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Today’s organizational workforce includes multiple generations. To ensure collaboration between employees, leaders and managers must understand that these different age groups have very different mindsets, values and preferred ways of working. They also communicate very differently. In this article, we examine the challenges that organizations face when communicating across multiple generations.
Communication plays a critical role in all walks of life. Organizations that communicate poorly perform poorly. If advertising is not understood, then products don’t sell. If instructions are not understood in the workplace, work does not get completed satisfactorily. Poor communication costs millions of dollars, as several studies have found. These include an SIS International Research Report, which found that:
Productivity losses due to poor communication costs $26,000 per employee per year
A business with 100 employees could be leaking more than $500,000 per year because of communication barriers
A business with 100 employees spends an average of 17 hours per week clarifying communications
Imagine your sales team losing 40% of its work week because of poor communication, and you begin to understand the full impact of poor communication. This is without considering the negative impact of poor communication on areas such as staff morale, employee engagement and employee retention.
Much of the ineffectiveness of communication within organizations stems from the multigenerational nature of those organizations. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work, because the preferred methods of communication differ so much between generations. Those companies that are aware of these differences focus on providing effective communication to improve performance and productivity.
Here are the major obstacles that organizations, and their leaders and managers, must consider when developing an effective communication strategy.
Different generations have different preferred styles and methods of communication. Baby boomers prefer face-to-face communication. They consider this personal approach to signify importance. They appreciate being spoken to directly. However, younger Baby boomers also display some of the communication preferences of Generation Xers.
Generations Xers are generally more comfortable with web-based communication. Emails and video calls. Millennials are the most technological communicators, used to ‘talking’ on social media networks and instant messengers. They generally see no negativity should a manager communicate electronically rather than face-to-face.
One commonality between all generations is the acceptance that digital communication is instantaneous. Meeting together often needs organizing, which can be time-consuming and delay important decisions.
The way in which we communicate has changed. We have evolved from formality to informal approaches. Especially among younger generations, slang is used in both formal and informal situations. Older workers may consider this way of talking – and writing – to show a lack of respect and effort. However, initialisms and acronyms have (largely) become accepted in daily communication. Language is fluid, though this fluidity can be challenging for many.
With different values and outlooks, the difference in sensitivity between generations can be quite startling. While such sensitivities also differ between individuals within different demographics, diplomacy is needed to avoid aggravating disputes between generations during team discussions or other communications.
The values held by each generation also present challenges in the communication arena. Whereas older generations thrive on the pride they receive from doing their jobs well, younger employees tend to need a constant flow of feedback. Older employees can view this negatively, referring to younger workers as ‘entitled’ or requiring spoon-feeding. Young employees can view their older colleagues as lacking ambition. These divergent values must be accommodated in the communication process.
While organizations must develop leaders and managers who are able to communicate effectively to all their people, it is imperative that all employees develop effective communication skills. Unless employees develop an understanding of the differences between them and their older or younger colleagues, then communication difficulties will continue to exist – and the barriers that prevent effective communication will continue to cost businesses in lost productivity, poor employee engagement, and unacceptable staff turnover rates.
Contact us today to discover how we could help your leaders, managers and employees improve their communication practices and strategies, and how this could feed through to your organization’s performance.
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