics! (no pun intended)
Anthony Robbins – turned 60 in 2020.

Generation X…

Second type of employees that you may find on your workforce comprises of Generation X. They include people born between 1965 and 1979.

  • As compared to baby boomers, Gen X grew up with a bit more sophisticated technological advances and are thus more comfortable in using modern devices.
  • However, this does not mean that they are as up-to-date in their use of technological devices as the younger generations.
  • They may be comfortable in using modern devices but still like to communicate and socialize face to face, a method which is also preferred by baby boomers.
  • Gen X has seen quite a lot in their life and this has made them resilient and strong.
  • They adapt well to their environment.
  • They view everyone as equal, so it is okay to challenge them and communicate directly.
  • Xers are more inclined towards command and control style of communication.
  • Before you ask them to work, clearly communicate your goals and objectives.
  • Don’t be vague about your expectations from a particular task that you want them to do.
  • Once you have stated what you want, give them the freedom to do their work independently.
  • They like hearing feedback of their work, so give it to them.
  • Gen X likes challenges but at the same time value work-life balance.
  • Many of them have families and thus want financial security from their jobs.
Uma Thurman turned 50 in 2020

Millennial or Generation Y…

This group comprises of people born between 1977 and 1995. You’ll notice that they are quite different from either of the former group members.

  • You can easily call them digital natives. They are the very first ones who grew up witnessing technological advancements around them.
  • They love using digital technology and are quite efficient in their use of technological devices.
  • Millennials know and like to use social media platform for personal as well as business growth.
  • This is what makes them a valuable asset of your work place.
  • Millennials are fast paced and want to grow quickly.
  • Hence, they look for opportunities that directly coincide with their career prospects and will lead them towards career growth in real time.
  • They are great multi taskers and very innovative in their approach towards personal and professional problems.
  • Since, Millennials are tech savvy, they prefer texting/SMS/WhatsApp as a more efficient approach to being connected rather than phone calls.
  • They have a more collaborative style of communication.
  • Millennials love to receive continuous feedback about their work.
  • They look towards executives more as a coach who’ll guide them in the right direction rather than a boss who commands and controls.
  • They love to work in groups so placing them in a creative team is the right option.
  • Millennials give utmost importance to work-life balance, so they prefer flexible working hours and work from home options.
  • They value integrity and innovation.
  • In spite of everything, millennials are much more likely to switch jobs than their predecessors.
  • This group craves fulfillment and purpose in their work; if they feel stagnant at their jobs they are more likely to leave that job.
Bruno Mars turns 35 in 2020

Centennials/Generation Z

This group includes people born during or after 1996. These are the individuals who are just starting their professional careers.

  • Generation Z is probably the most tech relying group among all.
  • They are innovative, risk takers and have clear business acumen.
  • They have a very clear mind about what they want from their jobs.
  • Gen Z is very resourceful and a big advocate of equality in work place as well as personal lives.
  • They are energetic, productive and very diligent when it comes to their professional lives.

 

Willow Smith turns 20 in 2020

Managing Multi-generational Workforce…

Managing a multi-generational team can be very daunting task. You must understand that different generations have different needs. Their ways of approaching and solving a problem may vary from one another. For example, an older employee may take time to comprehend a task related to Adobe Photoshop but that same task may be done in a few minutes by a younger employee.

Similarly, some of the younger employees may want to approach a problem by going over a YouTube video tutorial but an elderly employee might be more comfortable with a hands-on approach. You’ll notice that older employees bring more experience to that table as compared to younger employees.

While, it’s true that a younger employee has a degree that would help in fulfilling a project need. But what older employees lack in education, is compensated for in their knowledge and experience gained working for years in the field.

Similarly, older employees are more patient than their younger colleagues. Each generation is different and needs to be treated as such. Most managers and executives see these differences as negatives….

You shouldn’t! Here are a few answers to your whys:

1.    Change your way of thinking…

If you want to tackle a problem, the first thing you need to do is change your perspective. Generational differences are not a drawback. Each member of your multi-generational team brings with him/her a diverse perspective and a different insight. All of them have different strengths that can come in handy while assigning/handling different tasks.

Older employees have abundance of experience and knowledge, from which younger employees can benefit.

According to Pew Research Center, it’s estimated that 10,000 baby boomers in the U.S. will reach retirement age every day until nearly 2030. By 2025, experts say that 75% of the workforce will be comprised of younger generations. [3]

Reverse mentoring is also another way to break the ice between younger and older generations. In reverse mentoring, younger mentors sit down with older workers to stimulate their digital knowledge. Nevertheless, putting younger co-workers side by side with the seasoned employees helps your business succession plan. This is also a good step towards knowledge retention and challenging hierarchical norms.

“Managing a multigenerational team doesn’t have to be hard,” says Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. “For example, for years employers complained about how the work styles of millennials were disrupting the workplace. We know now, however, they simply have different outlooks, and the resulting changes from employers, such as new communication methods and enhanced work-life balance offerings, have benefited companies and employees alike.” [4]

2.    Be involved with your team…

A survey done by Robert Half Management Resources found out that 53% of the employees desire that their executives and managers should give them more insight about their performances.

Employees love to hear what you have to say about them. Giving them regular feedback about their work keeps them updated about their progress. Regular feedback also help in communicating your expectations from your team.

When you open an honest and clear communication pathway with your team, you will be the first one to know about their problems. Knowing the problem itself is actually the first step towards solving it.

3.    Push your team towards ‘acceptance’…

We personally don’t like to categorize and neither do we think that anybody would want to be stuffed in a particular box. Therefore, we encourage you to look below the surface. If you look closely, you’ll notice that all generations yearn for similar values.

They are all similar in wanting;

  • Work-life balance (in their own fashion)
  • Respect
  • Credible leaders
  • Research and training
  • Evaluations

It’s human nature to gravitate towards people with similar interest and age group. This may be acceptable in routine life. However, professional synergy and creative collaboration suffers big time if people only communicate in their desired demographic groups.

Arrange team-building activities inside and outside the office to allow team members to know each other personally. This will create a sense of bonding between the team and also allow them to see similarities between each other. Robert Half suggests that as an executive, when structuring your team collaborate with staff members who have complementary skills and diverse perspective.

Austyn Rask is a millennial and director of Content and Research at BridgeWorks, a consultation firm that educates businesses on the dynamics of multigenerational workforce. Rask suggests inducing ‘nostalgia’ as a way of team-building activity. Her company created a deck of cards that featured Western-based cultural references such as movies, books, politics, music and war. Co-workers are than asked to sit together and pick up a card that reminds them of their childhood. As individual’s reminiscence about old times and share memories, it creates a bond between them. Generational differences seem to eliminate and co-workers see each other in new light. [5]

The big picture

The Bottom Line is…

Every generation has helped in building up our economic system.

  • Baby boomers helped setup business protocols that have enabled corporations to run their operations. Generation X employees paved way for independent work.
  • Millennial’s put forth the idea of collaborating in diverse environments with contrasting minds.
  • Generation Z, though they have just entered the work force, are show casing strong determination, creativity and fraternization; all the while maintaining their unique individuality.

When you’ll put all of these groups together, you’ll have a well rounded and complete workforce. Give them a chance and show them the right pathway; they will surprise you with the results!

 

References:

[1]. Robert Half, 3rd July 2017, The Key to Managing a Multigenerational Team: Don’t Over think it

[2]: Bridge the Gap: Communicating with a Multigenerational Workforce, 11th March 2020

[3]: Michele Markey, 20th December 2018, Six Steps to Bridge the Communication Gap Among Multigenerational Workers

[4]: Robert Half, 3rd July 2017, The Key to Managing a Multigenerational Team: Don’t Over think it

[5]: Rebecka Green, 5TH July 2019, How to Manage a Multigenerational Workforce

Category: Comms 4 Execs

This is a new series of articles around Leadership Communications. We hope you enjoy.

UP NEXT – EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS FOR EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP

Until then, bye for now. Wayne

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