Intergenerational Communication

Some quick tips on managing Boomers to Linksters.

By Jennie Hollmann, Ph.D., Director Organizational Research, and Genevieve Carlton, Account Consultant, Caliper

The Power of 5: Never before have five generations been represented in the labor force. From traditionalists born before 1945 to linkers born after 1995 and just beginning to enter the workforce, we are at a unique period of time regarding the need for intergenerational communication in business. For those who touch talent management, the opportunities and challenges appear to be many.

Are you a Gen Xer? Gen Yer? Baby Boomer? Generation Next? Does it matter at work? When do our differences enhance communication and productivity, and when can those differences get in the way? Communication dynamics can be either a source of conflict or can lead to cooperation, collaboration, and a more balanced team. For leaders, the differences intergenerational teams bring to the workplace can be transformed from a questionable factor into a powerful asset, creating a varied idea exchange, as well as a source of innovation.

Valuing the Differences

There is a lot of noise in corporate management regarding stereotypes held by, and of, those in each generation. Stereotypes are often generation specific: Those Baby Boomers are self-absorbed; those Gen Yers act entitled. But before they succumb to potentially unfounded perceptions, managers should ask themselves: What are the commonalities between generations? While there are generational differences in both overall attitudes and, of course, experiences, the Center for Creative Leadership found that most of us have similar core values, want to be challenged at work, and have a leader we can trust (Center for Creative Leadership: Retiring the Generation GAP, Jennifer J. Deal, Ph.D., 2007). This holds true even as we express ourselves differently and have preferences regarding how we want to communicate and be managed (see the Tips section below).

According to a recent Lee Hecht Harrison survey, 60 percent of employers report experiencing intergenerational conflict of some kind (Lee Hecht Harrison Survey: How Do Generational Differences Impact Organizations and Teams? Part 1, Birkman International, www.Birkman.com). It’s important to keep in mind that the impact of intergenerational communication and conflict goes beyond the Human Resources (HR) department. Organizations that successfully manage conflict embrace and accommodate intergenerational differences and work to maintain a level of respect regarding what each generation can bring to the workforce. Success stems from understanding and leveraging the strengths of different generations and creating a work environment that values the differences between them. The HR executive can use this information to resolve conflicts; support team development; head off the influence of stereotypes; and support, develop, and retain a diverse workforce.

Targeted Recruiting Strategies

The fluctuating state of the economy and the growth of technology, both as a sector and in its role in the average workday across industries, have a direct impact on generations moving in and out of the workforce. As the Baby Boomers retire, Generations X and Y will be poised for career opportunities. However, the impact of the current economic conditions is leading to a prolonged retirement age. The growth and speed of technology change continues to affect how we communicate and learn in the workforce. The younger generations have been referred to as “technology natives,” and are relied upon for that skill set in increasing numbers, while the older generations have the depth and breadth of experience that companies cannot afford to dismiss.

An awareness of generational differences can help companies target their recruiting strategies, especially with regard to identifying which media channels are most effective for delivering information to the appropriate candidates. For example, while Baby Boomers are the most diverse media users, they are not likely to create blogs and download videos. Also, although they are very Internet savvy, Boomers still often read the newspaper in its traditional form. In contrast, Generation X reads newspapers online and is also the generation most likely to use the Internet to research job opportunities. They tend to focus on the quality of a company’s Website and are more likely to listen to the radio than other generations. When recruiting Generation Y, employers should know that the best way to reach them is through technology and their peers, who are best suited to answer their questions and understand their viewpoint. They tend to be comfortable with all forms of online media, including podcasts, blogs, and instant messaging, and form the only generation that prefers to communicate through cell phone texts rather than via e-mail. By using an awareness of generational communication styles, and targeting their outreach to candidates through their preferred media, companies can make the best use of their recruiting dollars.

So how can you most effectively manage the diverse mix of employees in your company or even on your team? Below are some quick tips on managing Boomers to Linksters.

Tips for Managing Boomers

  • Engage them and their ideas.
  • Offer them opportunities to be mentors and to volunteer.
  • Confront resistance in constructive ways and offer them opportunities to voice their opinions in a safe and trusting environment.

Tips for Managing Generation Xers

  • Provide autonomy and recognition for a job well done.
  • Offer them challenges and opportunities to work in teams.
  • Coach them in ways that prepare them for their next potential opportunity/role with your company.

Tips for Managing Generation Yers

  • Be open to working virtually and giving them the autonomy to maximize their strengths in ways that result in enhanced productivity.
  • Give them opportunities to build meaningful relationships in the workplace.
  • Give feedback often and provide individualized coaching and guidance.

Tips for Managing Linksters

  • Lead by example and make them feel valued.
  • Give them appropriate supervision, while balancing autonomy.
  • Create micro-career paths to keep them motivated and engaged.

Jennie Hollmann, Ph.D., is director Organizational Research, and Genevieve Carlton, is an account consultant at Caliper, a human capital management assessment and development firm. For more information visit www.calipercorp.com.

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