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Article -> Generational Perceptions & Communication

Date Added: October 2011

Note: This article appeared in the October 6, 2011 issue of The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Many generational workplace problems and conflicts occur due to perception and communication. We perceive things that may not be true; and we may not proactively communicate to understand and/or validate perceptions.

While communication is its own issue; perception can be divided into personality, work/life balance and learning. We’ll focus on Generation X (those born 1965 – 1979) and Generation Y or Millennials (1980 – 1995). While everything stated below is based on general data; every individual is unique, so “one size doesn’t fit all.”

Personality perceptions relate to Gen X’s belief that Gen Y are demanding, over-confident, don’t work hard and desire to be the center of attention. Gen Y believe Gen X are resentful, abrasive, non-communicative and uncaring.

Work/life balance issues pertain to Gen X’s perception that Gen Y have care-free attitudes and are more focused on personal vs. work life. Gen Y believes Gen X are workaholics that should care more about humanitarian efforts, enjoying life and family time.

Perceptions associated to learning include Gen X being independent, autonomous and self-learners. Gen Y want to be coached and mentored, are eager to learn and ask questions, want regular feedback, and believe their input should be sought and freely provided.

In terms of communication, Gen X prefer email, don’t build as many relationships with others and have less “small talk” about personal items. Gen Y prefer social media, aren’t as responsive to email, and value personal relationships – even though these may be via social networks vs. face-to-face.

Your workplace leaders are probably Baby Boomers or Gen X. Given the differences between Gen X and Gen Y, how are organizations addressing these issues for organizational success? Four items addressed in more detail below include:

·         Communicating how each Generation wants to be communicated to.

·         Investing in learning/coaching.

·         Having flexible work/life schedules.

·         Getting to know each other.

While each organization and generation has its own communication preferences, communicate how others want to be communicated to. Gen X can text instead of email. Gen Y can email once in awhile. A Gen Y individual told me to get a Facebook page because it’s easy to communicate to everyone at once. Being Gen X, I said communication can occur via email or cell because I receive it vs. having to go to Facebook. We’re both correct and need to seek some middle ground on communication.

Gen X should invest time to coach and mentor Gen Y. While this may not be how Gen X learned, this is important to Gen Y. If you can’t provide it, find an external resource. Gen Y are our future. They want to learn and improve, so provide them the opportunity.

Depending upon your organization, flexible work schedules are a must. We’re all adults and we know what results we’re responsible for. If we achieve or surpass our expected results, does it matter whether we’re at work, home or in the community? Some leaders invest 20+ days/year on volunteer endeavors plus 15 vacation days; and achieve high-level results.

While communication preferences are respected, take time to meet face-to-face and build relationships. Engage Gen Y in decisions and ask for their input (also a great coaching experience). Tell them about your family or hobbies – they want to know. Gen Y should continue to seek input from Gen X and demonstrate that results and fun are okay.

Removing barriers of perceptions and communication is easy if we better understand ourselves and other generations.

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