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Speaking My Language: Navigating Internal Communications with Intergenerational Employees Following COVID-19

Intergenerational differences in the workplace are really nothing new. For decades, the standard was that you would take a job shortly after high school or college and remain with that employer until you retired. That meant that your work environment, from start to finish, was staffed with employees representing every generation.

Today, work life is different, especially in the face of the coronavirus and the changing work environment it's brought. Employees are far more mobile, and you're likely to work for multiple companies over the course of your career, plus, you're likely now working from home when you may never have done so before. What hasn't changed, however, is the reality that the workplace is inevitably going to be a multigenerational one. Learning to identify and bridge communication gaps between the generations is vital to your company's success.

Rising Generations

Employers have always been tasked with helping staff from different age groups learn to communicate more effectively, but that demand has never been greater than it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic is multiplying this high demand by 11.

Millennials and Generation Zers are now entering the workforce in record numbers, with Millennials now comprising an estimated 50% of the US labor force. In addition, Generation Zers are growing up and beginning to enter the workforce.

As the number of Millennial and Generation Z workers grows, they're infusing the modern workplace with new modes, patterns, and styles of communication. It stands to reason:

Millennial and Generation Z workers are the first generations of "digital natives", those who have lived their entire lives with modern digital technology.

Digital natives often have distinct expectations and practices when it comes to communication. They want clarity, relevance, and brevity. They desire instant answers, and they expect strong interconnectivity.

In other words, they expect their familiar and well-beloved digital technologies to be strongly integrated into their work environment, supporting near-constant access and communication among team members. This access has become imperative as the business world has shifted almost entirely to remote work in the wake of the coronavirus. What was once the vestige of flexibility in choice for younger workers such as Millennials has become the new norm for all workers. Maintaining remote work even as the virus runs its course is an important step to consider in returning to work. Why? Because consistency in practices is key no matter the generation.

Managing Intergenerational Communication

While Millennials and Generation Zers are having a significant impact on workplace communication, there are a number of important strategies you can use to drive cohesion and collaboration institution-wide. If your organization has not worked remotely prior to COVID, now is the opportunity to use your new experiences to create a more comprehensive communications and remote work policy. These two can go hand-in-hand and can be flexible enough to apply post-pandemic.

One of the first steps is to develop a clear and robust code of conduct (CoC), not only to help establish your company mission and values but also to help direct appropriate employee behavior. Of course, your CoC is only going to be as effective as your training. It's imperative that you take the time to familiarize your employees with this code and to provide reminders and refreshers when needed.

The code of conduct will give your staff a base to work from. It will help them to better understand not only how things are to be done in the company, but also what is to be expected from them.

The code should include instructions for communication processes. For instance, if there is a schedule change, the code may require that it be communicated in writing, such as on a company's internal messaging system. This will ensure that everyone is clear, both on reporting practices and on where to turn to find the essential information they may need to complete the day's work. Once the pandemic has passed and people begin to trickle back into the office, conduct a SWOT analysis to determine which facets of your communications plan are still applicable.

Your internal communications also need to focus on both immediate needs and the big picture. This will help to unify your team in a shared vision of long-term success, even as it defines the specific steps the company and its various departments will take to achieve that vision.

Most of all, it will meet the particular needs of different generations. Millennials and Generation Zers, for example, tend to be driven by the desire for instant gratification. They seek answers and strategies suited to a particular moment.

Generation X and Baby Boomers, on the other hand, often prefer to think and to communicate more holistically. The orientation for these generations is often toward the established order and the longer term, and they seek to understand how today's solutions and strategies fit in with the larger scheme of things.

The Takeaway

Bridging generational gaps has long been an important quality of leadership in the modern workplace, and that need has never been greater than right now. With Millennials and Generation Zers now flooding the workplace, they are fundamentally changing the nature of internal communications. They often require immediate access, answers, and feedback. They desire connection, and they expect technology to be as strongly integrated into their work lives as it is in their personal lives.

There are, however, a number of strategies that managers can use to optimize multigenerational communication in today's workplace. It begins with establishing a clear, effective, accessible, and functional communications process model. It also requires a strategic combination of big-picture thinking and short-term, immediate-impact strategies. 

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