Is your communication “on fleek”?

25 April 2024

Discrimination which could affect us all is Age. As a Baby Boomer (borderline!), I am in the oldies group but not so fusty that I could not use technology to explore how this fascinating topic is panning out in the workplace.

Recently, the generational balance has changed significantly with many older employees retiring post Covid and the working age population contracting dramatically. Meanwhile, others are working beyond their retirement age and GenZ have entered the workplace and are making their presence felt.
For the first time, there can be up to five generations in some organisations.

I am made aware daily of the generational differences by my 19-year old daughter (apparently I “just don’t get it”) while our consultant, Louise White has recently explained very vividly what it’s like being in the much maligned GenZ, and you can read that here.

Communication in the workplace will open up these divides further if generational preferences are not considered. Without interpretation, misunderstandings even disengagement are possible.

The meaning of an emoji can fox one group and the use of “ “ around a word to depict doubt or irony may be seen as passive aggressive by younger workers. GenZ-ers prefer informal, highly visual communication which gets right to the point where others (like me) enjoy more context and colour.

Language is evolving all the time and distinguishes generations from each other. Mature workers will be familiar with jargon where the younger generations prefer their own language (or “slang”) and copious emoticons. Everyday expressions can be generationally alienating: consider “so fleek” (on trend) to “square” (boring). You will likely only recognise one of those.

Communication for digital natives who have grown up in the info age will be social media (ever-evolving) while us Boomers still love a F2F. GenZ expect fast and instant access to information while us oldies can usually wait a bit longer.

So how best to enable good inter-generational communication:

  • Open communication channels and inclusive language practices: Foster an environment where team members of all generations feel comfortable expressing their communication preferences and seeking clarification.
  • In-person and synchronised online activities: Balance written communication with video calls, group discussions and team activities to foster interaction, gain understanding and build relationships.
  • Clear communication norms: Clear guidelines for when a formal style is expected, but also flexible templates that would work best for concise, informal communication.
  • Developing  a living language guide: a collaborative guide that outlines common terms, acronyms, and slang used by different generations and encourage all team members to regularly update it.
  • Formal and informal learning initiatives: Conduct training focusing on the communication styles of different generations, creating awareness and understanding.
  • Mentoring between different age groups: promoting mutual understanding and knowledge exchange.
  • Foster a culture of learning: Emphasise a continuous learning culture where team members are encouraged to understand and adapt to evolving communication styles, regardless of age

In summary, there are lots of voices to be heard in the workplace and collectively, all make up the whole which has to work effectively. I love the analogy of the orchestra for the workplace where all instruments are blended to create the sound. Play on!

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