- People from different generations tend to have distinct communication styles.
- If the ages of your employees vary, your workforce may have difficulty communicating across age groups.
- There are a variety of ways to reach a generationally diverse team, such as fostering collaboration and modifying your communication methods.
- This article is for business owners looking to improve communication among multigenerational employees.
Managing a workforce that is becoming increasingly diverse in age is no small task for employers. Communication is one of the most difficult aspects of overseeing a workplace comprising as many as four generations of employees. That’s because communication styles often represent the greatest difference among workers from different generations.
Below is a guide to generational differences and advice on how to manage multigenerational employee communication.
What are generational differences?
Consider how you go about your day. Do you wake up in the morning and go for a jog? Do you have coffee every morning? 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’re not necessarily required to?
Now think about what your parents do. If you have kids and they’re old enough to work, think about what they do. Chances are, they’ll have different answers to the questions above. The ways people from various generations go about their day are examples of generational differences. Whether it’s ironing all of their clothes or reading the newspaper every morning, there are activities older generations tend to do more than younger ones, and vice versa. These distinctions show up at home and in the workplace. Older generations tend to be more reserved, while younger ones are often more interactive.
Key takeaway: Generational differences comprise the lifestyles, habits and daily activities that one generation does differently from another.
Why is it important to understand generational differences in the workplace?
First, different generations have different needs. For example, younger employees have different ways of learning than older employees do. Some of your younger team members might want to watch a video tutorial, while your more senior staffers might prefer a hands-on approach to learning.
Different generations also have different experiences. Older employees typically have more years of experience than younger hires. Your younger employees might be able to use their recently earned degrees to help with a project in the office, but your older employees have years of stories, hands-on experience and institutional knowledge that will benefit your organization.
Another generational difference is in incentives. Your younger staffers might want to be recognized differently than your older ones. In fact, some employees value appreciation over bonuses, and their preference may have to do with whether they’re Generation Z or a Baby Boomer.
Because of these differences, you cannot approach all of your employees the same way and expect each of them to react the same way. Recognize that all of your employee age groups are different, and so your communication with them should be somewhat different too. The goal, however, is to find ways to bridge the gap.
How should you communicate with a multigenerational workforce?
Below are tips for communicating with and managing employees from different generations.
- Don’t overthink it. Start from the perspective that all employees want to do well and help the company. That perspective will lay a strong foundation for building relationships. When you’re confident everyone on staff wants to succeed, team members will be eager to improve communication and work together.
- Modify your style. While your employees have many of the same attributes, they also have individual needs and perspectives, in large part due to their age. For direct reports, work at customizing your management style, tailoring it to each person’s strengths, personality and aspirations. For the company team as a whole, try to find an approach that everyone can adapt to.
- Get out of the office. To get your employees of different generations to know one another better and thus communicate better, consider hosting offsite team-building events. Being in a setting outside the office is a good way for employees to learn more about their colleagues.
Did you know?: Different communication approaches are not only needed within a business, but outside of it too. Learn how marketing to millennials is different from the strategies for other generations.
- Let younger employees be heard. It’s important to ensure 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 voice their ideas and points of view with everyone in the office. [Read related article: How to Be a Good Manager]
- 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. Successful teamwork also fosters cohesion.
- Be present for younger generations. In 2021, the NYU School of Professional Studies held a webinar about multigenerational workplace communication. One of the points presented was that Gen Z employees benefit from a clear supervisory presence from day one. That’s because many of their first jobs have been remote, and a consistent managerial presence (even a virtual one) can help connect younger employees with older ones.
- Encourage millennial employees to accept change, and lead by example. The NYU seminar also suggested millennial employees learn to accept the changes that Gen Z may demand in the workplace. These changes may pertain to political or social matters or a faster track to success. On this front, you should lead by example – when you welcome Gen Z-led change with open arms, so might your employees from older generations.
- Balance hybrid work models with occasional in-person opportunities. A 2022 Forbes expert panel recommended flexible work arrangements for bridging cross-generational communication gaps. Doing so requires providing digital communication and collaboration tools and training your employees across generations to use them. You should also allow older generations to work in person so they can communicate face-to-face, which is often their preference.
- Get employee feedback. Maybe you think your older employees are struggling with your digital communication methods, but what if you’re wrong? What if it’s instead the younger generation that dislikes your chosen communication platforms? Collecting employee feedback is the quickest way to verify or disprove your assumptions. Use what you hear from your employees to form an effective communication strategy for all generations.
Tip: A communication app is great for quick conversations, but you’ll likely need a video conferencing service for larger team-wide virtual communications across your organization. Check out our overview of the best video conferencing services to find several worthy options.
Accommodating the whole team
Effectively managing a multigenerational team means accommodating your employees’ needs and taking into account their varied communication preferences. That doesn’t mean you have to cater to every individual person’s preferred style, especially if they don’t directly report to you, but it does involve recognizing the differences among your employees’ age groups and developing holistic solutions that allow you to manage and communicate with your entire workforce, as well as on more individual levels.
Identify trends across generations and seek to balance several communication styles that suit everyone. Besides a more cohesive and productive team, you’ll find your workplace benefits from inclusive communication in many other ways – such as increased diversity, stronger morale and a greater eagerness to collaborate.
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.