Workplace Communication: How to Unite a Multigenerational Workforce

Jessica Ruane
Jessica Ruane  |  June 26, 2019

The generational divide in our society has never been more evident than it is today. 

As technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, the communication gap between Millennials and their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts grows. Even recruiting Millennials is different. Every time a new app is released or an updated version of an iPhone becomes available, this gap grows wider and wider.

These vast differences in values, culture, and communication can make managing a multigenerational workforce a challenge. Is it possible to get such varied points of view to come together and unite as one team?

We say yes it is. Here’s how. 

How multigenerational workers affect workplace communication

Before we dive right into exactly what the generational communication differences are in the workplace and how to address them, let’s take a look at each generation represented in the workplace right now. 

In order to better understand how these groups communicate, it’s important to take a look at what they value. 

What really matters — understanding generational differences in value systems

Each generation has its own separate identity with their own distinct viewpoints, values, and attitudes toward work based on their life experiences. To successfully integrate these diverse generations into the workplace, companies will need to create a corporate culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion for its multigenerational workforce.

3 generations in the workplace

In order to do this, it’s important for managers to understand a few basic values that each generation has and how these play into their communication styles

Baby Boomers

This generation has often been characterized as “workaholics” who tend to put work before their personal lives in an all-or-nothing attempt at achieving personal gratification. Boomers have also been referred to as the “Me Generation.” 

While at first glance it may appear that Boomers are a ruthlessly self-interested group who will stop at nothing to satisfy their limitless ambition, this generation actually has good reason to seek self-sufficiency. Record inflation and the demise of the dot.com bubble has devastated the retirement savings for many Baby Boomer workers. For this reason, a staggering number of workers from this generation must now work into their retirement years to recoup their losses from these major financial setbacks. 

Because of this, Baby Boomers value ambition, monetary security, and self-sufficiency. 

Gen Xers

This group is also known as the “Latchkey Kids Generation.” This generation was brought up with record-breaking divorce rates and a mile-long slew of public political scandals which have made them inherently suspicious and skeptical of authority figures. This generation responds well to straightforward communication, and yearns for a greater sense of freedom — do not try to micromanage them. They value a strong work-life balance and the ability to maintain their independence. 

Millennials

As the first generation in history to grow up with the internet since birth, Millennials naturally gravitate toward digital forms of communication over phone calls or in-person meetings. They’re also the first global-centric generation and tend to value inclusivity, diversity, and purpose more than monetary compensation. 

Even though this generation has been raised on a steady diet of memes, text messages, and hashtags, they’re not as one-dimensional as many might think. Millennials actually value life experiences over owning personal possessions. 

To address the value system of the average Millennial in the workplace, companies must stress their mission statement and demonstrate that they’re out to do more than just turn a profit.

Workplace communication styles between generations

The cultural events that have shaped the attitudes and values of these three distinct generations are also reflected in their communication styles. This drastically different approach to communication can sometimes make it difficult for everyone to come together in a workplace setting and collaborate effectively.

So how are modern companies supposed to deal with the generational gap in their workforce?

Phone vs. chat vs. email

One of the major generational differences in communication styles between workers lies in their preferred communication channels. For Millenials, shooting someone a message like SMS is often their go-to mode of communication. On the other hand, Baby Boomers may prefer a phone call (or dare I say, an in-person conversation!) in lieu of an email or instant message. 

This can sometimes cause friction among coworkers; if you’re not communicating with someone through their preferred channel, they may not answer right away, which leads to production delays. The opportunities for miscommunication abound. 

Formal vs. casual

Not long ago, workplaces were much more formal. The rise in hip, laid-back startup culture has shifted the needle in terms of office formality. While younger generations may see no problem rolling into work in jeans and chatting up their coworkers through an app, older workers may see this lackadaisical approach to workplace culture as unrefined

At the same time, younger generations tend to favor efficiency over tradition and may view writing memos, wearing ties, and using company letterhead as tedious. To remedy this potential culture clash, internal communications departments should set clear expectations on the level of formality expected in office communication. 

Collaborative vs. individualistic 

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are known for their rugged individualism and hardcore work ethic. These workers often seek individual success, while Millennials tend to be much more collaborative. Younger people also seek out more guidance, feedback, and acknowledgement from their leaders and peers. This can lead to tension as older, more independent workers scoff at what they perceive is the outcome of a pampered, high-maintenance generation raised on unearned praise and participation trophies.

Corporate Trainer Dana Brownlee says, “The solution is on both ends. Leaders need to realize how important that acknowledgment is, but the younger generations need to realize they're not going to get an IV drip of praise.”

Security vs. freedom

Older generations tend to favor stability and security over freedom and self-expression. This is a major difference in how generations approach their position in the workplace. Millennials tend to job-hop seeking businesses with missions and company culture that align with their own personal values. One study found that 43% of Millennials surveyed plan to leave their current job within two years. 

Older generations tend to stay with companies longer and often express more loyalty to their employer than their younger counterparts. 

Pragmatic vs. pathos

Older generations, especially Gen Xers, tend to have a more blunt, direct communication style and usually prefer email over face-to-face conversation. Millennials, on the other hand, crave positive feedback, recognition, and work more collaboratively, wanting a lot of input and direction. 

These differences in communication styles can sometimes clash in the workplace, causing misunderstandings or even interpersonal conflict. 

How to create an attractive workplace culture for employees of every age 

These generations have to work together, so how can you create an attractive workplace culture for everyone? 

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

When in doubt, you can always count on this classic soulful song to alleviate workplace drama. While it may sound cliche, mutual respect is a must in the workplace. In order to truly address differences in communication styles among multigenerational workforces, management must work to demystify common misconceptions each group may have about the other, and strive to find innovative ways to get them to come together. 

When done properly, your workforce’s age differences can actually be a competitive advantage. Older, more experienced workers can mentor and guide their younger team members while the Millennials can leverage their youthful enthusiasm to keep older workers engaged and prevent them from falling victim to burnout. 

Unbridled team spirit + wisdom and life experience = an unstoppable team. 

Multi-channel communication strategies

Many companies make the mistake of relying too heavily on a single method of communication. In order to address the communication preferences of a multigenerational workplace, you’ll need a healthy mix of verbal, written, and digital communication. For example, Baby Boomers tend to prefer verbal updates, whereas Gen Xers and Millennials might prefer email or a chat message. 

Bridge the age gap with a digital workplace

Building a digital workplace can be a great way to encourage your team to communicate and engage with each other more. But, companies should be cautious when choosing a new team collaboration tools such as internal communication software. The wrong technology can create more problems than it solves. 

TIP: Narrowing down the massive list of available software can be a daunting task. Find and compare internal communication software options, rated and reviewed by real users.

See the Highest-Rated Internal Communications Software →

Your digital workplace should ideally be simple enough for older, less tech-savvy workers to understand and use, yet also comprehensive enough to solve the complex communication challenges in your organization. 

Here are some key features to look for when choosing team collaboration software for your business: 

  • Real-time, direct messaging
  • Share videos, files, and images
  • GDPR-compliance
  • Single sign-on
  • QR code onboarding
  • Inline translation
  • Secure document library
  • Shift schedules
  • Trigger-based content workflows
  • Chatbots
  • Digital signage
  • Pulse surveys and polls
  • Integrate with existing HR and operational systems
  • Powerful analytics dashboard

Encourage relationship-building

Typically, the better people know, understand, and like each other, the better they will work together. Encourage your multigenerational employees to get to know each other and facilitate an ongoing dialogue. This way, instead of grumbling at each other’s communication quirks, employees can appreciate and recognize their differences and learn to work around them. 

With the right leadership strategies in place, having a workforce made up of different generations can be a huge value add to your organization. 

Want to learn more? Check out these seven workplace innovation strategies to help you grow your business or take a look at our complete communications guide with a variety of resources to help you build the best strategy.

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Jessica Ruane
Author

Jessica Ruane

Jessica Ruane is a content marketing specialist with a diehard passion for the written word. As a Content Writer for Beekeeper, she creates content aimed at teaching companies how to unleash the potential of their frontline workforce. She especially enjoys providing tips and telling stories around operational efficiency, leadership, and the changing landscape of the digital workplace.