Business leaders everywhere recognise and search for ways to fully comprehend and respond to massive changes in the modern office environment. Some of the most pressing changes revolve around communication needs in the increasingly global and remote business landscape. Many of those changes are due to the rapid and drastic generational shift within today’s workplace, which the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded.
Each generation has its approach to communication. Each one tends to approach their careers with a specific set of communication skills and comfort levels that employers find increasingly critical to acknowledge and facilitate.
Understanding the Basics of Each Generation’s Communication Style
The attitudes, outlooks and values of each generation in the workforce continue to be explored, which psychologists and HR practitioners identifying the ways the generations are similar, for example, we all share:
- Traditional value structure
- Trustworthy leaders who listen and act
- The desire for respect and positive recognition
- A dislike of change
Today, there are more differences among the generations, as each one has changed in the wake of the 2009 recession and other cultural shifts. Further, it is natural that, as time goes on and people age — even within the context of their generation — their values shift.
Now that Generation Z has entered the workforce, it is also essential to look at their values and goals to further explore their perspective on communication and how it fits within the overall generational context of the modern workplace.
Here are some essential characteristics and communication values for each of today’s prominent generations in the workplace:
- Baby Boomers. According to pop culture and academic and social research, baby boomers are notorious workaholics, demonstrated by their trend toward deferring retirement. Whether in response to losses during the late 2000s economic downturn or as a matter of work ethic, baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer. They appreciate high-quality products and services, are not afraid to question authority or the status quo, and always want friendly and accessible leaders. They believe in the value of one-on-one communications but are willing and eager to adapt to modern communications trends with the proper training and time to adapt.
- Generation X. A vital feature of this generation is its members’ ability to quietly and adeptly adjust to different conditions, including communications and communications technologies. While Gen Xers are comfortable in meetings and one-on-one, face-to-face sessions, they quickly learn to take on each new technological iteration, from the laptop to the latest smartphone or tablet. As pragmatists by nature, members of Generation X seek structure and direction — always keeping an eye toward adaptability and willingness to make healthy changes — while maintaining a sceptical look toward the status quo. Autonomy is important to this generation, so it is not a core need while essential willing to hear and offer feedback.
- Millennials. Also known as Generation Y, millennials have always looked for what is next on the horizon. Their parents raised them with the spirit of their baby boomer focus on work. Core traits of millennials include being goal-oriented, entrepreneurial and expert multitaskers. They thrive on electronic communications, so they are generally more likely to prefer a text, email or social media post over a face-to-face meeting or telephone call. Millennials work well with a greater range of freedom, especially with their comfort with electronic devices, but they also enjoy a collaborative approach to work.
- Generation Z. Largely the children of members of Generation X, Gen Zers have grown up in the era of the Great Recession with technology as the default. Most members of Generation Z began using some technology at a very young age, so it is a highly comfortable medium for them. However, their relationship with their smartphones has not hindered their ability to connect and thrive among colleagues. They tend to be innovative and creative, with a strong desire to impact society. Again, watching the fallout from the housing bubble burst of the late 2000s — perhaps with some personal implications for their parents — Generation Z tends to feel a greater desire for mutual loyalty with employers, wanting to advance and grow professionally within an organisation. Regardless of pay, they consider lengthy professional engagements a source of professional development and stepping stones toward success.
Intergenerational Communication Differences Can Cause Complications
The reality of the generational shift in the workforce is undeniable for today’s business leaders. However, most are still learning the subtleties while working to facilitate each generation without disturbing standard operations.
One area where organisational leaders run into complications is hiring. More specifically, HR managers have learned that each generation uniquely communicates its strengths and abilities. Since they don’t want to discard someone because of a communication breakdown, they listen to and hear each age based on their own generational and personal style.
A June 2019 Forbes article titled “How Intergenerational Communication Failure Is Causing Chaos in the Interview Process” stated that interviewees in their late 30s and older expect meaningful one-on-one conversations from the beginning to the end of the interview process. Highly engaged older millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers regularly feel that HR should have thoroughly reviewed their resumes before the advanced screening process.
Further, they think they should discuss the contents and background of their work lives in more detail. It is also important to these candidates to know the general climate of the interview, such as how many people they will meet within a given interview session and how many individualised sessions they may face in a single day. Generation X members report not having these desires met generally. Generation Z seems more adaptable on these matters, allowing for a more fluid approach to the interview process.
While there are many additional communication-based aspects to hiring and employment, these interview expectations reveal a fair amount of prediction versus reality that business leaders may consider exploring for hiring and beyond.
Why Is Communication So Crucial for Company Leaders in a Time of Generational Transition?
It is only natural that each generation explores and ultimately lands on its communication style. However, this ever-rapidly emerging multigenerational workforce requires everyone to alter how they interact and relate to achieve goals and enjoy a shared corporate culture together in harmony. Business communication leaders carefully monitor each generation’s respective personality, and communication needs better to understand values and requirements for ideal workplace communication.
By trying to understand key communication styles and fundamental human values — irrespective of and including their generation — employers gain a better sense of how to communicate ideas to each other, as well as how to effectively express opinions about how work performance can improve, how everyone can collaborate more efficiently and much more. Business leaders who focus on the nature of communication — especially during a generational shift — can create new pathways to understanding for their management teams and employees for all types of positive outcomes, such as improved productivity and more substantial profits.
If you aspire to become a leader in the workplace, communication is an essential skill. Learn more about the Essential Business Skills for Communication Practitioners and Communication Courses from KC Academy.
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