Successfully communicating across generations at the workplace

Yesterday, I was a panelist for the topic of successfully communicating across the different generations in the work force. The event was organized by ASCEND – Seattle Chapter.

Dr. Jeff Wilson, a Boeing expert in generational studies, was the keynote speaker. He outlined a four-generation cycle: Silent, Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials. Apparently the generations go in cycles from recessional (Silent and X) to dominate (Baby Boomers and Millennials). The dominate generations get most of the attention and the recessional are ignored, which effects each’s behavior and outlook.

Right now, there are a lot of focus on generational differences as the baby boomers begin to move out of power positions in the work force. They are being replaced by a new generation of leaders with different perspectives.

Baby boomers tend to be process-oriented. They prefer face-to-face meetings. They like getting everyone’s input into the decision-making process. Baby boomers focus on work more than family or friends. They like to see people working long hours in the office.

The generation-X’ers are fiercely independent and pragmatic. These people are family focused. Work-Life balance is important to them. They can easily work remotely using available technologies. They’re not so keen on after-work events. They want facts through emails and don’t need a lot of face-to-face time with co-workers.

The millennial generation wants purpose in what they do. They need to know that what they are doing fits into a bigger vision with a worthwhile purpose. They are focused on friends before family or work. They collaborate. They are doers and like to measure results. They want to be “heroes” in making a difference in the world.  They text each other and gather in groups to do things.

Obviously, these are just general tendencies, but they are helpful in understanding how to deal with each generation in the work place. For example, if you work with many baby boomers in senior management, meeting about your career over lunch may be the most effective to get your points across. If you are a generation-X manager working with  millennials, spending some after hour time with your employees would go a long ways in building trust with your employees.

On a last note, I think social media platforms allow different generations to communicate in their own way. They are more flexible than a phone or email in expressing one’s personalities. In the future, I think you will see more enterprise social media platforms deployed for work place communications.