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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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4 Generation and communication

Communication styles and approaches continue to change as each new generation enters the job market.

There are currently four generations represented in the workplace and although generational cut-off isn’t an exact science, they are commonly defined as follows:

  • Baby boomers – born between 1944 and 1964
  • Generation X – born between 1965 and 1981
  • Millenials (or Generation Y) – born between 1982 and 1994
  • Generation Z – born between 1995 and 2010

Each generation comes with its own set of characteristics based on the environment in which its members were raised, e.g. post-war, during financial crisis etc., and Murray (2017) illustrates some of the key work-related differences in a useful table.

Table 1 Characteristics of different generations*
Baby boomers Generation X Millennials
Communication Face-to-face Email or Instant Messaging ‘Just text me’
Attitude to work Loyal to my job I work to live Play then work
Information Print me a copy Send me a copy I’ll google it
What they want at work Respect my title Respect my ideas Respect my skills
Areas of focus Focus on progress Focus on results Focus on involvement
Priorities Work comes first Family comes first Friends come first


* Note: Not enough is yet known about Generation Z in the workplace to clearly define their characteristics.

These generational characteristics can lead to various challenges in the workplace. Adapting your communication style and content to the needs of your audience is an important consideration in this context.

For example, if a leader comes from a different generation to their team, the details in this table indicate that they might need to use communication methods outside their comfort zone in order to fully engage and share information with team members.

A commonly discussed characteristic of ‘millennials’ is their desire for more feedback than previous generations. This can be very positive, but does require a different approach to communication, perhaps with more regular use of the ‘performance’ conversation type you discovered in Week 4.

Activity 5 My own experience

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity

Think of someone you work with or encounter on a regular basis, at work or perhaps through voluntary work or a hobby, who is from a different generation to you. Don’t choose a family member as that will bring a different dynamic to your reflections.

In the box below list any positive or negative aspects of communicating with them.

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Did you choose someone older or younger than you? Did the points you made align with the differences outlined in the table?

There will always be people who fall outside of these generalisations, so perhaps you chose an older person who is a whizz on social media, or a young person who enjoys the art of letter writing!

The point of this activity is to reflect on the differences you observe between you and people around you and whether those have a positive or negative effect on your ability to communication with them.

If they are negative – what can you do to make communication between you more effective? For example, if they hate emails and rarely respond to them, try to get into the habit of putting your head around their office door and asking your question in person, or leaving a note on their desk.