July 16, 2019 Articles

Communicating in a Multigenerational Workplace

Understanding the uniqueness of each generation in our workforce is a step toward thriving in our careers.

By April Davenport

In today’s workplace, there can be up to five different generations working together, with each generation having its own way of communicating. There are many factors that contribute to how we communicate with each other, and generational differences can be one of them. Although every individual will not fit perfectly into his or her generation’s broad characteristics, each generation does exhibit differentiating traits. It is critical to understand how people born into different generations communicate when it comes to getting the job done.

Traditionalists, born before 1946, make up about 3 percent of the workforce. This generation values duty, dedication, and sacrifice, and often identifies with the importance of honor and loyalty. Brought up in the age of the written word, this generation tends to communicate with a high level of formality when it comes to their written and oral communication.

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and make up about 25 percent of the workforce. Like the generation ahead, they also value loyalty and hard work. Personal communication is important. Members of this generation would rather make a call than have a back-and-forth email chain or walk over to a coworker’s office instead of emailing. The older generations are OK with email but prefer to leave other technology to the younger generations. (Baby boomers are more prone to still leaving voicemails and using fax machines!) Sometimes resistant to change, they value the personal connections they receive from the interactions with their coworkers or clients.

Generation X, born roughly between 1965 and 1980, makes up about 33 percent of the workforce. This generation grew up in the age of MTV and Nintendo. That being said, they did not grow up with the Internet but can easily adapt to technology quickly. They are independent and self-sufficient, and they value freedom and responsibility in the workplace. With that in mind, this generation prefers communicating by email. Quite often, they are the bridge between baby boomers and the millennials when it comes to communicating.

Millennials make up the largest working group, comprising about 35 percent of the workforce. Born between 1981 and 1996, this is the first generation to use the Internet at an early age. This generation loves and values technology. They also love and value efficiency and speed. Their communication tends to be short and sweet, and they strive to use their knowledge of technology to make their workload much more efficient. Growing up with information at their fingertips, they also expect the same instant response when it comes to communicating.

The newest members of the workforce, Generation Z, born after 1996, make up roughly 3 percent of the workforce. Members of this generation are currently finishing their university degrees and are looking to land their first real jobs. Generation Zers do not remember a time when the Internet did not exist. As a result, 40 percent admit to being addicted to their smartphones.

As lawyers, whether in a major law firm dealing with partners, in government agencies dealing with staffers, or as solo practitioners dealing with clients, we will all come across a blend of these generations in our professional careers as well as our personal lives. Understanding the uniqueness of each generation in our workforce is a step toward thriving in our careers and becoming leaders in our own multigenerational workplace. Instead of getting frustrated that your partner keeps leaving voicemail messages instead of emailing, or that your associate is always on the smartphone, let us learn from each other and appreciate what each generation can bring to the table. Whatever your generation or preferred communication style, what is important is to be flexible and adaptive in our modes of communicating, which will in turn create a more harmonious and productive work environment.

April Davenport is a judicial law clerk in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, New Orleans, Louisiana.

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