Communication for the Multi-Generational Workforce

Traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y all work side by side in businesses across the nation. They are different in many ways including how they communicate. Traditionalists, those born from 1925 to 1945, tend to be very loyal, team players, obedient, adhere to rules, respectful of authority, dedicating and sacrificing. They communicate indirectly, in subtle ways.

Baby boomers, born in the years of 1946-1964, are optimistic and also team-oriented. They are not, however, as inclined toward rules, absolutes and structure. They want to offer new ideas. They seek personal gratification and communicate more directly and spontaneously. Gen X, born from 1965-1980, are often self-reliant, goal-oriented, and tech-savvy multi-taskers who are impatient with process. They question authority and expect flexibility and freedom to do things their way. When it comes to communicating, they lean heavily on technology. Gen Y, born from 1981-2000, are street self-confident, social, have a spirit of social responsibility and, like Gen X, are tech-savvy, multi-taskers and require flexibility. Their communication style is also to rely on technology. They also have been found to lack some of the skills required for communicating in challenging situations.

To promote a work environment which encourages teamwork and productivity across all generations, it’s important to recognize the difference and not to force any one group into a communication style that may go against their natural tendencies. In other words, allow baby boomers to continue talking in-person and by phone. Respect that a traditionalist may not be as direct and encourage processes (e.g., written statements) which require a full disclosure of important information that otherwise may be missed through a more subtle style of communication. Do not chastise the younger employees for communicating by email, text or instant messaging. However, raise their awareness as to what situations are better managed with an in-person or phone communication. Keep in mind too that the way an office is designed can also factor into how communication flows between the generations. An open plan design encourages a more collaborative workforce and also gives all generations a way to learn from the others.

By respecting the differences, all the generations can learn to communicate effectively, fulfill their responsibilities and help an organization achieve its broader goals.