How to communicate with today’s multi-generational, multi-faceted workforce

Isabelle Berry - Profile
By Isabelle Berry
Account Manager

Which aspect of your identity has the biggest impact on you? Your gender? Your heritage? Your generation?

We’re asking that question for a simple reason. Every one of us is shaped – to some degree – by all these facets of being. They don’t explain us or sum us up, but they affect who we are and how we show up in the world. And one of the formative factors that impact us is our generational identity: the time into which we are born.

Why is this an important issue? It’s because – right now – there are an unprecedented five generations in the workplace. And to communicate effectively with all of them, it’s important to:

  • Understand their – possibly unspoken – attitudes and motivations.
  • Use the messages and channels that resonate best with them.

Here are three steps to support that process...

Step one: Understand potential generational differences

The five generations present in the workplace today are members of...

  • The Silent Generation. Aged between 78 and 95, this generation was brought up to be ‘seen and not heard.’ Their formative years were shaped by the Second World War and its aftermath. Although there are very few of them still in the workplace, they are still around as volunteers. As a group, they tend to look for hierarchies and clarity about their role and responsibilities. They like to be of service and value loyalty to an organisation.
  • Baby Boomers. Aged between 59 and 77, this generation grew up with the pill and the second wave of feminism. Personal computers were being developed, the moon landing happened, and the employment rate was relatively steady. As a group, they tend to be competitive and individualistic, believing in change and the importance of climbing the corporate ladder.
  • Gen X. Aged between 43 and 58, Gen X are the ‘latchkey kids’ generation. Many of them grew up with both parents working or in single-parent families. As children or young adults, they experienced the housing crash and unemployment of the early 1990s. As a group, they tend to be interested in flexibility and work/life balance and to feel loyal to colleagues rather than an organisation.
  • Millennials. Aged between 27 and 42, older members of this generation grew up and joined the workforce at a time of economic expansion – before being side-swiped by the financial crisis and its aftermath. Younger Millennials entered the workplace at this time of turmoil and have been heavily impacted by economic uncertainty and rising costs. As a group, they tend to value fairness and emphasise performance, not length of service.
  • Gen Z. Aged between 12 and 26, this generation are true digital natives, growing up with technology as the way to learn, connect, and communicate. Their formative years and/or their early experiences in the workplace have been impacted by the pandemic. As a group, they tend to value flexibility, mentoring, purposeful work, and inclusive workplaces which actively and authentically live their values.

Step two: Remember – generations are a concept, not a box! 

It’s really important to remember that while we all carry some attitudes and assumptions that reflect our generation, we are also utterly individual:  

  • Some people are ahead of their time and will share more in common with the generations that came after them.
  • Some people will be shaped far more profoundly by other aspects of their identity – for example, their gender or their sexuality.
  • Some people were brought up in other countries and cultures, which shaped their generation in different ways from the experiences of people who grew up in the UK.

The key point to remember is that age is simply another lens through which to understand aspects of who people are and what they want and need. No one should be put in an ‘age box’ and dismissed as simply a ‘Boomer’ or a ‘Zoomer’ or anything in between!

Step three: Use this generational sensitivity as a tool to improve communication

Having an insight into potential generational differences comes in handy when you’re:

  • Creating employee surveys. Think about generation as a factor that may shape how people feel. Craft questions in a way that can illuminate this. For example:
    - What aspect of our purpose do you value most?
    - What does your line manager do that makes you feel valued? 
  • Sharing all-company messaging. Use a variety of channels to communicate and to check that the messaging has landed. To encompass the key preferences of different generations, think email, video, and line-manager follow-up.
  • Driving changeUse generational identity as a reference point to think about why different groups may resist change. Is it resistance to an alternative approach or fear about the impact on their colleagues? Answer those concerns in your strategy and communications.
  • Re-jigging RewardThink about how motivated different groups are by flexibility, trust, and autonomy, or whether they think Reward should be offered for performance or for loyalty. Again, express those key motivators in your communications.
  • Offering training and development. Millennials and Gen Z have faced a lot of uncertainty in the workplace. Access to training that broadens their skill sets – and keeps them employable – is key. Reflect that desire for ‘skills security’ in your messaging.

 

At Caburn Hope, we think, live and dream communication. Want support speaking to your diverse workforce? Get in touch! 

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