The American workforce is more diverse than ever. For the first time in recent history, it’s possible (and often expected) to have four generations represented in one company: Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1980), Millennials (1981 to 1996) and Generation Z (born after 1996).
With a wide range of ages, perspectives and capabilities, a multi-generational staff can be a distinct advantage in any industry. Older, more experienced employees can offer invaluable mentorship and guidance. Fresh-faced, straight-out-of-college hires are often technologically savvy and bring new ideas to the table. Many employees enjoy and thrive working with a range of ages.
At the same time, managers and leaders may encounter communication-related challenges. We explore ways to examine your organization’s internal communications and connect with each generation, ensuring everyone regardless of age feels involved, empowered and listened to.
How Does Each Age Group Communicate?
While there are some exceptions, individuals typically align themselves with the communication preferences of their generation. Several factors can influence these generations and how they communicate, including the adoption of new technologies, how they were raised, prevalent beliefs and societal expectations.
- Baby Boomers – During the Baby Boomers’ lifetime, phones transitioned from bulky, stay-at-home devices, to cellphones. And while many boomers have cell phones, they might still be a little reluctant to rely on them. Studies have shown Baby Boomers prefer email communication for work. They also appreciate face-to-face conversation.
- Generation X – Early adopters of email and other advancements, Gen Xers are similar to Baby Boomers in that they prefer email communication – preferably, short, to-the-point messages as opposed to longer ones. They’re also willing to adapt to using newer technologies and often act as a bridge between older and younger generations.
- Millennials – Only the oldest Millennials remember days without cellphones or the Internet. 55% of Millennial bosses are more likely to communicate via direct messaging, followed by email at 28%, according to a recent survey. Only 14% indicated in-person, and 3% said phone – showing a prominent preference for digital communication among this age group.
- Generation Z – As true digital natives, it makes sense that Gen Z is quick to adapt to new technologies and might opt to communicate through instant messaging or text. On the other hand, some research indicates these young employees also expect frequent in-person communication with their superiors.
How to Encourage Cross-Generational Collaboration
With disparate preferences, abilities and expectations, how can a leader encourage communication and disseminate information effectively across all ages within the organization?
- Train employees how, why and when to use each communication method. Not everyone is going to pick up on new technologies immediately, so leaders need to ensure proper training is in place to bring everyone up to speed. It’s not that older generations might not want to use instant messaging, or that younger generations abhor in-person meetings – rather, they might just not recognize the value. As an effective business leader, you can show how these forms of communication make sense and improve productivity in various situations.
- Acknowledge different expectations and approaches. Encouraging intergenerational relationships may require some adaptation or compromise on everybody’s part – including that of the business leaders. Forcing a transition onto a platform that doesn’t make sense to Baby Boomers – or one that they simply do not enjoy – is only going to create problems down the road. Instead, find effective routes that make sense for everyone involved. For example, perhaps group brainstorming is done through video or discussion board tools, but one-on-one meetings are held in person.
- Encourage younger generations to innovate. If you have Millennials or Generation Z employees, you’re in luck. They can bring a wealth of knowledge when it comes to new technology and its applications. This is a plus for your business – try tasking younger employees with finding more effective modes of communication, apps to improve efficiency or ways to collaborate on- and off-line.
- Avoid developing disconnected siloes. Unfortunately, it can be easy for employees to only interact with others their age – simply because of these preferred communication methods. To prevent your organization from becoming disconnected, try grouping diverse ages together for problem-solving or critical-thinking tasks. Sometimes breaking down barriers just requires a discussion.
- Send out a survey to gauge response. When launching a new program, collaborative tool or communication channel, distribute a survey to gauge each age group’s response. This tool can provide a basis for additional training or adjustments needed for everyday utilization. It creates an environment where employees feel more comfortable voicing their needs and concerns. In addition, it can help leaders understand who their workforce consists of, their expectations and their comfort level when it comes to new technologies.
- Promote an inclusive and respectful workspace. When it comes down to it, the best performing companies are ones where each employee feels like they belong. They’re going to be more productive, care more about the future of the organization and have a sense of ownership. Leaders can help instill a culture of inclusion and respect from the top-down.
Here at Aker Ink, we’re lucky to work with a range of ages. It has made us a stronger team and able to embrace both traditional and newer tactics within the PR and marketing fields. It’s also taught us the importance of age-appropriate communication and delivery methods.
Effective communication that resonates with each individual employee – whether they’re 21 or 58 – is the key to a productive organization. Enhancing your internal communication strategies to fit each generation’s needs can lead to improved collaboration and employee retention. Celebrate these differences and the unique benefits they can bring your organization.