Today we face the possibly unique situation of having five generations of employees in the workplace, all with very different experiences of working life. So how can we get the best out of each generation and successfully communicate with them all?
Welcome to life in the new workplace. As people live and work longer than ever before, a modern business could now employ up to five different generations who grew up in vastly different times and often employ conflicting communication styles.
So that’s five different groups with five different ways of communicating, five different views on work-life balance, and potentially five different tactics needed to engage them.
Veterans (born before 1946)
Veterans grew up in the shadow of World War 2, faced an uncertain future and wanted safety and security. Long service with one company was common and workplace culture was more formal. There wasn’t a computer in sight and telephones had rotary dials! Extended pensionable age and low interest rates on savings mean many still work, either for financial reasons or because they love it!
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Then came the Baby Boomers, striving for individual rights in the age of the Cold War, space exploration and rock and roll. Against a background of high unemployment and striking unions, Baby Boomers felt proud and lucky to have a job. They believe that if they give their all to a company, they’ll be well looked after. This group finds it hard to understand why younger generations often don’t share the same ethic of doing what needs to be done, for as long as it takes.
Generation X (1965-1979)
Generation X meanwhile experienced rapid developments in technology, growing up with the advent of the personal computer, mobile phone and the internet. Gen Xs saw their parents devote a lot of time to work, so they’re keen to achieve a better work-life balance. They also need to believe in what their company stands for, don’t like too many rules, and see flexibility as a way to foster creativity.
Many reports suggest Millennials have had the most influence on the workplace. This tribe grew up as technology came of age, connecting us 24/7, and they’ll make up more than 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025. Millennials thrive on change, are culturally fluent, naturally optimistic and value a sense of purpose in the workplace.
They expect an ‘information, anywhere’ environment that allows them to use the collaboration tools they are already proficient with at home. Today, the earliest of this generation will be in their late thirties, probably in middle management, leadership, or executive roles. Unlike previous generations, Millennials thrive on gaining skills and experience, so if they don’t get opportunities to learn and grow are likely to job hop seeking new experiences.
Generation Z (post-2000)
And finally the newest generation – Gen Z – the first true digital natives. These employees want recognition for success and need constant feedback and reassurance. They are intolerant of prejudice, have a strong sense of justice and are team players.
Predominantly the children of Generation Z, they may also have parents who are Millennials, and are not only keen to make money – they want to make the world a better place too. Gen Z virtually grew up with smartphones in their hands and, with the skills needed to take advantage of advanced technologies, will be significantly more helpful to the typical company in today’s high tech world.
one size will definitely not fit
all, the modern communicator will have to adopt a number of different roles to address this diverse audience.”
All of which means organisations are having to rethink their workplace culture and environment. The best managers recognise that all workers have different talents, skills and experiences and need to be managed individually. They will have a better feeling for where employees are coming from, and will therefore have an easier time getting the company where it needs to go.
Recognising that one size will definitely not fit all, the modern communicator will have to adopt a number of different roles to address this diverse audience. Here are a few pointers:
- Different generations tend to value different communication styles, so understand audience preferences. Boomers and Veterans typically want face-to-face meetings while Generation X is more likely to communicate via e-mail. Some older workers might struggle with the idea of using social media as a workplace tool but technology is turning all that on its head, making things simpler and providing knowledge to everyone.
- Mix it up by using multiple communication avenues and developing new internal communication strategies.
- Be a connector – five generations can work together with remarkable levels of energy, productivity, collaboration and focus, each bringing their own insights and experience. Technology, such as O365 or Yammer, has the power to give all employees a voice and a platform to collaborate. These tools can also provide an inclusive culture for gig or home workers and help build their commitment to company goals. Collaborative teamwork leads to innovation, which is needed in spades to be competitive in the global economy.
- Teach and be taught. Today’s generation can take some great lessons from older colleagues. Conversely, today’s youth can teach the Veterans and Baby Boomers much about technology. Always encourage learning and growth within your team.
- Seek out other generations’ perspectives and ways of thinking. Diverse thinking is critical to any organisation’s performance.
- And look to yourself. The outlines above are a broad brush and there’ll be plenty of exceptions. Never make assumptions based on an employees’ age, gender or role. Make an effort to discover what works best for each and adjust your efforts accordingly. Just because you’re in charge, your way is not necessarily right way – you may even learn something you hadn’t considered before.
Want to know more about the impact of multiple generations working together and
the challenge that poses for the modern communicator? Look out for Sequel’s Whitepaper,
due in April. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.