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September 24, 2019

The importance of communication in a multi-generation workforce

Jeff Lightner

Today’s workplace is comprised of four (soon to be five) generations. Workplace teams are comprised of people of varying ages, cultural backgrounds, generational identities, regional differences and life experiences. These differences affect communication in various ways. Many employees experience increased stress when communicating with those of other generations. Organizations should enhance communication by implementing programs that foster relationships and mutual respect.

Here are four strategies for improving multi-generational communication in the workplace.

1. Coaching programs

Workers of all generations can benefit from receiving honest, frequent feedback. A coaching program is a good way to pair experienced employees with younger workers. One of the characteristics of the millennial generation is the desire for more feedback from managers. Authenticity and transparency are also valued by younger workers, which may be challenging for older employees who are not comfortable sharing successes, struggles and failures. A coaching relationship may be a non-threatening way to offer feedback and insight with the goal of helping the younger worker succeed. 

2. Cross-generational work teams and mentoring

Work teams that consist of more than one generation can benefit from the strengths of each generation. For example, younger workers may be more comfortable with technology and able to show members of older generations how to save time and increase productivity with technological tools. On the flip side, more experienced workers can share institutional knowledge and life experience with younger workers. Mentoring relationships tend to spontaneously develop in a mixed age environment. And while it may be easier for older employees to take on the role of a mentor with younger workers, studies show that learning is equally beneficial on both sides of the age spectrum. 

3. Different types of settings foster relationship building

Work settings with multi-generations benefit from different types of events. Younger workers tend to be more comfortable in a social setting while older workers express preference for task-oriented settings. The key is to encourage everyone to participate in both settings. This will allow employees to build relationships in settings where they are the most comfortable. Stronger relationships foster more positive interaction and understanding of each other’s perspectives. 

4. Use technology sparingly

Interestingly, younger generations often express a preference for in-person contact. While all generations recognize the value of short, quick texts and IMs, there is value in human contact when it comes to communication, collaboration and project management. In-person settings are still important, especially for young people, who can benefit from contextual information-sharing.  By the same token, older workers may benefit from younger, more tech-savvy generations that can provide valuable training on the use of advanced technology. 

While it is important to be aware of multi-generational differences, it is equally important to resist the urge to stereotype people based on their age. Certainly individuals may not reflect the typical characteristics of their generational group. There are other factors to consider, such as culture, gender differences, industry, etc. Communication can be improved by remaining open-minded and embracing generational differences. There is a lot to learn from each other; respect, communication and understanding will help facilitate improved outcomes for your company.

In today’s competitive market, employers need to offer a comprehensive employee benefit program. Marsh & McLennan Agency offers employers unparalleled solutions to help your company succeed. Contact your local representative to learn more.