The generation game: how to manage the multi-generation workforce

February 1, 2018 - 11 minute read

The last baby boomers are about to become pensioners, while generation Z storms the job market. This means that it’s entirely possible for four generations to be employed in current organisations: the still working baby boomers, generation X, generation Y or millennials, and lately also generation Z.

As a consequence of different economic times and differences in levels of technology, each of these generations grew up in a unique climate. In the course of several decades, society has produced generations that are completely different from each other. How can you best address these generations within an organisation? How do you reach and motivate these people who have grown up in generations far away from each other in terms of zeitgeist and development? That’s what we’re going to dive into in this blog post.

You can always learn to communicate

Communication is key, that’s already universally accepted. In order to know how to best communicate with your co-workers, it’s important that you know whom you are talking to. The one who communicates must incite to action. Information transfer must be complete and certainly not long-winded.

Research conducted by Traintool showed that 45% of employees think that his or her manager does not communicate properly. The greatest obstacles are: receiving insufficient information, lack of clarity with regard to expectations, lack of attention and availability, and appreciation deficit.

Good communication is clear, effective and efficient. Flexibility is important for good communication and that includes being flexible in your way of communicating. Adjust it to your audience. Also consider:

  • What is my goal?
  • What is the goal of the other person?
  • In what way is the communication of importance to me and to the other person?
  • What expectations do both I and the other person have?

“The art of communication is the language of leadership” - James Humes

Adjusting. That is the magic word in good communication. Do you manage a team of people from different generations? Then, adjusting communication style is quite a challenge. In order to make it a little easier, we’ve looked at each of the four working generations, diving into their characteristics and their communication needs. 

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Baby boomers

Baby boomers were roughly born between 1945-1960. A large number of them are already pensioners, but some baby boomers are still in the workforce. Baby boomers, of course, grew up before the digital age and their attention span is considerably longer than that of generation Z, for example. A longer text is not a problem for them, as long as it is logical and relevant. This generation fights for what they believe they are entitled to. This can be: a good pension, good care and freedom of choice. A common complaint is that the 50+ year olds are not tech-savvy enough for using modern communication tools. That is however not completely true; about 76% of them use Facebook and the number of Whatsapp users among BBers is on the rise.

Babyboomer op de werkvloer

Practical take-aways

  • Communicate with baby boomers clearly and without too many abbreviations.
  • Ensure overview without leaving out important details in your communication. Do not forget to let them know where they can find other important information.
  • Show them the ropes and then trust them to be old and wise enough to deal with it themselves. Because they are.

Generation X

The successors of the baby boomers, the members of generation X were born between 1961-1981. This generation experienced widespread youth unemployment, but its standard of living also rose. In addition to an attractive salary, this generation cares greatly about development opportunities and finding fulfilment in the workplace. The balance between work and private life is important for them. It is easy for this generation to adapt to new technological gadgets.

Generatie X neemt selfie op de werkvloer

It is said about generation X that they are direct, open and concrete. The members of generation X are comfortable with working digitally. The word ‘compromise’ no longer belongs to their vocabulary, while the terms ‘short meetings’ and ‘digital conferences’ certainly do. 

Practical take-aways

  • Respond to the direct and open character of this generation by communicating in a transparent manner.
  • Make sure that you communicate promptly and that you always inform your employees about what happens within the organisation. Generation X does not like to have endless meetings.
  • Communicate what is necessary in short meetings or plan a meeting that takes place digitally.

Generation Y

Generation Y, or the millennials. The children of the baby boomers. This generation covers people born in the period between 1982-2001. Generation Y: a sampling of the terms for this generation are: screenagers, the backseat generation, the media generation. The screenagers are skilled since their childhoods have been spent operating mobile phones and sending text messages - they grew up during the digital revolution. In the work environment, the members of this generation are group-oriented and not afraid of teamwork. Work also has a social aspect for them. The millennials are absolutely tech-savvy. They do not shy away from using innovative technology.

Tech savvy millenials aan het samenwerken

Practicak take-aways

  • Think about sharing things that bring the team together, such as the Friday drinks, besides professional information transfer.
  • Stimulate cooperation through communication. Give, for example, responsibility to certain colleagues for an assignment and let them carry it out independently.

Generation Z

Were you born in 1995 or later? You then belong to Generation Z. The Gen Zer grows up in a 24/7 information-society and is a specialist in finding and filtering information. The downside of this information flood is the short attention span it results in. Information is screened, briefly read and swiped away by this generation. Gen Zers are also called ‘digital natives’ by older generations because they have grown up with a smartphone in their hand. This generation seeks space for personal values and interests in the workplace. Solidarity at work is important to them. This generation is above all things a generation with its own vision. They do not need an extended explanation, but they want to understand what is the goal and what is their contribution towards it.

generatie-Z-in-overleg.jpg

This does not mean, however, that Gen Zers prefer to only communicate digitally. This is shown in a research report about generation Z and their influence in the workplace, which has been published by 8x8, a communication specialist. Gen Z attaches great value to face-to-face communication and meaningful communication. A quarter of them prefer to have personal contact. This is a great difference with the previous generation, generation Y, almost half of whom think that personal communication becomes less important in the workplace. Another important shift between these generations is the preference for methods of communication: where generation Y predominantly chooses methods that save time, Gen Z chooses means that best serve the desired goal. Take this into account as a manager. 

Practical take-aways

  • Make sure that communication with the youngest generation contains a personal element. Avoid copy-paste messages.
  • This generation often needs just half a word. Communicate to the point.
  • Be mindful that communication is not a one-way street (top-down communication), but that there is also space for bottom-up ideas.

Multiple generations - one platform

A practical way of effectively reaching the various generations is through the use of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN). An ESN means, in a nutshell, social media for internal communication. With this form of communication, more senders and receivers are involved (instead of only top-down communication). Messages are created and information is shared together. This breaks through the formal hierarchy of an organisation, because everyone can offer input and any person in the organisation can be reached with the push of a button, appealing to all employees from the thoughtful, information-hungry Baby Boomers to the younger digital natives.

Click here to see why cosmetics giant Rituals opted for an ESN to connect their employees around the world.

Want to read more about generation Z and the future of internal communication? We've devoted a white paper to it.

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Jozy Gallmann

Written by Jozy Gallmann

Ze creëert graag mooie video- en geschreven content over mensen en hun wensen in organisaties. Daarnaast is Jozy groot fan van skiën en surfen.