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Bridging the Communication Gap between Generations of Workers

Tags:  Management, Baby Boomers, Generations at work, Co-Workers, Gen Y, Gen X

So much emphasis has been placed on the idea that there are gaps between the different generations of workers at today's companies that it has become one of the biggest workplace issues of recent years.


According to various books and articles on the subject, not only is there an age gap between people born in the 1940s and those born in the 1980s, but there is also a gap – call it a disconnect – between career goals, business approach and communication styles.


Truth is as each subsequent generation enters the workforce they bring with them their own experiences and points of view shaped by the events that have occurred during their life. And as the world has changed so rapidly during the past 50 years, it is no wonder that each subsequent generation sees the world through different colored glasses.


Keep in mind that while the baby boomers had television, the Yers have iPod. Twenty years from now the Xers will be working to bridge the various gaps with a whole new generation of up-and-comers.


That being said, it doesn't mean that different age groups cannot work well together. It's just a matter of identifying and working around the workplace issues.


According to the experts, the current generations – baby boomers, Xers, Yers – all have different career goals and a different approach to business.


For the baby boomers, the perception has always been that loyalty is to the company – being a ""company man"" -- and working for the same organization for 20 years is standard practice.


For Xers their loyalty lies less with the company and more with the individual, their boss, and if they respect him or her, they will quickly follow along to another organization. They view work as something that provides them with the means to experience and enjoy the other parts of their life.


Career for baby boomers is all about the 9 to 5 and face time, while Xers and Yers have been reared in a virtual world that operates 24/7 from any location.


Baby boomers are more traditional in their approach to management and believe in the top-down philosophy, while Xers are more likely to question authority and consider people as equals. Yers (or more accurately put, ""why-ers"") like things to be explained to them so they understand the reason.


While baby boomers want the respect they've earned and the opportunity to pass along their knowledge and mentor the next generation, Xers want fewer rules, more independence, and more work/life balance.


Yers on the other hand have not known life before technology so things need to move at a lightening speed pace. They are not interested in waiting ten years to pay their dues, they want recognition now.


What all these different career and business approaches result in is miscommunication due to a lack of understanding between the generations. Here are some communication tips that experts suggest keeping in mind.


When communicating With Baby Boomers...
Body language is important.
Be open and direct, but avoid controlling language.
Answer questions thoroughly and expect to be pushed for details.
Present options to demonstrate flexible thinking.


When communicating With Generation X...
Use email as a primary communication tool.
Talk in short sound bites to keep their attention.
Ask for as well as give regular feedback.
Keep them in the loop.
Use an informal communication style.


When communicating With Generation Y...
Challenge them at every opportunity.
Don't talk down to them.
Communicate using technology (e-mail, texting).
Ask for as well as give feedback.
Create a fun learning environment.

Encourage risk taking.


As with any diverse group of people – whether it is between gender, race or age – there is bound to be a disconnect if people don't take the time to talk and learn about each other. However, we should not give up hope.


As organizations and those who run them -- be they baby boomer or Gen Y – learn to recognize that we are not all the same; they will learn how to communicate and bridge the gaps between the generations.


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