Communication and Technology: Generation Gaps

communicating across generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z)
Although every generation has great workers, there's a gap in how they want to communicate. Learn more about what the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z are thinking.

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In order to effectively communicate with and engage your workforce, it is important to understand the generational demographics of your employee base. Right now, the workforce is incredibly diverse with four (or maybe five) generations in the workforce.

increasing business acumen is possible with an intranet and intranet newsAs corporate communicators look to identify ways to create higher levels of engagement and strategic alignment among employees, it is very important to continuously tailor your engagement strategy to your company’s unique generational demographics. This is particularly true of technology initiatives that support your communication strategy, and resulting adoption. Recent studies have reinforced millennials as more “tech savvy” while generation Xers have shown to possess higher levels of “adaptability” and “problem-solving” skills. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, have shown themselves as “hard-working” and “team players.”

This diversity clearly makes organizations stronger, but corporate communicators should not underestimate the impact of such diversity on their corporate communication technology strategy. While one communication method, such as town-halls may resonate very well with baby boomers, other communication methods, such as a social corporate intranet may better engage millennials. As someone responsible for corporate communications in your organization, it is important to understand these differences clearly as you develop your corporate communication technology strategy.

Talking about my g-g-g-generation

Every generation has strengths, including in the way they communicate.

Generation Z – They’re the most tech savvy and known as not just digital natives, but mobile natives. They’re also a diverse group, born from 1995 – 2010. Zs adapt at many technologies, and unlike their slightly older counterparts (Millennials), they are adept at many different ways to communicate. When it comes to communication, expect them to switch tools with ease. They may just want you to text them.

Millennials (Gen Y) – Born in from 1980 – 1994, they’re digital natives and tech savvy as well. They grew up with computers and love digital communication, especially social media. Teams might be their favorite tool. And they like lots of feedback and communication.

Gen X – Although they’re not known as digital natives, they are mostly comfortable with technology. This typically overlooked group was born from around (with some debate) 1960 – 1979. They’re known as problem solvers, effective managers, and adaptable. Count on them for missions and objectives, getting things done. Discuss ideas with them over email and in meetings.

Baby Boomers – The largest generation was born around World War II (1940 – 1959). They’re idealistic for the most part. They love face-to-face interaction and phone conversations. 

Silent Generation – A smaller group may still be in the workforce. They’re pragmatic and prefer, like Baby Boomers, phones and face-to-face meetings.

Source: Ernst and Young

How to Engage Them?

How then, can you create a workforce engagement strategy, based in part on particular technologies, that focuses on the strengths of each generational demographic while understanding and acknowledging the weaknesses in each different group?

In our recent white paper, “How to Leverage Technology to Improve Employee Engagement” we consulted with longtime corporate communicator, Stacy Wilson of Eloquor Consulting to identify the right balance of technology sophistication in relation to employee engagement strategies. For this blog we will focus on how to be aware of your generation demographics to better leverage technology adoption to get the most out of your employees as a whole.

Combine tech savvy with business savvy

person using an intranetWhile focusing on the strengths is always important, make sure to recognize the weaknesses of each type of generational demographic group. Your organization will be unique in its generational makeup. Do you have more Millennials than Baby Boomers? Is it the other way around? Take the time to survey your employees to understand how you can best blend the technology and business experience in your workforce to best support your communication technology and employee engagement objectives.

With clear results and understanding into the objectives and needs of your workforce, you can begin to develop an engagement strategy customized for your unique employee base.

Build technology work groups that span demographics

For those users less receptive to technology change and adoption, including them early in the process can help those individuals better understand the how and why of the upcoming technology changes. This approach will also result in champions that can engage other, less technology savvy, employees to help increase adoption. Building a diverse technology initiative workgroup will help to ensure that multiple points of view are represented throughout the technology development and adoption lifecycle.

Focus on benefits everyone can embrace

chatbots driven by ai are hr heroesBased upon the composition of your workforce, you may need to adjust your communication technology strategy in order to effectively communicate and engage with the various generational demographics. Focus on delivering technology features that will be broadly adopted and embraced, even by less technologically savvy employees. For example, be wary of delivering massive streams of information which may be overwhelming to particular users, and avoid overuse of “one size fits all” communication methods such as email.

Instead, focus on how to produce more efficient, more targeted communications systems that enable these users to more easily consume and engage on their terms and according to their role and interests. While engagement concepts such as gamification, can be exciting to one group, you should make sure that all your generational demographic groups will embrace your communication technology.

Focus on easy and intuitive user experiences

The harder the technology is to use, the more it may alienate certain demographics and hurt overall adoption. By avoiding the implementation of solutions or features with a steep learning curve, you will improve the likelihood of early and sustainable adoption of your communication and engagement strategy. Investment into simple but effective user experience design can pay dividends.

For example, placing a focus on visualizing key information in simple ways rather than creating complex information streams which may intimidate the less tech savvy.

Train

The creation of a comprehensive training plan that takes into account the needs and expectations of less tech savvy users will maximize your ability to create sustainable engagement with any new communication technology strategy. Make the training simple, straightforward, and scoped. Gradually build up to more advanced aspects of the usage of the technology over numerous training sessions as your users become more familiar with the systems and the ways in which you are communicating and engaging them.

Identify early adopters

With any new technology solution it is critical to identify a group of “early adopters” who will promote and evangelize your efforts. The logical choice here is to reach out to millennials as their general excitement for new technology can inspire and excite others.

Don’t stop there though – identify influencers across all your different generational demographic groups to evangelize and support any new technology solution to their respective peers. Ensure there is a clear communication channel back to the communication team to embed lessons learned from these early adopters in your technology adoption strategy.

Measure

No sustainable communication strategy would be complete without solid measurement to clearly understand and analyze the impact of your efforts. With any new communication method or technology, make sure there are clear metrics identified to measure success. In the early stages of adoption, this should include some measurement around the level of engagement and adoption of various demographics.

In a recent blog post, “Measuring ROI on Employee Engagement”, we discussed the importance of tying employee engagement measurement efforts to other supported corporate metrics which are already embraced by the company and senior leadership. Keep this in mind as you roll out any new technology.

Our differences make us stronger

intranets increase engagementOur differences truly make us stronger and to get the most out of your employees it is essential to create unity and alignment to a common organizational vision. This is where a thoughtful communication technology strategy, which takes into consideration the pros and cons in all of us, can separate the good companies from the great.

Once you set a goal, then it is all about finding ways to successfully execute on that vision. Hopefully above recommendations based on our interactions with corporate communicators and organizations all over the world can give you a head start as you work to unify your workforce. Good luck!

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