From Boomers to Gen X and Y: How and what to communicate

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By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
This is the start of a new series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results. Communication is a key sticking point, so we start with very specific tips to increase rapport and understanding.

Generational and diversity sensitivities make the appropriateness and effectiveness of communication more complex. Managers feel like they are walking on eggshells – or they ignore the differences, which is even worse.

Here are some tips on the Dos and Don'ts of what to say and do.

Remove from the Baby Boomer lexicon:

  • "This is the way we did it."
  • "You have to pay your dues."
  • The word "mandatory" except pertaining to ethics issues and firm deadlines. More friendly and negotiable sounding words are better to use for other topics, even if the end result is non-negotiable. The idea is to get people to buy-in by allowing them to help to decide the means to achieve the desired end.

Try these approaches instead:

  • "I value your time."
  • "I know there are other important things in your life. But as long as you have chosen to be part of this firm, let's agree on what you need to produce and by when."
  • Minimize required face-time. When it is not necessary or advantageous to be face-to-face in meetings, don't require that people be in their offices to do solo work.

Generational DefinitionsHere are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)

When giving assignments:

  • To Gen X: Give an assignment and a deadline. As much as practicable, let them complete the assignment or project where and when they want to work on it as long as it is done well and on time. Give them responsibility.
  • To Gen Y: Give assignments with clear and detailed guidelines, including deadlines and times to check in along the way. Give structure, examples, and spell out expectations.
  • For all, make the assignment sound like a meaningful contribution, and if possible, make it sound like fun.

Rethink rewards:
Generations X and Y expect and respect rewards based on competency and merit, rather than one size fits all. However, caution: Gen Y has been brought up hearing, often beyond the reality, that they are smart and close to perfect, and they expect praise.

  • Productivity bonuses are a better reward than lockstep compensation increases.
  • Offer time off after high quality, time-pressured work. Gen X and Y covet personal time and view time as a sort of currency (like cash).

To create a feeling of ownership:

  • Share operations and economic information about the business with the younger generations. They need to understand why things are done the way they are – particularly the economics.
  • Solicit ideas from Gen X and Y - and listen! Show a willingness to try new approaches. Risk adversity is limiting, though risks should be educated ones.
  • Listen to Gen X and Y's observations about the marketplace and clients. They see, hear and gather and interpret competitive intelligence, particularly about future markets, that the older generations miss.

Think how to bridge the gaps, not insisting on the way things have worked before. It's a growth experience for all that will make the teams and organizations stronger.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2008. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners. Haserot is the author of "The Rainmaking Machine" and "The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists" (both Thomson/West 2008).

See all of the articles in this series.


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