Understanding Generational Differences in the Way We Communicate

In business, communication is essential. You may know what you are trying to say, but if no one else understands, the message is lost. Generational differences can compound this communication breakdown even further.

Today, five different generations work side by side. Each group grew up with different political influences, educational opportunities, technological advances and socioeconomic influences. This, in turn, led to different beliefs, expectations and ways of seeing the world.

To be successful, organizations must recognize and adapt to the unique characteristics of each generation. Here’s a brief overview:

Traditionalists / The Silent Generation

  • Born 1925 to 1945
  • Make up 2% of the U.S. labor force*
  • Grew up during a time of political and economic uncertainty
  • Prefer formal written, face-to-face and phone communication
  • Expect respect for their age and experience

Baby Boomers

  • Born 1946 to 1964
  • Make up 25% of the U.S. labor force*
  • Grew up during a time of economic prosperity and positive change
  • Prefer face-to-face communication, phone conversations and voice mail
  • Display a “call me anytime” mentality

Generation X

  • Born 1965 to 1980
  • Make up 33% of the U.S. labor force*
  • Grew up during a time that negatively affected the family
  • Prefer communicating through email and text
  • Can be blunt, direct and use sound bites

Millennials / Generation Y

  • Born 1981 to 1995
  • Make up 35% of the U.S. labor force*
  • Grew up during a time of rapid technological advances
  • Prefer communicating through text and social media
  • Depend heavily on electronic communication and may struggle with conversation

iGeneration / Generation Z

  • Born 1996 to 2012
  • Make up 5% of the U.S. labor force*
  • Grew up in a connected world overrun with technology
  • Prefer communicating through text, social media and video
  • Global in their thinking, interactions and relatability

Of course, many of these qualities are generalizations, and they can become stereotypical. The key to better communication is to deliver a message the way the other person would like to receive it. This can be difficult, because we tend to think about ourselves first. For example, “I don’t have time for a meeting. Just email me.

Begin improving your processes by talking to individual employees. Ask, “Would an email or a text be better?” Remember, this is about their preference not yours. Also, pay attention to how people respond to various methods. If you leave a worker a voice mail and they send back a text message, this is a clue. Next time text instead. This may seem like a lot of work, however, communicating in the most effective manner is worth the effort if it improves efficiency and understanding in your organization.

Would You Like to Add Workers From Different Generations to Your Team?

At Halpin Staffing, we place talented employees of all ages in top companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find out more about the services we offer and start hiring smarter today!

* Pew Research Center, 2018

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