Communication across generations at the workplace

business team- multiracial people-standing
While each generation has specific communication preferences, knowing their preferred method is just the start of developing an inter-generational relationship. (Photos: Envato Elements)
Inter-generational communication may be challenging, but we need to get it right. As millennials move deeper into their careers and Generation Z enters the workforce, baby boomers and Generation X are faced with the challenge of effectively communicating with younger employees; any communication errors could lead to huge costs to businesses. اضافة اعلان

A study from Holmes Report found that the total cost of employee misunderstanding rose to $37 billion, with an average cost per company of $62.4 million.

While each generation has specific communication preferences, knowing their preferred method is just the start of developing an inter-generational relationship. Soon, all five generations will be working together in the same job market, each with different communication preferences, whether through a specific medium, speed or style.

Generation Z

This is the first tech savvy generation that experienced the internet as part of their daily lives at a young age. This generation comprises people born after 1997 who have spent much of their lives in front of screens. While at home, 65 percent of Gen Z prefer to communicate online more often than in person, according to a study by cloud mobile solutions company LivePerson. In addition, research suggests that growing up with high-speed internet may have impacted their preference for speed in communication. A survey by marketing company LeadSquared reported that Generation Z expects rapid responses from whoever they are sending a message to.

However, Generation Z’s communication preferences are quite different when at work or when communicating with Generation X or baby boomers. In professional settings, research from HR firm Rise has shown the best way to communicate with Generation Z employees is through face-to-face communication. They are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than words.


They were born between 1981 and 1996 and raised in unstable economic times, which makes them prone to shifting jobs and careers. Millennials, more than others, want to work for a company that embraces technology. In a recent CompTia report, 71 per cent said that technology influences where they decide to work. In general, Millennials want mobile technology that facilitates collaboration and teamwork. Not surprisingly, they are leading the charge to embrace cloud-based technology in the workplace.

They tend to place more emphasis on mental health than previous generations. Loyalty and obedience to a company is not a given, but rather dependent on the company’s support.

A separate study of millennials by BankMyCell found that the majority of respondents did not answer phone calls because it was “time consuming”. Similarly, in workplace settings, a survey by management consulting firm Korn Ferry found that millennials avoid face-to-face interactions, instead preferring to use online messaging software (55 percent) or e-mail (28 percent) to communicate with bosses or co-workers. Therefore, the best way to communicate with millennial employees is reaching them through digital messaging apps, whether over the phone or computer.

Generation X

Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980 and were the first generation to incorporate digital technology in their youth. Generation X became early adopters of email, and the simplicity of interpersonal communication through the medium affected the generation’s communication preferences as they grew into adulthood.

While not digital natives, Gen X employees are just as likely to be comfortable using technology in the workplace. Although this generation tends to be overlooked for promotions, they play a critical role in leadership, managing more direct reports, staying at their company longer and taking on heavier workloads. They want technology that supports their professional development. They also prefer coaching from an outside consultant or trainer rather than their own manager.

A study from systems integration firm NTT Data confirmed that email is this generation’s preferred form of communication. They prefer receiving and using short, brief messages as opposed to lengthy ones. The ability to utilize forms of digital technology enables Generation X to connect with younger people, such as millennials or Generation Z. As such, Generation X is the bridge between the future generations of workers and those closer to retirement age, like the baby boomers.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and grew up at a time when the telephone transitioned from a bulky and expensive device to smaller units that the average family could afford. Still, the cost of making some calls or using a private line may have impacted the preferences of baby boomers, causing an imbalance of personal and technological communications. In fact, digital messaging company Glip reported that the best way to communicate with baby boomers at work or at home is through face-to-face conversations.

This generation has embraced digital technology, including smartphones and social media, and they are also embracing new opportunities that remote work brings, being more concerned about the risks of in-person work during a pandemic for example. Though baby boomers prefer speaking both in person and on the phone, some use online communication methods such as email.

In general, Baby Boomers are used to strict, stable, and centralized hierarchies. They tend to expect loyalty, respect, and obedience, but to younger generations, those values need to be earned. They also want to maintain opportunities for face-to-face communication whenever possible.

In the workplace, each generation’s unique communication style needs to be individualized in order to attain the best work results.

A meeting with a baby boomer boss may call for a more formal tone, while a conversation with a Gen Z or millennial co-worker could be more relaxed. A company’s willingness to learn these communication differences will guarantee communication flow and a positive relationship among coworkers.

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