As if dealing with the generation gap isn’t enough around the dinner table on national holidays, most of us confront it every single day in the workplace – just hopefully not as strongly. Unless your company only hires within one age group (which, by the way, is kind of a problem) you have almost certainly run into some fundamental breakdowns in communication across the generations. There are currently about five different generations that fall within working age and every one of them has a different set of expectations and priorities. Talk about difficult.
Millennials tend to insist that our older peers flex their own communication styles to accommodate ours – we like to be accommodated in just about every area – but we really should be more cognizant of what our colleagues in older generations prefer and do our best adjust our own communication as well. So, in true Millennial fashion, here is the simple breakdown of what the most prevalent working generations are like and what they’re looking for.
1946 – 1964*
The Boomers grew up during the advent of what we now consider our most basic outdated technologies. The world has completely transformed before their eyes in a way that most weren’t really able to keep up with. Think of someone you know in this generation – chances are, they are vaguely aware of the technological possibilities that Millennials carry around in their pockets every day, but have zero clue how to use any of it. All the advancement happened when they were too old to be in them and, ultimately, they were left behind in the technological revolution. That’s why the Boomers really prefer face-to-face communication and phone calls if that’s not an option. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the convenience of quicker communication, it’s that the nuances of it are lost on them and they don’t get what they need to out of the conversation. Technology is a burden because it requires such a significant learning process and, when we over use it, we alienate our Boomer friends.
To effectively communicate with a Baby Boomer, focus on being direct and honest, but also professional and respectful. They want complete information, all the details. Baby Boomers value hard work and company loyalty and they perceive that these ideals are lost on the younger working generations. They’re not all wrong. When a Boomer is pushing you in your role, it’s it’s because they don’t physically see all that you’re doing.
1965 – 1979
The parents of most Millennials, depending on how their family generations fall. They grew up in the MTV age, like the all-American plot of a John Hughes movie. The tech revolution started in their young adulthood and they’re much more in on the sitch than their parents, but still miss the mark as far as their 20-something kids are concerned. This generation does prefer email over face-to-face convos because they don’t tend to see the value in them. In those emails (and texts), the Xers are cool with being a little more informal, but they’re not expressive with punctuation and embellishment. So when you’re Gen X boss doesn’t include three exclamation points and a salsa dancer emoji, it’s not because they hate you, it’s because they keep forgetting how to get to the emoji keyboard.
Similar to bypassing unnecessary smiles, Generation X friends don’t want unnecessary information. They want the quick version, skip the details. If they cut you off while you’re explaining the intricacies of a situation, it’s because they don’t have time for Millennial babbling.
1980 – 2000
Here we have the most complained about group of people in the history of the world. Also maybe the most misunderstood. Our elders in the workplace view our working style as lazy and our career paths as disloyal. Millennials do work hard, we just think of work differently. We also prioritize our happiness and sense of purpose, which is out of the realm of reason for our Boomer elders. The generation is trending toward a significant focus on career before heading into marriage and family, which creates a false pretense of loyalty in the eyes of our employers for the first years of our professional lives. Because the Boomers want loyalty from us, they tend to be shocked when we eventually stop working 80-hour weeks and start focusing on spouses and kids.
The Millennials are the generation of fully integrated technology – we developed alongside all the advancements so we’re totally up-to-date on how to use them to their fullest potential. We also get frustrated when older colleagues don’t realize or accept that there is a faster and easier way to do something – what’s the point of all this technology if we don’t take advantage of it, right? Surprisingly, Millennials do revert to our Boomer’s preference for face-to-face communication in some senses – we want emails when it comes to black & white concepts, but prefer to discuss ideas and big-picture topics in a face-to-face setting.
*No one really agrees about the precise timeline of each generation. Look at 100 articles and sources and each will be just a little bit different. This is the approximate average of those sources, a rough consensus if you will.