Advice for Improving Communication in a Multigenerational Workforce

From Boards of Directors to the feet-on-the-ground labor force, there are four active generations working in organizations today. While the Silent and X Generation factor into the mix, the larger conversation is about the disparity between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. The gap is more complex than it seems. Why? Because, deep cultural differences exist and are creating a communication divide. Here are seven areas where perception problems interfere with productivity and collaboration, along with advice for overcoming these obstacles:

1. Workplace Formality

Perception: Boomers were brought up in environments favoring formal interactions, while Millennials are the product of more casual upbringings. This can lead to the stereotype that Boomers are strict and uptight and Millennials are unprofessional.

Advice: Rather than allowing these perceptions to impact workplace interactions, organizations can preemptively set the tone by establishing expectations related to formality in the workplace. For example: when is an email appropriate, as opposed to a formal meeting? In delineating clear protocols, organizations promote understanding and acceptance.

2. Chain of Command

Perception: Boomers and Millennials also diverge in how they deal with authority. While Boomers are accustomed to more hierarchical systems, Millennials grew up in collaborative households where they were treated as “equals.” This can lead to the perception that Millennials are disrespectful of authority and/or quick to overstep the boundaries that Boomers live by.

Advice: Organizations can counter this issue by creating groups of teams for Millennials to work with, along with establishing clear reporting guidelines.

3. Acknowledgement

Perception: Baby Boomers derive a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from producing results. Millennials, meanwhile, are acknowledgement-driven: results are the happy byproduct. Unfortunately, this can lead to the perception that Millennials are entitled.

Advice: Rather than fighting an innate characteristic that is the product of their generation, organizations can foster success by providing the constructive criticism Millennials crave. This includes the creation of programs and awards to engage, inspire, and motivate teams.

4. Communication Outlets

Perception: Boomers are most comfortable communicating in person or via telephone, while Millennials prefer digital methods, such as text, email, and various social media platforms. This can lead to resentment on both sides: a Baby Boomer may feel disrespected by the Millennial’s inclination to text, while a Millennial may be impatient about a Boomer’s lack of a quick digital response.

Advice: The solution is not one or the other. Defining preferred communication methods along with expectations for frequency of communication can circumvent these frustrations.

5. Motivators

Perception: While Baby Boomers are motivated by the job itself, Millennials, along with their Gen-X predecessors, are inspired by meaningful work and a sense of purpose. This may lead to the perception that Baby Boomers are rigid and fun-averse, while Millennials are too lofty and idealistic in their expectations.

Advice: One simple way for employers to alleviate this gap is to recognize that not all employees are motivated the same way. While a $200 bonus may be the perfect reward for a Baby Boomer, a Millennial may be more fulfilled by a day off.

6. Work-Life Balance

Perception: Boomers typically have a utilitarian approach to work, while Millennials and Gen X-ers prize work-life balance above all else. While this trait can be perceived as lack of loyalty and work ethic by Baby Boomers, it is simply a manifestation of different values.

Advice: One area where this shines brightest pertains to compensation. Boomers and Millennials are both motivated by money during salary negotiations. However, Boomers are generally more focused on cash compensation while Millennials often prefer benefits, such as vacation, telecommute options, and other flexible arrangements.

7. Work Methods

Perception: Boomers doggedly focus on one task, commence intensive research, and execute. Millennials, meanwhile, are quick and consummate multi-taskers with the inclination to “just Google it.” This may result in a Millennial completing an assignment in half the time expected by his/her Baby Boomer boss.

Advice: Rather than perpetuating the takeaway that a fast result is a half-hearted one, organizations must acknowledge and teach employees to value that workers accomplish tasks differently, and that a results-based scale trumps a process-based one.

As our seasoned executive workforce continues to transition, Executives Unlimited, Inc. helps define a smooth succession to enable Generation X and Millennials to ascend into higher positions of authority. Managing these four groups and their distinct characteristics, values and attitudes will be an increasing imperative for today’s companies. Understanding and valuing employee differences is the key to rising above these challenges and thriving as a multigenerational workforce.

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