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Communications Across Generations

March 25, 2014

Communications Across Generations

By Melissa Girtz, Director, APWA-MN

Now is the first time in American history where employees, working side-by-side, span four different generations.

How does this affect the workplace? What differences are there in communication styles between a Millennial and a Baby Boomer? What can be learned about the different generations in order to work together more efficiently?

When looking at the differences that four generations can bring to the workplace, one of the most noticeable differences is in the method and means of communication.

It makes sense that someone in their 20's might prefers social media and texting, someone in their 40's might prefer email, and someone in their 60's likes face-to-face interaction. That is what they grew up with and what they are accustomed to.

The younger generations, inventing such communication methods as 'tweeting' and 'facebooking', are not surprisingly more informal and instantaneous with their communication styles. A stark contrast to the older generations, who have worked during much more formal eras in the workplace -- a time when 'Casual Fridays' did not exist and face-to-face meetings where expected.

It is no surprise that getting these generations to understand the other is difficult, and finding a common ground seems near impossible. However, it is important to keep an open-mind to learning something new, as each of the different communication style have their strengths and weaknesses.

It is just as much a problem if a Millennial cannot pick up the phone and call a customer, as it is if a Baby Boomer cannot email. Each generation should look to the others to strengthen the areas they are lacking, while at the same time trying to individualize their communication style to each person.

Beyond varying communication methods, it is also important to understand the driving forces behind each generation and their approach to the workplace.

As opposed to different communication methods, job perception is not something that can be easily taught and it is more of a general state of mind than a learned preference.

Knowledge of each generation’s motivation can also help with the way in which you communicate.

With some of the older generation growing up with parents that lived through the Great Depression and World Wars, jobs are more likely to be an integral part of life, and tenure or position hold great value. Therefore, respect and formality are more important.

Conversely, younger generations appreciate work-life balance and have a more idealistic approach to work -- appreciating collaboration and a sense of community.

An opinion or idea to one, may be communicated as a sign of disrespect to another.

While navigating the various work ethics and idealisms, a general appreciation and willingness to understand will go a long way in uniting the various generations and preventing miscommunications.

Whether it be a communication method or means, it is apparent that each generation has their differences. Instead of approaching these differences as frustrations and obstacles to overcome, each group should make the most of this unique place in time by learning from each other, and finding individualized ways to blend current preferences with new approaches.

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