How to Communicate Across Generations in the Workplace

It is commonly understood in sociology that breaks in generations occur when historic and cultural events shape the way parents rear their children. Events like 9/11 and Brown v. Board of Education change the way parents protect and encourage their children, thereby instilling a generalized set of values into the new generation that will continue to define them for years to come.

Due to the ever lengthening life span coupled with recent economic uncertainties, the U.S. has more generations in the workplace today than ever before. Though this creates many opportunities through a variety of perspectives, it is often found that people who grew up in different eras with different ideals can have difficulty communicating clearly with one another.

One way to ensure better communication in the office is by understanding the generalized values and needs of each generation in accordance with their experiences. Though these understandings do not apply to the individual, they will apply as a whole and give more context to the needs of your workforce:

The Veteran Generation

Born: before 1946 (Ages 68 and up)

This generation only makes up 4% of the U.S. workforce today, but they are frequently the most powerful members of a business due to their experience. Having grown up in a world still recovering from the Great Depression, these workers often have a history of working 2 and 3 jobs to provide education for their families. They have a practical outlook on life with a strong belief in keeping your head down and conforming to provide. Their strongest values are of dedication and self-sacrifice because of the experiences they must have endured to provide for their families.

Preferred Methods of Communication:

  • Brief memos
  • Meetings


Question They Most Need Answered:
What do you want done?

The Baby Boomer Generation

Born: 1946-1964 (Ages 50-67)

Baby Boomers make up the largest generation by far at 39% of the workforce. They believe that working hard for the team by staying late will grant them success and let them provide material goods for their families. Having grown up in a time of economic growth, the boomers have an optimistic outlook on life.

Preferred Methods of Communication:

  • Phone
  • Face-to-face


Question They Most Need Answered:

How do you want this done?


Generation X

Born: 1965-1976 (Ages 38-49)

Generation X makes up just more than 1/5 of the workforce population. Having grown up in the age of excess, they are generally classified as skeptical and pragmatic. They value a diversity of thought in the workplace above all else and want a balanced work life. So, Gen Xers are known to work hard until 5 p.m. and then spend their evenings with their families.

Preferred Methods of Communication:

  • Email
  • Phone


Question They Most Need Answered:

Why do you want this done?


Generation Y & Millennials

Born: 1977 – 2001 (Ages 13-37)

Though these two generations have many years between them, their attitudes and outlook on life are very similar at this time. Together they make up 35% of today’s workforce, and they value diversity of all kinds in their office environment. Like Gen X, Millennials believe in working hard until their shift is over and then spending time with family. They care about giving back to their community and protecting the environment. Though they have a generally hopeful outlook on life, they are often dubious of their own futures.

Preferred Methods of Communication:

  • Text Message
  • Social Media
  • No Email, Calls or Meetings


Question They Most Need Answered:

Why do you want this done?


Though working in generalizations can be a dangerous undertaking, you can improve office relations by understanding the values and questions of others. By knowing more about your coworkers’ needs and attitudes, you can more effectively address their concerns. For more information on how to improve office relations, please contact one of our communication specialists.

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