How Workplace Communication Differs Among Generations

Good communication between staff members is critical to any company's success. In today's multi-generational workplace however, it is not always easy to devise the best means of communication. Companies quite often have to offer a variety of communication tools in order to satisfy the needs of every staff member. Likewise, staff members of different generations have to adapt to one another's preferences.

What used to be called the generation gap' really is nothing more than a manifestation of how different generations communicate. This very real gap is alive and well in the modern workplace. We now have three generations populating the workforce: baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials.

Each of these generations has its preferred methods of communication. Companies capable of accommodating each of these methods find that interoffice communication is more productive.


1. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby boomers used to make up the bulk of workplace staff. That is no more, now that baby boomers are starting to age out via retirement. Among those still in the workforce, there is an affinity for communicating via the telephone or face-to-face.

Also note that baby boomers appreciate details. They are not afraid to engage in lengthy discussions at the water cooler or in the conference room if that is what it takes to get all the information that they feel they need. If they spend time communicating and do not get enough information, they feel as though that time has been wasted.


2. Gen Xers (born 1965-1976)

This generation currently makes up the bulk of the American workforce. These are people whose ages fall anywhere between the mid-40s and mid-50s. Believe it or not, they prefer more direct and succinct communication. Gen Xers prefer to avoid the details unless they are absolutely necessary to getting things done.

Gen Xers are also less likely to prefer face-to-face conversations. They will speak on the phone if necessary, but their preferred method of communication is e-mail. They want just the facts and nothing more; they do not want communicating to get in the way of doing.


3. Millennials (born 1977-1995)

Although millennials are still considered the minority in the workplace, their numbers are growing. They are currently the most pursued demographic because they are the workers that will shape the immediate future of most companies. In terms of communication, they are a cross between Gen Xers and baby boomers.

Like Gen Xers, millennials would rather communicate via e-mail or other electronic means including text messaging and online chat. They are not fond of telephone or face-to-face conversations as a general rule. But like baby boomers, millennials want as much information as they can get. Details are particularly important.

The one thing that sets millennials apart from both baby boomers and Gen Xers is their lack of attention to timeliness. Where previous generations would never think of letting an e-mail or phone message sit for three days before responding, millennials do not necessarily see a need to communicate quickly. If something is not urgent, they may not respond to it right away.


Making It All Work

Different communication styles are evident in nearly every multi-generational workplace. Making it all work requires every staff member to be willing to accommodate the needs of those they interact with. It also means companies supporting each of the different communication methods as best they can.

Unfortunately, things do break down from time to time. There is no escaping that the generation gap still exists and always will. As such, companies should do their best to facilitate strong communications but not be surprised when things do not go according to plans.