How to Communicate with Multiple Generations

By: Samantha Harsh, GSP
Safety Specialist
Wohlsen Construction Company

Welcome to life in the new workplace. From the Traditionalist to the Millennials, today’s workforce is a mix of four generations, providing a never-before-seen generational diversity. While each generation brings different, unique strengths and assets, they can also lead to conflict and miscommunication if managed improperly. Learning each generation’s preferred method of communication is key to succeeding in conveying your message. As people live and work longer than before, the modern business houses up to four different generations. The Traditionalists (1925 to 1941), Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), Generation X (1960 to 1982) and the Millennials (1990 to 2000) are all working together but have very different expectations and views of the workplace.

A quote from Seb O’Connell, Executive Vice President and Managing Director for Europe at Cielo, states that “In a multi-generational workforce, there is potential for negative stereotyping. Older workers may perceive millennials as entitled, tech-obsessed or too eager to challenge norms, while millennial employees could see previous generations as being ‘stuck in their ways’ and difficult to train. Organizations need to take steps to ensure managers overcome their unconscious bias.”  Think about all the creative ideas each teammate can dream up and provide the support they need to make it happen. Listed below are a few ideas to not only keep the peace in the workplace, but to help make each individual’s ideas come to life.

Get everyone on the same page regarding the formality to the workplace
As the leader, it is important to set the tone for the formality of your teammates. Baby Boomers are used to suits and ties, while younger generations wear business casual. Explain what is expected of all employees, so there is less room for disagreement and finger-pointing.

Use multiple communication avenues
With smart phones and emailing as the primary communication platform, some older generations might find it hard to adapt to this change. Baby Boomers prefer to have face-to-face conversations and grew up during the time of rotary phones. Millennials are comfortable speaking via phone, email or text. Always be aware of different ways to communicate to help make everyone comfortable.

Acknowledge the differences
Use the differences between generations as a tool and resource for training. Each individual was hired for their strengths and what they have to offer to the company, so teach and grow with everyone as a whole. Learn how to incorporate every skill together to make an effective team.

Ask, don’t assume
Lead by example in your organization and always ask before assuming. Miscommunication causes disagreement in the ranks. Encourage your team to communicate among each other. Get to know how each individual conveys their messages and works toward the big goal. After all, everyone is working towards that same goal.

Changes in our world and workplace will forever impact companies. Learning how to understand their workforce and how to get everyone to work as a team is the first step to success. Never think of a certain generation as a road block because of their opinions and work ethic. Think of it as a way to grow your company and productivity. Support all collaboration among peers and encourage learning and growth.