I recently read “The Boys In The Boat” by Daniel James Brown. It’s a riveting story of the United States 1936 Olympic eight-man rowing crew. Forged through the hardships of the Great Depression, the men rose above their circumstances to win Olympic gold.
Like the boys in the boat, each of us is shaped by the generation we grew up in. As such, we bring our beliefs, strengths and preferences to the workplace. Today’s employees encompass the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Post Millennials (born from the mid to late 1990s) who are now entering the workforce.
While there are variations within generations, communication preferences mark each generation. When understood and accommodated, organizations enjoy increased employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity. When overlooked or misunderstood, problems ensue. The following are quick insights and tips for better understanding each generation.
Silent Generation: (Born mid 1920s to early ’40s) Prefer face-to-face interactions and private meetings to solicit their insights, thoughts or concerns. Additionally, while they rarely complain and do their best to adapt, their silence doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is fine. Watch for nonverbal and other clues that indicate that they are concerned or unhappy.
Baby Boomers: Baby Boomers (mid 1940s to ’60s) are much more apt to speak up than members of the Silent Generation when they are unhappy or think things can be done a better way. They tend to prefer face-to-face and group meetings, followed by phone, email and text.
Gen X: While they don’t tend to like to be told how or when to communicate, the members of Gen X (late 1960s to early ’80s) are highly adaptable to the various forms of communication including in person, groups, emails and texts.
Gen Y/Millennials: Polar opposite of the Silent Generation and used to sharing through various social media outlets, Millennials (early ’80s to 2000s) want and expect their opinions to be heard. Having grown up in the digital age, they are hyper connected, used to multitasking and short messages, and far prefer texts over face-to-face interactions, meetings, phone or email.
Post Millennials: Having grown up on smart phones, they digest online information quickly, multitask and prefer very short snippets of information. As the first generation where many of their relationships were formed online, they may struggle to communicate in person and in meetings.
Having diverse generations working concurrently can be taxing and confusing. Honest discussions about how individuals would like to be approached and assigned tasks will help you create communication patterns that work for the individual as well as for the entire organization. It is equally important to let employees know your preferred modes of communication.
In addition to understanding communication preferences, wise leaders also:
Intentionally foster strong team relationships. Strong relationships that incorporate having fun increase a tolerance for differences and decrease the likelihood of miscommunications.
Recognize that voice tone and non-verbals, key clues to deciphering intent and context, are missing from written forms of communication. When there’s a problem, talk to the person directly, then follow up with written communication as needed to ensure you’re on the same page.
Respond to employee calls, emails and texts within 24 hours. In doing so, you’ll build trust and greatly decrease their anxiety.
Never fire anyone by text or email. It takes courage to be a great leader and to face someone you are letting go. Give them the courtesy of hearing it straight from you.
Each generation brings great strengths to the table. Adjust your communication strategies based on their preferences and watch their productivity and satisfaction soar.