You might be a master communicator, but when you have a team full of baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials, engaging each differently is key ‒ and makes for a much more efficient, productive and collaborative workplace.
There are very specific ways to relate to each group to keep them fully engaged, says multi-generational communications expert Dr. Mary Donohue. And lack of engagement is costing companies a lot of money.
After a Gallup poll found that 70% of people aren’t engaged at work, corporate communications expert David Grossman, author of You Can’t Not Communicate, did the math and found that communication breakdowns can result in a loss to a company of $26,041 per employee per year (or more than $500,000 a year for a company that employs 100 workers).
What makes each generation tick
So what you say, how you say it and using the right mode of communication is key to having good communication with your team ‒ and sidestepping the increasing generational conflict in the workplace. That’s why it’s important to know what makes each generation tick, says Donohue, so you can bridge the generational gap, since each group is unique.
She has devised communication tools to help you help engage each generation according to their age, keeping in mind that these are generalizations and there are always exceptions to each category.
Baby boomers (age 57+): They need to be heard
For baby boomers, putting in a hard day’s work and getting ahead is what they’re all about. Most feel like they’ve paid their dues. Living through mass layoffs in the 1980s, a lot of them have had to reinvent themselves. As a result, they’re good problem-solvers and motivated by challenge.
How to communicate: The worst thing you can do to a baby boomer is cut them off, so hear them out because “they love to talk – that’s their soother,” Donohue says. It’s all about having their worth acknowledged. When they are upset, it will help to use auditory sentence patterning like “So what you’re saying is … “or “I heard you say …” They prefer detailed emails so they understand the big picture.
Gen-Xers (36-56): Give ‘em direct and immediate feedback
Gen-Xers are the most independent bunch in the workplace, having grown up as the latchkey generation, when both parents were in the workforce. They’re self-reliant and feel job security falls on them, often seeking out the training they need themselves, not waiting for the company to send them.
How to communicate: The TV generation processes things visually. “Where boomers need to talk, Gen Xers need to create pictures,” says Donohue. Ask them things like “What would that look like?” or “Can you picture what I’m saying?” Present data to them on PowerPoints, whiteboards, etc. and do send them emails (their preferred mode of communication), but keep them short and easy to scan.
Millennials (16-36): Make sure they always know the “why”
The YouTube generation “post their thoughts on executives, managers, companies – they share everything,” Donohue says. They will advocate for themselves more than any other group.
How to communicate: Millennials expect a lot of communication from their supervisors, so you will keep them engaged by helping them see the big picture, giving them feedback on their work and collaborating with them on a project to hear their ideas. Ask for their input and give them a lot of flexibility.
“Tell them exactly what you want and when,” says Donohue. “Encourage them. Then leave them alone.” They’ll have no problem voicing their opinions. When they do, a manager who listens and responds with a lighter touch will keep them engaged. You can communicate with them face-to-face, but they prefer you’d email or text.
Once you’re aware of the key differences among the generations, you can begin to take advantage of the unique characteristics of each, building a team that collaborates and communicates.