Communicating Across Workplace Generation Gaps

Published Thursday, April 22, 2010 9:09 AM

As we discussed in a prior post, four very different generations of workers occupy the typical workplace. According to studies, it is not a particularly easy co-existence.

Last year, Pew Research Center reported that almost eight in 10 people polled perceived a major divide between the point of view of younger people and older people today. The Pew Center's study echoes Randstad USA's 2008 World of Work survey finding that the four generations at work rarely interact with one another. Given these hurdles, facilitating productive workplace communication can be a big challenge for managers and team leaders.

But, the challenge can be met.

As a recent Psychology Today article on the generational divide suggests, it is important to recognize that, unlike their more traditional older coworkers, young workers of Generation Y shun authoritarian communication. Raised on a steady diet of positive feedback and recognition, they also need regular input from their bosses. Expanding on this point, a New York Times piece on inter-generational communication sets out that, to better connect with Gen Y workers, managers and leaders should consider:

  • Adopting a communication style that is less curt, callous and confrontational and more respectful, conciliatory and indirect
  • Making requests that identify tangible business goals instead of issuing blanket orders
  • Supplementing annual performance reviews with more frequent progress reports and informal updates

Another key step is to encourage and empower all employees to use a full range of communication tools. Through workplace learning opportunities, even workers with technophobia can engage with others through e-mail, blogging, text messaging, instant messaging and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Similarly, simulated interactions and role-playing can help workers who find it hard to converse face-to-face or in a written communication of more than 140 characters.

Productive cross-generational communication also flows when managers and team leaders take steps to bring the generations onto common ground. If blended into functional work teams, for example, older and younger workers can share knowledge and collaborate on devising business strategies, developing new products and handling service issues. This kind of close collaboration cultivates understanding, trust and respect.

Have you experienced cross-generational communication failures and successes at work? If so, please share your experiences with us here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris

 

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