Thanks to technological and medical advances, as many as five generations will soon be working together in the same job market. Each generation has different preferences when it comes to communicating, whether it’s through a specific medium, frequency or at a certain speed. Therefore, it’s crucial that people in cross-generational workplaces understand the best way to communicate with others.
From Generation Z to the baby boomers, it’s important to understand each generation’s unique communication style, which can enable people to better communicate across generations.
Types of Generational Communication
The first generation to grow up as digital natives, those who experienced the internet as part of their daily lives at a young age, is known as Generation Z, or post-millennials, according to the Pew Research Center. This generation, which is comprised of people born after 1997, has spent much of their lives in front of screens, which has led to specific communication preferences. While at home, 65 percent of Generation Z prefer to communicate online more often than in person, according to a study by cloud mobile solutions company LivePerson. In addition, research suggests that growing up with lightning-fast internet and upload speeds may have impacted their preferences on speed in communication, as well. A survey by marketing company LeadSquared reported Generation Z expects rapid responses from whoever they’re sending a message.
However, Generation Z’s communication preferences are quite different when at work or when communicating with Generation X or baby boomers. In professional settings, research from HR firm Rise has shown the best way to communicate with Generation Z employees is through face-to-face communication.
Those born between 1981 and 1996 are considered millennials. While some millennials grew up just before the start of the digital age, most millennials are digital natives. With millennials’ propensity to constantly stay connected to others digitally, it’s no surprise that a study by the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of millennials own smart phones. The ease of texting or messaging others through online apps on smartphones, as opposed to calling over the phone, has had a huge impact on millennial communication preferences.
A separate study of millennials by BankMyCell found the majority of respondents didn’t answer phone calls because it was “time consuming.” Similarly, in workplace settings, a survey by management consulting firm Korn Ferry found that millennials also often avoid face-to-face interactions, instead preferring to use online messaging software (55 percent) or e-mail (28 percent) to communicate with bosses or co-workers. Therefore, the best way to communicate with millennial employees is reaching them through digital messaging apps, whether over the phone or computer.
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Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980 and were the first generation to incorporate digital technology in their youth. Generation X became early adopters of email, and the simplicity of interpersonal communication through the medium affected the generation’s communication preferences as they grew into adulthood.
A study from systems integration firm NTT Data confirmed that email is this generation’s preferred form of communication, whether at work or in the comforts of home. According to an article from Getting Smart, Generation X prefers receiving and using short, brief messages as opposed to lengthy ones. The ability to utilize forms of digital technology enables Generation X to connect with younger people, such as millennials or Generation Z. As such, Generation X is the bridge between the future generations of workers and those closer to retirement age, like the baby boomers.
Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and grew up in a time when the telephone transitioned from a bulky and expensive device to smaller units that the average family could afford. Still, the cost of making some calls or using a private line may have impacted the preferences of baby boomers, causing an imbalance of personal and technological communications. In fact, digital messaging company Glip reported the best way to communicate with baby boomers at work or at home is through face-to-face conversations.
Though baby boomers prefer speaking both in person and on the phone, some use online communication methods, as well. A survey presented at the Americas Conference on Information Systems found that 93 percent of baby boomer respondents used e-mail on a daily basis.
How to Better Communicate Between Generations
While each generation has specific communication preferences, knowing their preferred method is just the start of developing an intergenerational relationship in the workplace. Here are some tips from Forbes on how to improve generational communication at the workplace:
- Consider Your Audience: Because of each generation’s unique communication style, employees need to tailor their conversations with their co-workers, bosses or subordinates. For example, a meeting with a baby boomer boss may call for a more formal tone, while a conversation with a Gen Z or millennial coworker could be more relaxed.
- Individualize: Even though we are talking about generational stereotypes, not everybody lives up to them. It’s necessary to understand the best communication style for your co-workers, bosses or subordinates. Then, you can individualize your communication with them.
- Teach and Learn: One of the keys to better intergenerational communication is a willingness to teach and learn. Because all generations differ in their preferences, there will come a time when each will have to use a less familiar method.
Adapt Your Communication Style
As millennials move deeper into their careers and Generation Z enters the workforce, baby boomers and Generation X are faced with the challenge of effectively communicating with younger employees. There could be a real cost to businesses for any communication errors. A study from Holmes Report found that the total cost of employee misunderstanding rose to $37 billion, with an average cost per company of $62.4 million.
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