May 302021

In the United States, the generations born beginning with the 20th century have labels, and research suggests that generational cohorts differ from each other. Different generational groups recall different events and changes, primarily from adolescence through early adulthood. Labels and the exact years represented by those labels may differ because generational analysis is not an exact science.

The interactions of generational groups in society became a predominant theme in the literature in the past 3 decades as researchers described the characteristics of each generational group and the background events that influenced them as they were growing up. Interest in understanding generational differences first increased with Coupland’s novel Generation X, which described Generation Xers as jaded young adults exiting the rat race established by the previous Baby Boomer generation.

Generational differences became a popular topic in organizations as the age span of workers increased in the 2000s and leaders began to notice how different the behaviors and expectations of their older workers, those approaching retirement age, were from their young, just-out-of-college new hires, belonging the to the much talked about Millennial cohort.

Besides having different ideas about work in general, these groups have different ideas about leadership, communications, work/life balance, trust, transparency, and so many other fundamentals of daily work life. I like to look at leadership because that’s my focus but underlying all of our daily work interactions is an important factor – how we communicate.

The disconnect in communication styles often leads to generational misunderstandings, discord, and even conflict. The Traditionalists or Silent Generation is accustomed to face-to-face communications and understands distributing information through the office memo. Their style in these communications tends to be directive. Baby Boomers were in the workforce when email was introduced and became big fans. This is a generation that prefers to get consensus on ideas so in-person discussions are still popular and may happen as a follow-up to an email or prior to the email communication which is then used to confirm the conversation. Generation X has always known email in the workplace and often uses it instead of meetings. This generation prefers collective decisions which may be done through those emails or social media. Millennials are the experts on the use of social media for communicating in their collaborative world, and brought this to the workplace with them. Making group decisions by text messaging is not unusual with this generation. Generation Z is the instantaneous generation and the faster the better for their communication method. That could mean any electronic method available to them at the time.

Looking across this array of preferred methods of communicating can explain why different generations feel that individuals belonging to a different generation are not hearing them, are not speaking their language, or don’t care about them. It’s frequently their inability to communicate using the same methods and terms, almost as if they are speaking different languages. This is one of the many reasons generational differences should be a diversity consideration.

Millennials Taking the Lead: The Leadership Style That’s Changing the Workplace

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