Everyone communicates differently, and when your workforce spans multiple generations, the risk of miscommunication is as high as ever.
A Generation X boss might not understand why their intern just used a crying emoji to represent themselves laughing, while a Generation Z employee might not realise a ‘carbon copy’ has nothing to do with the environment.
When your workforce comprises several generations – as so many do nowadays, owing in part to increasing retirement ages – miscommunications are always a risk without intervention from management.
According to communications experts, the right ideas need to be instilled to allow for open dialogues and the development of a collaborative multi-generational workforce.
Understanding the disconnect
DL Social Founder and Director Demelza Leonard has noticed cross-generational workplaces in almost every industry.
“Many places can have multi-generational teams – from retail to education and even marketing and advertising,” she said.
According to Ms Leonard, negative cross-generational experiences have led to the construction of harmful stereotypes, which create barriers.
“We see a great example of this in the ‘Karen’ ideal,” she said.
“An older person, deemed as a boomer, will complain loudly or put themselves into a situation which could have been resolved in a far better way.
“It’s important to understand that different generations have grown up with different ideals and no generation’s views are entirely correct.”
For RG Dynamics Founder and Chief Executive Officer Renee Giarrusso, this issue is all too common in Australian workplaces.
“We work across 24 industries, and I could honestly say probably 22 of those have a multi-generational workforce,” she said.
“The biggest example was a tech company, where there was a lot of the older generations – seniors and baby boomers – and really young ones coming through, who were very tech savvy.”
According to Ms Giarrusso, the key to approaching this issue is to understand every individual has a different communication style.
“It starts with education, and if you have a multi-generational workforce, it is about getting them better at talking,” she said.
“It is about understanding what Generation Z likes compared to a baby boomer and what they don’t like – it is about actually working out people’s communication style.
“We know the older generations really love picking up the phone and having that deeper connection, whereas the younger generation has more of a digital way of communicating.
“So, be mindful and respectful of that and figure out their ways of working.”
In the instance of the tech company, Ms Giarrusso said the issue was rectified by grouping the team into pairs and recognising the advantage of their differences.
“It’s all about leveraging strengths and really mixing up mentoring buddies,” she said.
“Get different generations involved – not a Generation X mentoring a Generation Z – really mix it up and there could be some magic.”
According to Ms Leonard, ensuring a multi-generational workplace is constructive comes down to ensuring the environment is accommodating at the individual level.
“Keeping the dialogue open and discussing with your team about their views so they feel heard is important,” she said.
“It’s also important to highlight how these views differ so that we can all understand and teach each other at the same time.
“This is how better resolutions, and less conflict and miscommunications, can arise in the future.”
For older executives looking for greater reach to younger employees, Ms Leonard and Ms Giarrusso offered some pertinent advice.
“Understand what the younger employees are looking for in you as a manager,” Ms Leonard said.
“Guide them and teach them about past experiences, so they can understand the evolution of the industry and why other older members might go about things in a different way.”
“Find out what their communication style is – make sure they’re partaking in learning and development because the young generation love that,” Ms Giarrusso said.
“And set really clear expectations.”
Ms Giarrusso said communication was a dynamic process, which needed to be constantly reviewed and updated.
“If you’re in a position where you’re not getting through to other generations, then step back,” she said.
“Reflect on what you could change or do differently until you get the response you want.
“For me, it comes back down to basics: building a rapport, understanding the type of people they are and understanding their communication style.
“Monitor it regularly and always review and renew the way you are communicating.”