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The Great Divide: Communicating Across The Generation Gap

This is the first time in history where there are four generations in the workforce at the same time.  Communicating with this diverse group, not to mention engaging them, can be a majorbridging the gap challenge for workers of every age. 

We wanted to review the four generations in the workforce today and contrast their communication styles.  Are the stereotypes really true?  Let us know what you think.   

The “Matures”

The “Matures” are defined as those born between 1909 and 1945.  Though the initial thought is that matures are the retired generation, many choose to work well past the retirement age. Advances in medical care are leading to longer life expectancies, so these workers are productive and healthy longer. When it comes to communication, however, many are still caught in the past.

Using tools like email and mobile applications to communicate is too impersonal to keep their trust – they need personal, one-on-one dialogue to feel engaged and connected. The casual stop-and-chat may turn into a bit longer conversation with this group, but the extra face-to-face time is essential to keep them updated and involved in company strategies.

The Baby Boomer Generation

Born between 1946 and 1964, this is currently the largest generation in the workforce today. This generation was also hit hardest by the downturn in the economy and sometimes cares for older parents and/or older unemployed children. They have multiple stresses, so they want to know all the possible details before making a decision. They are competitive and direct, so be open about company discussions and plans. You can harness their competitive nature to drive your company forward. 

Most of them have worked in the same job or company for their entire life and are reaching retirement age. They need help communicating a clear succession plan and “Next Steps” phase into retirement. Many Baby Boomers have started adopting technology uses in their life, but are still learning. This generation may engage with digital media, but they generally prefer communications in person.

Generation X

Generation X workers are more tech savvy than the Baby Boomers, but were born at the beginning of the technology boom when the future of new innovations was uncertain. Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and the mid-1980’s, but there is wide debate about when the cutoff for the end of this generation lies. 

This generation commonly distrusts authority and dislikes bureaucracy and red tape in the workplace.  They are independent, and they strive for the flexibility and freedom to do their work as they choose.  They also desire a higher degree of “work life balance” than the Baby Boomers, and are likely to request the option to telecommute if feasible. 

When it comes to communicating with Gen X-ers, they are generally comfortable with web-based communications [especially email] and enjoy having options available to them.  Conference calls, video, and web collaboration tools may be more effective at keeping this group productive and engaged than meetings.

Many Gen X-ers have jumped right into social media. Others, not so much.  Although it may take some urging, there is an opportunity to encourage this generation to extend their channels of correspondence to blogs, LinkedIn accounts, and Twitter feeds and leverage them to build your digital brand.

Generation Y (Millennials)

The newest generation in the workforce was born in the late 80s and after.  They grew up with evolving technology and innovation all around them – most don’t even remember life before personal computers.  As technology grew up, they grew up right along with it: they were among the first adopters of home computers, then laptops, then social media, then smartphones, then iPads.

Millennials value the opinions of their peers highly.  Give them as much feedback as possible to keep them engaged.  They want to work and also have fun, so communication with this group should be informal and group-oriented as much as possible.

When communicating with this group, remember that they invented the social network and are used to consuming information in short, concise chunks.  Texting, email, and all forms of social media are the communication channels this group is most at home with.

What else can you do to engage your diverse workforce?

Most the time the biggest obstacle in battling the generation gap is the fear of another group or assuming that the younger generation that follows them is just “lazy” [this sentiment is a common theme in every generation].

Creating a mentorship program is a commonly used strategy to help generations learn about one another. They often realize they are not that different!  Teaching and knowledge sharing goes both ways. 

[Download the Orange Paper] Internally Managing Claims Across Generations

Topics: HR / Employee Benefits