What does it look like to communicate effectively with four different generations in the workplace?
To be sure, there are similarities among the four generations: most employees embrace digital technology (even if they’re not digital natives), and all employees expect to use different communication channels at work.
At the same time, there are significant differences among generations. And when communications professionals understand these differences, they can communicate more effectively across the generational spectrum.
Communication preferences by generation
Although generational research is a helpful reference, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with each generation. Use these best practices as a starting point. Then measure the effectiveness of your comms so you can tailor your messages based on the unique preferences of your people.
Generation Z (1997-2012)
“While it’s often assumed that Generation Z is focused solely on technology,” one Gen Zer says, “talking face-to-face is our preferred method of communication.” For Gen Z, face-to-face communication means in-person or video calls like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts. Where Gen Z differs the most is how they’re transforming ‘work-speak.’ Gen Z rejects some of the traditional communication etiquette in favor of making things more casual. Younger employees are less willing to code-switch than older generations.
As the oldest millennials approach their 40th birthdays, they want to be heard. Millennials believe that their needs matter and they aren’t afraid to communicate that. If you want to communicate with millennials, make it a two-way street by soliciting feedback. Topically, subjects that may perform well include career growth, fairness and equity in the workplace, and social activism. And one last note, millennials are a tldr generation (i.e., too long; didn’t read it), so keep things short and skimmable.
Generation X (1965-1980)
Although Gen Xers often use technology to communicate — like email, text, and social media — they still appreciate professional etiquette. Former host of the GenX Stories podcast, Sacha Cohen, said, “We don’t expect to be coddled and typically appreciate straightforward communication styles. Most of us prefer an email to a million text messages.”
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
One of the best ways to communicate with baby boomers is through face-to-face conversations. Since that’s not realistic for most internal comms messages, consider using more video messages in your emails. (If you use Outlook, you can use PoliteMail to insert videos in tracked messages.) Since viewers can pause and rewatch videos as needed, it can be a particularly helpful format to send when you need to distribute instructions or how-tos.
Writing messages for each generation
There are a lot of conversation styles coexisting in the workplace, something further complicated by the switch to remote and hybrid work. Communicating effectively with various generations first requires generational awareness: How does each generation want you to communicate with them? What channels do they want to use? Once you understand these preferences, you can send more tailored communications to engage your people – no matter their age.