USP Creative

Communicating to different generations in your workforce

03/12/2015
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What we say and how we say it has become increasingly complex in today’s workplace.

Not only do Companies need to communicate better with customers, they now need to communicate across generational and cultural gaps of their staff.

Many people are now remaining in the workforce longer than at any other time in history and many choose to work well past the official retirement age. In today’s workplace there can be up to four generations working together at the same time. Communicating and engaging with this diverse group can be difficult for those responsible for internal communication. As technology evolves, each generation develops their unique communication preferences and obstacles. This poses a major challenge to those responsible for articulating brand and strategic messages internally and to ensure that these messages resonate with Generation X, Y and soon to be Z!

The majority of business leaders fall into the baby boomer generation, with many working in the same company for years, gaining gradual promotion to the top. Overall these CEOs have adopted some technology but their preferred method of communication remains face to face comms and emulating the style that was set before them – conversely this is what Generation Y feels the least comfortable with and the least likely to respond to. Millennials (Generation Y) consume information in short concise chunks and are most responsive to text, email and forms of social media.

In a sector which is primarily conservative in attitude, conflicts arise as the younger generation consider issues as not urgent will typically respond by email rather than use the telephone. This has led to much frustration within organisations, with some introducing a rather draconian ban on internal emails as a means to instigate ‘face-to-face’ scenarios, which naturally leads to generational conflict around style and approach – old school formality versus new school casualness.

With a diverse internal audience, the advice for Internal Comms Managers is to first acknowledge that there is no single answer, there is no ‘one-size’ fits all but rather what is needed is a multi-layered approach to disseminating and embedding key information throughout the organisation. Consideration is needed to ensure those messages not only resonate but are meaningful to each member of staff. Each generation expects different things from leaders and are motivated and inspired in completely different ways. So step back, assess the balance of your workforce and devise your communications strategy from that starting point – have a mixture of communication tools and methods to ensure that none of your staff are being left behind through lack of engagement.

Matures (born pre 1945)

Most fall into the already retired category, but some are continuing to work well into retirement age. When it comes to communication, tools like email and mobile apps are considered too impersonal and they prefer the personal face-to-face dialogue to feel engaged and connected.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Currently the largest group in leadership roles , many will soon be reaching retirement age. On the whole, this group have started to adopt technology and engage with digital media but they generally prefer communications in person.

Generation X (born 1965-1980)

Technically savvy, comfortable with email communications, this group enjoy having digital options available to them. Conference calls, video and web tools may be more effective and productive than face to face meetings.

Generation Y (born 1981-1997)

Millennials value the opinions of their peers – they need feedback to keep them engaged. Communication with this group should be informal and group oriented as much as possible. They like snapshots of information, texting, email and all forms of social media are the comms channels this group are most comfortable with.

One final point to consider is this - formal correspondence is seen as tedious to the Millennial Generation who value concise information. This leads to a wider consideration – how is your company being portrayed externally to clients? Are client emails being written as if they were texts? By losing formality, is the tone of voice of your brand changing by stealth? Communication Managers need to create clear rules around what is expected in both internal and external communications to support the brand ethos; whilst simultaneously acknowledging that demographics and styles will always change and a constant flexible adaptation is required to truly be successful in all levels of engagement.