Communicating across generations
Up to now we have learnt that there are many generations in every company working together, and how this is a positive output for any enterprise since it generates different advantages in the work environment.
However, since each generation is a whole different world, the way of communicating with them becomes an issue; depending on the person, there will be different expectations. Finding a suitable strategy for communicating with your employees of different generations will help you establish a better relationship with them.
Anyhow, the problem is not only the communication between employers and employees; communication between workers or between employers of different generations can also become a problem if there are no strategies to promote a positive communication between both sides.
Each generation is going to expect a different way of communicating. Even when looking at basic things such as the channel, millennials will probably expect an email or even a WhatsApp text while Boomers will wait for a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Rivers, Tiffany Bloodworth - 8 tips to communicate with 4 different generations in the workplace (2014) (https://www.iofficecorp.com/blog/8-tips-to-communicate-with-4-different-generations-in-the-workplace)
- Regarding communication channels, it is a good idea to have different lines open that allows workers to feel comfortable when communicating between them and with their employers/ HR staff.
Another important fact is the general tone set at the office. Each generation expects a different level of formality (for example, Boomers are probably going to wear suits while Millennials will use sneakers) and this can be translated into the communication tone.
Table 1 – Communication across generations
|COMMUNICATION ACROSS GENERATIONS|
|Generations||Preferred communication methods|
|Silent Generation (pre 1945)||Phone, paper, personally|
|Baby Boomers (1945 - 1964)||Phone, paper, personally
Most have embraced internet and email
|Generation X (1965 - 1980)||Phone, written letters, personal contact, internet, e-mail
Possibly favour electronic
|Gen Y or Millennials (1981 - 1996)
Gen Z (1995 - 2010)
Efficiency and convenience
- Looking at the communication tone, ensure there is a general understanding of the common formality in the organisation. All workers should know the level of formality that is expected from them (which should be the same for everyone), since this will avoid generations pointing at each other as if they are doing something wrong.
However, you should also bear in mind that belonging to a generation is never going to necessarily mean wanting what is expected from that generation. At the end, each employee is going to have concrete tastes and preferences regarding how to communicate.
- Always try to understand in which way your employees want to be communicated; if you are offering different ways of communication (such as email, phone…) do not make assumptions based on their age and let them decide what they prefer.
An element fact regarding the communication with your employees, no matter the generation, is to be aware of the points that motivate them the most. When you are communicating something to an employee, doing it in a way that is going to motivate him/her is probably going to improve his/her reaction to the information and increase the productivity towards the job to do.
- Look for the middle point in topics related to motivation; although older generations are usually motivated by the work itself, younger generations look for more guidance and acknowledgement. As employer or HR manager, a balance between those two ends is a good place to be at; you should realise how important acknowledging their work is for younger employees, but it is also true that you should not always be acknowledging every single step, and younger generations should understand that. (CMO Network - 10 tips for communicating across generations (2016) (https://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehfh45hjmj/navigating-the-new-workp/#faf78ab6f4fb)
More info here:
See the following video: How generational stereotypes hold us back at work:
The Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, Gen Z -- we're all in the workforce together. How are our assumptions about each other holding us back from working and communicating better? Social psychologist Leah Georges shows how we're more similar than different and offers helpful tactics for navigating the multigenerational workplace.
Building collaboration: Working teams
If there is an issue to have in mind in a multi-generational workforce, it should be collaboration among workers. The differences between generations can sometimes lead to an environment in which workers do not fully know how to interact and behave among themselves, leading to struggles in collaboration.
Of course, this is a problem not only because of the environment that gets set in the workplace, but also for the work that needs to be done. When workers are unable to effectively collaborate in their working space, it becomes impossible for them to live up to their highest potential and complement what other colleagues are doing to create the best version of the job.
For this reason, building collaboration paths between workers is an essential issue to consider by all employers and HR Managers.
One of the best things of having multiple generations in the workforce is how they can learn from one another; each generation shines for concrete features that set them apart from the rest and add value to the company. By reaching collaboration between all of them, it becomes possible to share those values and knowledge into all the workers in the organisation.
One of the best ways to do so is by creating working teams; of course, it is necessary to show them how they can benefit from one another and learn things, but once you have done the previous work included in all the units of this module, they will probably be more than ready to understand each other.
When creating a working team, make sure that it is heterogeneous and includes different points of view and generations. By doing this you will enrich the future output provided by your workers; however, always be ready to help them if by any means they are not able to get along Biro, Meghan M. - Recognize, Reward And Engage Your Multi-Generational Workforce (2014) (https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2014/03/23/recognize-reward-and-engage-your-multi-generational-workforce/#15b810c6798a).
Of course, working teams will probably need more than just words to correctly align among them; how can the team be helped to overcome any generational obstacles and make the best of their situation?
An interesting idea is to provide a facilitator during the first period of teamwork. The facilitator would have to help in boosting a conversation between team members in matters such as Aisbury, John - Multi-Generational Teams: How Can We All Work Together? (2015) (http://www.harvardbusiness.org/blog/multi-generational-teams-how-can-we-all-work-together).
- Creating open lines of communication
- Promoting understanding between members of different generations
- Clarifying generational influence in day to day work
- Generating ideas for improving team dynamics
When setting up multigenerational teams and learning paths, the right setting needs to be provided for the participating members. If it is not planned and prepared wisely, it can easily cause internal conflicts and result in slowing down development processes.
Conflicts in intergenerational teams
What can these obstacles be?
Due to the differences in social backgrounds and age, many team members (seniors and younger colleagues) eventually face conflicts during the joint working period. More than a third of all employees say they have experienced intergenerational conflict in the workplace.
Employees from different age groups communicate differently. If you are apart of an intergenerational team, make sure to consider these differences shown above (Table 1 – communication across generations) and try to find the right channel to communicate with your colleague.
During the work, you might be facing some difficulties. This is normal and it happens in most multigenerational teams.
Main roots of conflicts in multigenerational teams:
- Different views in work ethic
- Different level of knowledge in technology
- Different perspectives
- Different views on authority
- Different methods and approaches for effective communication
- Different Leadership Styles
Multi-generational teams make members feel like they all have important contributions to make. The transfer of knowledge between retiring generations of veteran workers and newer entrants to the workforce is becoming increasingly more important. Building an “age-responsive” workplace supports real communication & understanding across all ages.
How to avoid conflicts in intergenerational teams:
Find common things you all share: Concentrate on things you have in common. Identify these and start discussions on topics that assumably, you all agree on.
Respect other’s oppinions: You must honor the oppinion of others, even if you have a different oppinion about it. Try to be patient and communicate in a positive tone, share your oppinion by sharing simular examples from previouse situations that you managed to solve earlier. By doing this, the younger colleagues will not take it as a critism and will take your workd for it.
Be flexible: Be flexible and find ways to work with people rather than against them.