The Importance of Communication In a Multi-Generation Workforce

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Sep 12, 2019

Fostering a positive company culture has long been a popular corporate objective. In an effort to remain competitive and attract top talent, organizations are continually offering a plethora of enticing employee benefits and jumping on research trends related to office layouts or workplace attire in an effort to boost productivity and morale.

It can be difficult to keep up with whatever company culture best practice is currently in vogue, however, and attempting to satisfy the range of generations most organizations employ (i.e. Gen Z, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers) can feel like an impossible task.

Complicating matters further, when working to improve a company culture, organizations also have to consider the ever-growing mobile workforce. Communicating with the 70% of employees who work outside the office at least once a week – and those who work entirely remotely — can be an enormous challenge. Video technologies like Highfive or Skype can help bring disparate employees together, but engaging in truly interactive question and answer sessions and delivering adequate follow-ups, for instance, isn’t always possible.

Communicate and interact

To realistically establish a positive company culture in today’s highly competitive talent landscape, organizations need to shift their tactics. Instead of adopting every new workplace culture trend or implementing policies and benefits that seemingly correspond with employees’ respective birth years, I believe organizations must prioritize communication above all else. Here are four ways to improve communication and encourage closer interaction.

Say it don’t write it — Nine times out of ten, it’s more productive to have a quick conversation with a colleague versus emailing them. Body language goes a long way in conveying a message, and attempting to infer an employee’s tone or emotion in an email is never a productive endeavor. Furthermore, compared to sending an email and waiting for an eventual response, asking questions and getting answers is a lot faster when done in person. When feasible, forgo email communications for quick, in-person conversations.

Remove emotion — Whenever my colleagues are confused by an email or struggling with a specific project or person, I tell them to step back and remove any emotion. Applying your own backstory, current anxieties or imagined future outcomes to a straightforward task or someone else’s communication will only lead to negative complications, so continually work to remove emotion from the equation and just be direct. At my company, we rely on a performance management system to remove subjective emotions, prevent pointing of fingers and focus instead on individual results and quarterly objectives.

Consider other perspectives — Whether you’re communicating via email, phone or in-person, keep in mind how the person you’re conversing with is going to hear you. Equally important is not stereotyping people by generation, or assuming you understand what motivates them. For example, whenever I do something from an HR perspective, I need to always consider how it’s going to resonate across the company. In an effort to better understand everyone’s different perspectives, I’ve found it helpful to conduct “True Colors” workshops twice a year, during which we break down individuals’ different communication styles in a collaborative and inclusive manner.

Learn from mentors —Mentorship is a powerful tool for companies of all sizes and industries. Institute a formalized program in which cross-generational mentorship and collaboration is made accessible to all employees.

The multi-generation culture

Research indicates that it costs organizations from $3,500 to replace an hourly employee to 400% of salary for a highly-skilled, high level employee. And in a study of 34,000 workers it was concluded that a whopping 75% of the causes of employee turnover are preventable. To remain competitive, deliver increasingly innovative products or services, and ensure long-term relevance, organizations and their leadership teams must work tirelessly to promote and maintain a positive company culture.

Focus on engendering productive, company-wide communication rather than getting distracted by the endless stream of new office perks and culture trends, and refrain from putting employees into a box, because their age doesn’t necessarily dictate their interests or priorities. By embracing each employee’s unique career journey and continually creating easier channels for cross-generational communication and collaboration, organizations can focus on what matters most: building a cohesive team that’s made stronger thanks to its members’ diversity.

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