Workplaces have become less formal over the years. Gone are the days where everyone wears their “penguin suits” to work. However, it’s not just the dress code that has become less formal. The way that people interact and communicate has also lost many of the historical rigours of social etiquette. Interestingly, whilst communication has become less formal and more spontaneous, it is still often the single biggest problem area for most businesses. But why? Well, one of the likely causes is because there are currently 4 unique and very different generations in the workplace – all communicating according to their generational norms.
Each generation has its own unique traits and quirks that are important to understand if you want to improve relationships with your colleagues, clients or even your boss. Understanding the different generations, what motivates them and how they prefer to communicate is critical to building strong relationships and preventing misunderstandings or irritations.
The 4 Generations in the Current Workplace
The first thing you need to do is identify what generation YOU fit into. A lot of the characteristics might be very generic, but you will get a better understanding of how people from different generations behave. Below is a very brief description of each of the current generations that you will find in the workplace:
Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964):
Baby boomers tend to be very hard working and are motivated by position and prestige. They are more formal in their approach and attitude and as such prefer a hierarchal structure. Baby boomers are very team-orientated and have more of a “we” than an “I” approach. They prefer to be more direct in their communication and tend to ask lots of questions.
Generation X (born between 1965-1976):
Generation X is a tech savvy and individualistic generation. Unlike baby boomers, they generally prefer to be more independent and favour making decisions without holding a group discussion. They value freedom and they dislike being micro-managed. Generation X is also more comfortable using the latest technology such as smartphones and tablets for their work. These individuals also tend to prefer using interactive communication mediums, such as email, to communicate.
Generation Y / Millennials (born between 1977-1995):
Generation Y is a critical generation because they currently make up the majority in the global workplace. Whilst, Generation Y does have some similarities to Generation X, they are a lot more private and less outspoken. Also, they tend to be highly technologically skilled. The internet and social media play a major role a Millenial’s private and professional life. From a communication perspective, they prefer to use less direct communication methods such as text messaging, email and Skype over phone calls.
Generation Z / Centennials (born from 1996 onwards):
For Centennials or Generation Z, the internet isn’t technology. It’s part of their daily life just like eating and sleeping is for everyone else. They tend to be a lot more reserved than Generation Y and prefer to use Snapchat over Facebook or Twitter (unlike Generation X and Y). A lot of Centennials tend to be more realistic than idealistic in their views. They are also very good at multi-tasking which often means that they are unlikely to look at you directly when they are communicating.
Common Communication Differences
The preferred method of communication amongst employees from different generations is often one of the biggest differentiators between the generations. Whilst older generations prefer talking face-to-face or on the phone, younger generations will use text-based messages like email, Skype and other instant messaging to communicate. This alone can cause frustrations and potential clashes especially if it’s on a topic of major importance.
What else is there to consider?
Another area which can lead to potential communication conflicts is a difference in work approach and attitude. Older staff members tend to believe they must wait for their annual performance appraisal to see where they stand. Younger workers want constant guidance, feedback and acknowledgement. These two opposing beliefs can cause misunderstandings on both sides. Older workers might feel that their younger counterparts are high maintenance, and even lazy. On the other hand, younger workers tend to feel unappreciated if they don’t get guidance or feedback.
So how do you Bridge the Gaps?
If you want to improve communication and bridge the generation gap, it’s important for all staff members across the different groups to understand their co-worker’s preferences and try to compromise. Some might be reluctant or feel unable to do this but it is highly beneficial. Not only will this prevent possible misunderstandings, but it will also strengthen the culture and identity of the organisation.
Whatever your current station is in your organisation, you can be an advocate for bridging the generation gap. By simply being aware of the differences between generations and identifying who fits where is a great start. Talk to your peers about any of these differences, especially if it is something that is unknown or misunderstood. Going out of your way to learn about the generation differences from a younger or older co-worker will also build mutual respect. Besides, you could even learn a thing or two from each other and gain extra knowledge and skills in the process!
Don’t forget that people are still individuals
Whilst there are definite differences between the generations which can present communication challenges, it’s important to realise that each generation has immense value to add – whether its experience, loyalty, energy or an enquiring mind. As with all things, it’s very important to remember that even though there are generational differences, automatically stereotyping a colleague based on his or her age is never the answer. Treat and respect your colleagues equally and through open and honest communication and a willingness to really listen to each other, only great things will grow.
Want to learn valuable tips to bridge the communication gap in your office and earn more respect from your co-workers? Our “Do you Get Me?” session at PACSA 2017 will help you to prevent any possible misunderstandings and how you can build lasting and beneficial working relationships with your colleagues, irrespective of the age gap. Contact us on (011) 454 5505 or email email@example.com for more information on the “Secretarial Event of the Year”.