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Lead Your Team Managing

Bridge the Gap: Communicating With a Multigenerational Workforce

image for RawPixel/Shutterstock
RawPixel/Shutterstock
  • People from certain generations tend to use different communication methods.
  • If the ages of your employees vary widely, it might seem difficult to reach each person.
  • There are a variety of ways to reach your generationally diverse workforce, such as mixing generations and modifying your communication style.

Managing a workforce that is becoming increasingly diverse in age is no small task for employers. A 2017 study from Robert Half Management Resources revealed that communication is the most difficult aspect of managing a workplace comprising as many as four generations of employees.

Specifically, 30% of the executives surveyed said communication skills represent the greatest difference among employees from different generations.

The research found that baby boomers tend to be more reserved, while Gen Xers prefer a control-and-command style. Gen Y (millennial) employees prefer a more collaborative approach to communication, and the youngest workers, those in Gen Z, like in-person interactions best.

The other big differences the study identified were how employees adapt to change, their technical skills and how they work with other departments.

Gen X and Gen Y employees tend to see change as a vehicle for new opportunities, while Gen Z is used to change and expects it in the workplace. [See related story: How to Manage a Multigenerational Workforce]

"Each generation brings unique characteristics to the workforce, which should be embraced," Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, said in a statement. "Too often, managers see these differences as negatives, but building a team with diverse perspectives, insights and strengths can only be a positive, leading to improved products and service levels." 

Managing a multigenerational workforce doesn't have to be hard, Hird said. "For example, for years, employers complained about how the work styles of millennials were disrupting the workplace," he said. "We know now, however, they simply have different outlooks, and the resulting changes from employers, such as new communication methods and enhanced work-life balance offerings, have benefited companies and employees alike."

The study was based on surveys of more than 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Think about how you go about your day. Do you wake up in the morning and go for a jog? Do you have coffee every day? When do you go to work? Do you talk to your boss differently than you talk to your co-workers? Do you wear a tie every day even though you are not necessarily required to?

Now, think about what your parents would do. If you have kids and they're old enough to work, think about what they would do. Chances are, there are some differences.

The ways people from different generations do things are examples of generational differences. From ironing all of their clothes to reading the newspaper every morning, there are some things older generations tend to do more than younger ones, and vice versa.

It's important to understand generational differences for a variety of reasons. First, different generations have different needs. For example, younger employees have different ways of learning than older employees do. Some of your younger employees might want to watch a video tutorial, while your older employees might prefer a hands-on approach to learning.

Different generations also have different experiences. Many of your older employees have more years of experience at your company than your younger hires. Your younger employees might be able to use their recently earned degree to help with a project in the office, but your older employees have years of stories and knowledge that will benefit your organization.

Another generational difference is in incentives. Your younger employees might want to be recognized differently than your older employees.

Because of these differences, you cannot approach all of your employees the same way and expect each of them to react the same way. With these differences in mind, you must recognize that all of your employees are different.

To help employers, Robert Half Management Resources offered several tips for managing employees from different generations:

  1. Don't overthink it. Start from the perspective that all employees want to do well and help the company. That type of viewpoint will lay a strong foundation when building relationships.

  2. Modify your style. While your employees have many of the same attributes, they also have individual needs. Work at customizing your management style, tailoring it to each person's strengths, personality and aspirations.

  3. Get out of the office. To get your employees of different generations to know one another better, consider hosting off-site team-building events. Being in a setting outside the office is a good way for employees to learn more about their colleagues.

  4. Let younger employees be heard. It is important to make sure employees from younger generations feel comfortable sharing their opinions with their older co-workers. Regardless of their age, employees who have expertise in a specific area should be able to share their perspectives with everyone in the office.

  5. Mix generations. When assembling teams to work on certain projects, mix and match employees of different ages who have different skill sets. This can spur innovation and new ways of solving problems.