Generation Pain: Avoiding Inter-Age Group Angst in the Workplace

Sup, fam?

Your instinctive response to that greeting is likely to differ according to your age. If your reaction was less one of recognition and more one of “Pardon?”, don’t worry – you’re not alone. However, we’re not here to translate. First of all, our rapidly advancing years preclude any expertise in this area. And secondly, by the time this blog has been posted, our attempts to adopt a youthful vernacular will probably already be embarrassingly out-of-date. (In fact, reliable teenage sources confirm that this greeting is, indeed, totally “cringey”. Face palm emoji.)

What we are equipped to do, however, is explore the issue raised by this question: namely, the problem of communication-related conflict in the workplace. And as our workplaces become increasingly diverse in terms of age, with millennials merrily mixing with their more mature colleagues, it’s a problem that we encounter with increasing frequency. “Young people tend to enter the workforce with the right technical skills to perform their roles. However, they’re not always aware of the basics of professional communication,” explains PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda. “They don’t necessarily realise that the language you use when posting on Facebook is not the language you use when communicating with clients. Or that it’s not appropriate to send chat requests to a manager in his or her fifties who may not be familiar with the app.”

She cites a recent example of a manager in a large business who was using email to communicate, with the expectation of a response within 24 hours. However, younger team members were instead using social networking service Yammer to communicate, with the expectation of an instant response. “These different tools require different methods of communication and were therefore creating frustration with both parties,” observes Anda. “The most common cross-generational conflict we see in workplaces occurs around communication, with differing expectations regarding timelines and deadlines. Often, it’s about a person wanting something immediately, with rapid responses required to random issues raised at random hours.”

For real. So how do we ensure that we don’t stumble into this communication chasm? Our key tips below should help you to bridge the generation gap:

Establish protocols.

Simple, right? But easy to overlook, regardless of the size of your business. “Any new employee should be taught not only what particular communication tools their new workplace uses and why, but more importantly, the best practice methods for using these tools,” says Anda. “They need to understand their workplace’s protocols for using email, phones, social networking apps and so on. Collaboration and communication are so important now that if you don’t establish the correct processes for new employees right at the outset, you’re going to end up with an inefficient mix of every possible method, especially in a large organisation.”

Query everything.

It seems that, ironically, the way to communicate better is to, well, communicate. “Ask questions and then ask more questions. Don’t hide from issues – confront them!” advises Anda. “People need to have better conversations. They need to understand what’s not working and establish agreements around how they will address these issues.” Which leads us to:

Create accountability.

So you’ve ticked off points one and two. What next? “As well as establishing agreed behaviours, it’s also essential to create accountability around these agreements,” notes Anda. “If someone isn’t cooperating, establish how you will communicate this to them. What specific language will you use to encourage them to consider the impact of their actions?” Sending a string of gritted teeth emojis is unlikely to generate a positive response.

Ultimately, taking the “cross” out of “cross-generational” begins with the top of the leadership chain, says Anda: “A positive, collaborative work culture begins with the right communication and clarity from the top down.” In other words, it doesn’t matter whether your preferred personal communication style is more tea room than Twitter. What does matter is that within the workplace, everyone speaks the same language. OFC.*

*Of course.