How to Improve Communication Between Generations in the Workplace

Considering the differences between generations, it is critically important for companies to identify the generation their employees belong to, the type of content they prefer, and the media they use to approach them correctly. The best bet is to segment communication efforts and sub-target each generation through their preferred method and content style to enhance the efficiency, clarity, and quality of communication between them.

Diverse teams carry diverse work and communication styles and this can contribute to wide the communication gap in multi-generational teams.

Here is some data to better understand this: 83% of Generation Z workers prefer to engage with managers in person, yet 82% of managers believe their Gen Z employees prefer to communicate via instant message. Further, 57% of Gen Z want to receive feedback several times a week, but only 50% of their managers provide feedback to them that frequently.

The complexity of communication intensifies when multiple channels are combined with the varying communication preferences and expectations of each generation making communicating between generations challenging. To overcome this, you can implement some strategies to help engage easier.

1. Generational awareness

General awareness of how each generation approaches communication is key to closing the communication gap.

  • Baby Boomers appreciate formal and direct communications with a preference for using face-to-face, phone, and email; they value background information and details.
  • Generation X appreciate informal and flexible communications with a preference for using email, phone, text, and Facebook; they value professional etiquette.
  • Millennials appreciate authentic and fast communications with a preference for using text, chat, email, and Instagram; they value efficiency and a digital-first approach.
  • Generation Z appreciates transparent and visual communications with a preference for using face-to-face, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, and FaceTime; they value video, voice commands, and a mobile-only approach.

2. Accept their preferences

Use generations as clues and defer to the communication preference most widely used by that generation. For example, Baby Boomers who want to connect with Gen Z should not call and leave a voicemail. Instead, defer to texting or instant messages. Conversely, Gen Zers who want to connect with Baby Boomers should not FaceTime or DM them on social media. Instead, defer to a phone call or face-to-face meeting.

It’s also important to match the right channel with the type of information. 

  • Phone calls are for detailed, long, difficult, or emotional conversations.
  • Email is for brief, informative, and/or instructional information.
  • Chat is for general announcements, news, informal messages, the team collaborating, and socializing.
  • Video (Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, etc.) is for long, feedback-rich, focused, emotional or difficult conversations.

3. Mirror the communication

Respond to communications using the same channel in which it was received. For example, if a Gen Xer receives a text from a Millennial colleague, the Gen Xer should not call the Millennial but rather mirror the communication by sending back a text.

If alternating the communication channel is a must, then take the time to recap the previous correspondence in the new communication channel.

4. Set communication expectations 

If a team or individual hasn’t been explicit about their communication preferences, be proactive about informing others of how they can best connect with you. For example, a Gen Z employee could mention they prefer a text over a phone call in their email signature or Slack profile. Or a Baby Boomer could mention they prefer an email over a voicemail in their voicemail recording.

5. Communication agreement

The purpose of establishing a communication agreement is to create official guidelines that highlight the rules of how a team is to communicate with one another.

Communicating about how to communicate is essential in today’s high-tech and digital work environments. A communication agreement helps to set expectations, create team buy-in, establish boundaries to protect crucial work, and streamline communication.

Ask the following questions of your multi-generational team to gain consensus.

  • What communication challenges currently exist among the team?
    • E.g. Too much time-sensitive information is being sent via email instead of chat.
  • What is the team’s most-used communication channel? Is this the most efficient channel?
    • E.g. Email is the most prevalent, but a reduction in the daily number of emails would be welcomed.
  • Are there communications that need to be prioritized?
    • E.g. Any communications from current or potential customers should be prioritized.
  • What types of communications are non-negotiable?
    • E.g. Monthly all-hands, face-to-face, or video meetings are non-negotiable to maintain team connections.
  • What are the expectations (said and unsaid) for response times to email, phone, text, chat, etc.? Are these expectations necessary or suitable for success?
    • E.g. Email response time expectations are 24 to 48 hours. If communication is needed sooner, use text or chat as the response time expectations are 15 to 30 minutes.
  • How should “do not disturb” times such as vacations, evenings, deep work, etc. be handled?
    • E.g. On workdays, employees are not expected to respond after 6 p.m.
  • Do work schedules need to be synced to allow for tighter collaboration? If so, what are the guidelines?
    • E.g. Every Tuesday all team members are expected to be online working between 3 and 4 p.m.
  • What communication channel should be used for “emergency only?”
    • E.g. Unprompted phone calls are for emergencies only and should be treated as high-priority by all team members.
  • How are meetings to be conducted to maximize participation and efficiency?
    • E.g. More frequent but shorter meetings (15 minutes or less) led by rotating team members.
  • What other actions are needed to improve communication efficiency and quality?
    • E.g. Out-of-office responders are required for any off days or times of uninterrupted work.

Consider creating a separate agreement for any external communications with clients, customers, and vendors.

Try to implement some of these suggestions and start noticing that a simple understanding of generational communication can make a huge difference on your team’s daily basis.

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