Communicating across generations in the workplace

Communicating across generations - headshots of multiple people from different generations
If your ​​organization’s employee breakdown matches the U.S. population, you should have something close to an even split between four generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Effective internal communication plays a crucial role in fostering understanding and building strong relationships across these generations—and we’re going to share how that looks!

In the workplace and elsewhere, different generations need to find ways to peacefully coexist. This sounds easier than it is some days, though. With distinct values, experiences, and technological influences, each generation possesses unique preferences and styles and comes with its own little quirks. As such, there are key strategies to bridge the communication gap with each.

Let’s break each down with a quick definition, along with the kind of communication each prefers as well as the channels they’re most comfortable using! It’s important to meet them where they are, wherever that may be!

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Communication - photograph of a baby boomer

Baby Boomers grew up during a time of significant societal change and are often characterized by their strong work ethic and respect for authority. 

They appreciate personal interactions, making face-to-face communication an effective method. Engaging in direct conversations and maintaining eye contact helps establish trust and convey respect. If you’re working in a remote-friendly or hybrid-only workplace, use video tools and features to create a virtual f2f experience! This will head off any miscommunications.

Utilizing the more traditional communication channels, such as phone calls and emails, can resonate well with Baby Boomers. They value professionalism and may prefer formal language and etiquette. Slang will likely send the wrong message here in more ways than one!

Your employee newsletter can help a lot here. Make sure you’re including valuable updates in your organization-wide mailings. Encourage written communications on your intranet to give this group the details they’re looking for, and lean into your internal manager network to reinforce sharing written messages and meeting changes on central gathering spots—like the home page for each location and team on your modern intranet

Recognize the extensive knowledge and experience of your Baby Boomer employees. This demonstrates respect and fosters open communication. Engage in active employee listening and seek their input to build rapport.

And be sure to spotlight this generation in reports and project updates. Long-standing relationships in the industry go a long way toward making light of serious headwinds, and you can probably bank on them having an extensive professional network. This is not their first rodeo. You can save lots of time and effort and head off trouble spots by following their guidance and leveraging their experience.

Generation X (1965-1980)

Communication - group of four women sitting around a table and chatting

Generation X witnessed the rise of technology and experienced economic uncertainties. They value work-life balance and independent thinking.

They’re comfortable with both digital and traditional communication methods, so offering a mix of email, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings allows for flexibility and accommodates their preferences.

Push your organization to include individual communication preferences on their personal profiles on your intranet. Only check your email once a day? Tell your colleagues that a text will work in emergencies. Never respond to Slack threads? Tell your teammates that you prefer DMs. 

Gen X appreciates straightforwardness and concise messages. Communicate ideas clearly, outlining expectations and objectives while respecting their need for independence and autonomy. 

No hello” and “No Agenda, No Attenda” are workplace practices that are highlighted by Gen X. Encourage your organization to be mindful of each other’s time by leaning into direct and efficient communication. 

Generation X thrives on collaboration and values input from diverse perspectives. Provide opportunities for brainstorming sessions and inclusive decision-making, allowing them to contribute their expertise and creativity.

A common blocker in cross-functional collaboration is not knowing people throughout the organization. So, set up events, offsites, hackathons, and games to get people together and form those bonds. Encourage social connections and engagement through Slack or your intranet based on hobbies, pets, travel, or even a book club! 

Millennials (1981-1996)

Communication - photograph of a millennial young man in a suit

Millennials, often labeled as digital natives, have grown up in an era of rapid technological advancements. They value authenticity, diversity, and work-life integration. 

They are highly tech-savvy and prefer communication through various digital platforms. Utilize social media, instant messaging apps, and video conferences to engage and connect with them effectively.

Choose your communication tools and channels wisely! While internal communicators need to consider everyone’s preferences, this group will make or break a tool’s adoption. Your intranet is the foundation of this tech stack, so make sure it allows for social-style communications. 

Millennials appreciate personalized communication that acknowledges their individuality. Tailor messages to their interests and preferences while maintaining authenticity and transparency. ‘One message to rule them all’ won’t work with this group. They want their messaging to be made just for them. 

Call your best friends on the people operations team and have a long chat about the state of your people data. Can you segment the audience, when needed, by target groups? You’ll need to!

Millennials crave regular feedback and professional growth, so offer constructive criticism in a positive manner, emphasizing their strengths and providing clear guidance for improvement. This group has internalized what kind of feedback is appropriate, so tread cautiously. Feedback about their appearance, for example, will not be welcome. Feedback about their performance is welcome. 

Make sure your organization has set clear and specific standards for giving and receiving feedback. 

Generation Z (1997-2012)

Communication - young woman sitting in a chair and working on a laptop

Generation Z was born into a world dominated by technology. They’re known for digital fluency and an emphasis on social causes, and they value instant information and seek authentic connections.

Gen Z has a shorter attention span and prefers visual content in quick bytes. Utilize concise messages, accompanied by engaging visuals, videos, and infographics, to capture their interest and convey information effectively. The concept of Smart Brevity goes a long way here! Lean into the multi-media capabilities of your intranet. Image carousels, reels, and TikTok-style videos can go a long way toward getting the point across. 

As digital natives, Gen Z primarily relies on smartphones for communication. Ensure that your messages and platforms are mobile-friendly, allowing easy access and interaction. Does your intranet have a native mobile app? You’re missing out in this group without it. 

This group is also passionate about social causes and expects brands and organizations to have a strong social conscience as well. Communicate your values, engage in meaningful discussions, and demonstrate your commitment to societal issues.

Beware, this is not the only generation of people that can spot a corporate line without authentic actions from a mile away Don’t be surprised if you see pushback or side-eyes if your organization is talking the talk but not walking the walk.

To communicate effectively across generations, it is essential to understand and adapt to the characteristics and preferences of each group. Employing strategies that respect their values, utilize appropriate communication channels, and foster genuine connections, can bridge the generational gap and build strong relationships that transcend age differences. 

Internal communicators not only facilitate understanding but also promote collaboration, innovation, and growth in today’s diverse and interconnected workplaces. And Simpplr helps them get this all done! Reach out for a demo, and we’ll show you how!

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