By Lindsay Gladu, Head of Change Management
A scan of headlines about the “generation wars” would have you believe your coworkers are some combination of out of touch, entitled or disloyal, depending on their birth year.
A little harsh, but there’s a degree of truth underneath all the finger-pointing: Employees’ life experiences — and therefore their ages — shape how they operate at work. Generational norms help inform core values, work style preferences and comfort with technology.
However, this diversity within a multigenerational workforce can affect how key messages land with audiences of different ages, potentially leading to intergenerational conflicts and miscommunication.
To understand cross-generational communication, let’s take a broad-brush look at the age groups within our current 18-65 workforce:
- Baby Boomers (between the ages of 58 and 65+) are “digital immigrants” — they can remember what it was like to live and work in a world that wasn’t as deeply technological as ours is today. They are generally most comfortable with in-person communication, followed by phone and email. More resistant to change than members of other age cohorts, some Baby Boomers have struggled with hybrid work post-COVID. This group values hard work and long hours.
- Generation X (between 42 and 57) are also digital immigrants, but they were quicker on the technology and social media uptake than their Baby Boomer parents. Gen Xers became early adopters of email and still tend to prefer email communication at work. They are agile, loyal and curious — and they’re often overlooked in generational conversations.
- Millennials (between 26 and 41) are the first true “digital natives.” This generation welcomes change that will produce positive and tangible outcomes. They generally prefer text and online chat communication (such as Slack), and they prioritize a healthy work/life balance more than previous generations.
- Generation Z (between 18 and 25) also value a work/life balance and are interested in companies’ CSR and DE&I efforts. As the second generation of digital natives, Gen Zers have never known a world without smartphones. They tend to seek hybrid or remote work. In contrast to Baby Boomers, both Millennials and Gen Z tend to have higher expectations around their voice being valued by their company from day one.
How can we account for these differences when guiding an organization through change?
Our approach puts employees — a company’s most valuable asset — at the center of change. Our goal is to make sure your employees truly feel connected and invested in the change that’s happening. One of the best ways to do that is by performing a change assessment. This will help better understand employees’ willingness and ability to change, and how their backgrounds and experiences may influence their behavior. It also provides valuable insight into what messaging resonates best within these groups, so you can better tailor communications to each generation’s preferences and what strategy works best for your company’s culture. This is especially important when dealing with large-scale organizational changes such as mergers or acquisitions.
By using the right avenues of communication, you’re meeting your audience where they learn and work best to drive home your message. This way, you can establish a connection and sense of belonging that spans ages and work preferences, and puts your company in a position to successfully implement small- and large-scale change.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to change management, especially when it comes to cross-generational communications — but KWI can help you find the path that works best for your team.
We’d love to partner with you to develop the right strategy and tactics to help your company successfully navigate its next big change. Learn more about KWI’s services, get in touch with our team or connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.