Bridging the Gap: Communication in the Multigenerational Workplace

Large bridge with title - Bridging the multigenerational communication gap

For the first time in American history you could have four, maybe even five different generations working in the same space. This causes some unique challenges for employers. How can you make your multigenerational workforce more engaged, productive, and amicable? Effective communication is key.

To nurture effective communication in your workplace you must know what form of communication your employees prefer and understand why it works for them. We’re going to help by explaining some of the preferred forms of communication across different generations.

The Multigenerational Workplace

The Strong and Silent Type

Traditionalists, usually born prior to 1946, have a high respect for authority. They prefer to be given direct instructions and believe in the chain of command, so don’t send someone else to deliver your communications. Even if they are familiar with the latest technology, they prefer face-to-face or over-the-phone communication. They, like baby boomers, are familiar with memos and expect to use them. When changes in a process occur, be sure to give a thorough explanation to your traditionalist workers as they tend to prefer the tried and true route.

When it comes to feedback, no news is good news for this group. Only approach them if something is paramount to their performance, but don’t forget they deserve respect and appreciation for their experience, loyalty, and hard work ethic. Being the strong and silent type, they won’t willingly offer their opinions; if you really want it, you’ll have to prod a little.

These employees are masters of memory and great note takers so they are perfect to consult with for clarification and will appreciate the recognition. But don’t waste their time by being too chatty, that’s not their style. Traditionalists can communicate effectively with younger generations as a mentor, teaching them the importance of details, customer service, and how to do things traditionally should technology ever fail us.

The Cool Cucumbers

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, prefer phone calls over email. Although, they are familiar with multiple forms of communication. Being highly individualistic, they prefer to speak one-on-one rather than in groups. They expect to be leaders, so speak directly but avoid language that could sound controlling. When communicating with these folks, try not to be rigid with your thinking, they value flexibility.

These are the first workaholics so they carry high expectations of their co-workers and prefer to chat about work rather than home-life. Natural born leaders, this group freely offers ideas and opinions and easily stays cool under pressure. They often engage younger workers by utilizing their vast knowledge of technology. When a baby boomer asks you a question, prepare to thoroughly explain the answer and expect follow up questions.

The Tightrope Walkers

Generation X is all about the work/life balance. Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers are familiar with technology but can also appreciate a time before that luxury, so they’re comfortable with any form of communication. That being said, they prefer short, sweet, and to-the-point communications, so informal email is best.

Very independent, this group prefers to work individually, so if teams are essential be sure to pair them with people of similar skill sets. They often possess a “grass is greener” mentality so it’s important to regularly communicate their worth to your company and do your best to help them achieve the work/life balance they seek.

They’re very comfortable with giving and receiving feedback but prefer cash rewards for a job well done. The “grass is greener” mentality sometimes means a lack of loyalty. Gen Xers will feel offended and left out if not regularly kept in the loop so making a personal effort to communicate information will encourage a sense of stability in your company.

The New Kids

The millennial or Generation Y prefers quick, simple, and short means of communications like texting, IM, or brief (but not vague) emails. Born from 1981-1997 or later, some of these kids never experienced life without the internet. Being heavy GIF and meme users, laughter is essential in their communication style, so try not to take yourself too seriously when possible.

Stern talking or talking down to them will lead to resentment. They prefer a workplace where creativity is nurtured, noticed, and rewarded. The emphasis on creativity means they are good at analyzing situations and feel comfortable offering suggestions. When assigning them tasks, use action words and don’t be afraid to throw challenges whenever possible. These individuals seek mentorship and will appreciate a traditionalist or baby boomer for taking them under their wing and providing connections or advice.

Bridging the Gap

If you don’t find a way to communicate effectively with your workforce, you’ll quickly find yourself lost. Considering the way your employees communicate and perceive the world creates a better work environment for all. You must be able to blend these groups by playing to their strengths and skills. Open up communication by encouraging employees to email you with questions and comments.

What has your experience with a multigenerational workforce been like? Did the advice in this article help? Do you find it easier for some generations to communicate than others? Such as traditionalists and millennials or Gen X and baby boomers? We’d love to hear your stories. Check out the following articles for more information on multigenerational workforces.

Related Articles:

4 Tips on Hiring Millennials and How to Weed out the Bad Apples

What to Do about Your Baby Boomer Retirement Crisis

How Does Generational Diversity in the Workplace Affect Retention?

What You Need to Know About Millennials in the Workplace?


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