Today’s workforce squishes multiple generations alongside one another in workplaces both real and virtual. Oftentimes, believe it or not, productively! But poor communications practices can sap the energy from even the most motivated multigenerational team. Demographically you can break down your workforce into different age groups, but when it comes to communicating, it’s critical to remember: they’re not jumost motivated they’re individuals.
From my experience working with diverse clients, as well as leading employee communications at Bloomberg and IBM, I’ve seen all too many communicators get stuck on the demographics. So much so that it hinders their ability to really connect with each employee. Sure, in a +100,000 person company it may be hard to tailor each piece of content to every individual; however, you can personalize content so that it feels like it is just for them based on your insight into not just demographics but their roles, personalities, interests, and behaviors.
In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of 18,000 professionals and students of varying ages, there were more similarities than differences in interests across generations. For example, becoming a leader was important to 61 percent of Gen Y’ers and Z’ers, and 57 percent of Gen X’ers surveyed. Additionally, 50 percent of Gen Y and Z respondents as well as 40 percent of Gen X’ers were concerned about whether their personalities fit in at their place of employment. Although there were differences in percentages across countries, the generations showed similar concerns and interests.
So, I decided to pull together a list of what not to do when trying to reach these different generations. Here are five tips for ensuring that baby boomers, millennials, and generation z’ers hate your communications.
- Make your content “pale, male and stale”
- If you want to ensure your company isn’t engaging the diversity of ages in the workforce, then stick to the old ways that only feature one demographic just because they’ve been there the longest.
- Tip: If you want to engage your multigenerational workforce, make sure the content represents not only all demographics of the employees within the company, but also their diverse personalities and behaviors. This approach often means taking seriously the ideas, opinions and desires of colleagues from all levels in the organization — the quotes, photos and invitations to events should all represent your whole population.
- Assume baby boomers don’t get technology and should be “reverse mentored” by the young whippersnappers
- Assuming baby boomers don’t “get” technology and, even worse, communicating that to the entire company by calling them out is a sure fire way to make sure they lose their motivation to join that “technology training course” or “mentor program.”
- Tip: Use technologies and language that makes the entire organization feel inclusive and as if they can take something away from the program, training, intranet article, etc. Offering training and technology options for “users of every level” is so much better than “assigning mature workers a millennial mentor.” Ugh!
- Refer to millennials as “future leaders”
- Just as much as a baby boomers dislike the “non-tech savvy” label, millennials are tired of being called the “future” leaders when they are, in reality, current leaders.
- Tip: As you can catch on from the previous tips, citing overly-broad demographic studies about one generation’s wishes and aspirations as a monolithic audience rather than a diverse, uniquely motivated group of individuals will not help your communications land with your employees. Highlight leaders who demonstrate leadership in every generation.
- Assume Gen Z’ers want to share your press release on their Twitter feed
- Gen Z’ers are all too often labeled “social media gurus;” however, just because they’re active on their personal social channels does not translate to an eagerness to post a tweet with their employer’s most recent press release.
- Tip: As Gen Z’ers are in the beginning stages of building their own personal and professional brand, it’s important to develop content that is relative to them at that stage. What can you produce for them to share that makes them look good? Not only should they be able to relate to the content, but ensuring they are empowered and inspired to share it externally will help them become, at their own will, ambassadors of the company’s brand.
- Forget to include Gen X’ers
- Oops, we were so focused on the millennials, gen-z’ers and baby boomers that we forgot to include them in the title. Sound familiar?
- Tip: Don’t forget Gen X. There is so much emphasis on the brain drain of baby boomers and the emergence of millennials as the leadership of companies that the Gen X’ers can get lost in the mix, even though they are made up of expert practitioners, highly skilled tradespeople and executives at the peak of their professional prowess. Highlight their accomplishments too — and maybe even throw in a reference to Slacker or grunge rock now and again.
The moral of the story? Stop viewing the employee population as one group with the same interests, motivations and values. Each employee brings their own impact to an organization. Finding the uniqueness of the individuals that make up your organization is just one way to not only engage a multigenerational workforce, but inspire and activate your employees overall.