now your audience. That statement that has been ingrained into my brain since the first time I learned about communication. It means knowing audience demographics, the communication tools they use and how their jobs, colleagues, community and media influences a message.
We now have five generations in the workforce. Veterans are 70 to 88 years old, think Clint Eastwood. Baby boomers are 52 to 65; Denzel Washington is one. Generation X is 37 to 51 years old; Angelina Jolie falls in this category. Millennials are 20 to 36 years of age; Taylor Swift is one. Generation Z is babies born today to 19 years old; think David Mazouz. (2015)
You may have noticed there are a lot of articles are focused on millennials. It is true they are the up and comers in organizations, but for the most part they still only make up just over a third of the workforce in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center. The same is true for Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Baby boomers are still going strong in the workforce, opting to stay at work instead of retire. Gen Xers are continuing to look for opportunities to move up as senior level positions become available. And, depending on your organization, you may still have some Veterans left in the workforce and/or Gen Z beginning their careers.
What does this mean for communication? We often hear about “generations colliding” in the workplace, implying conflict. Communicators can help to instill a positive culture in an organization when it comes to messaging, how we communicate and what we focus on in our communication, especially for baby boomers, Gen X and millennials.
What has had the biggest impact?
To start, do a little research about what has influenced the generations present in your organization. Ask yourself the following questions: What was it like for each generation growing up? What technology did they have? What were some of the major world events when they were kids? What were they watching on TV and listening to? What has been their experience so far in their working lives? These questions can help you understand what has shaped each generation and offer insight into their characteristics.
Technology is being used by each generation
It’s not a surprise that Ipsos MORI suggests that with each successive generation the use of technology increases. What is interesting is the types of technology that generations gravitate toward. Millennials lead the charge on internet usage, mobile access and social media platforms, especially the new ones. Gen X leads for tablet ownership and online grocery shopping, which makes sense given this generation tends to have growing families. More than half of baby boomers access the internet several times a day. What this means for communication is targeting the medium and delivery mechanism a little more carefully to ensure you are reaching the right audience.
Town halls are not dead
Face-to-face communication is still perceived as important across each generation, especially for information that directly impacts the individual, according to Deloitte’s 2015 report “The future of work: A reorientation guide.” We all have social brains that require relationships and interaction with others. How that shows up for each of the generations is a little different. Baby boomers want time to build rapport with others. Gen Xers want to hear about organizational results from a credible person, like executive leaders. Millennials are looking for opportunities to meet and work with bright and creative people. Make sure you add face-to-face meetings as part of your strategy to help satisfy what each of these generations is looking for from communication.
Understanding what’s important to the right now
In a Harvard Business Review article, Rebecca Knight suggests that taking time to consider where each generation is in their life path is important to understanding them.
As baby boomers move into their retirement years, they are looking to leave a legacy and give back. Look to leverage their expertise and profile their work so others in the organization can learn from them.
Gen Xers want work/life balance and to be involved in decision making. Give them flexible opportunities to provide feedback and to answer surveys, and make sure you let them know how their input has made an impact on the decision.
Millennials want an opportunity to connect to various levels in the organization and to achieve more now. In your communication strategy, include ideas on how you can work to foster relationships between millennials and other levels in the organization, and provide them information about what it takes to have a successful career.
Look for support in some unlikely places
Understanding your audience is about more than how they are influenced by their generation. Psychosocial assessments can provide an opportunity for people to learn about their personality and how to connect and build rapport with others. These characteristics can also be useful for communicators in building generational personas and focusing messaging.
For example, baby boomers tend to be optimistic, relationship-focused and competitive. Gen Xers tend to be skeptics, and resourceful and independent. Millennials are adaptable, collaborative and confident. The tone of your communication and the kind of information you focus on first can help you ensure your messages resonate with your audience.
What’s important to remember is people are people. Focusing only on what makes generations different can create conflict in an organization. Instead, work to focus on leveraging the strengths of each generation. All generations want to feel valued and make a difference. Give them opportunities to connect. Invest time and energy in them and they will do the same for your organization. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to be respected for who we are as individuals and what we can offer to the world.
This article originally appeared in Communications World Magazine.