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Four Generations, One Workplace

Many businesses are experiencing a unique situation: they have as many as four generations working together (or perhaps trying to work together) in their workplaces. You have traditionalists who were born before or during World War II, baby boomers born between 1945 and the mid 1960s, gen-Xers born between the mid 1960s and 1980, and millennials who were born after 1980.

One specific area where the generational experience is vastly different and can contribute to misunderstandings is their relationship to technology. Think about it for a minute:

In voice communication alone, the traditionalists’ experience stems from the landline phone. That experience included a strict “no personal calls” work rule. While baby boomers were initiated to wireless communications with “bag phones”, the gen-Xers were the first to bring cell phones into the workplace, changing the dynamic of the personal call at work. Millennials were the beneficiaries of advances in cell phone technology that led to smartphones. Now not only can a person make and receive personal calls easily, he can also send and receive personal texts as well as manage social media interactions without even touching his business computer. The result of the differing experiences with communications technology is a disparity in perspective regarding the appropriateness of personal communications during work hours. A traditionalist and a millennial may have different opinions about a colleague who is taking and making personal calls at the office.

Not only does each generation’s experience with communications technology affect attitudes towards personal communications during work hours, their differing uses of technology can affect how they choose to communicate with their colleagues. A traditionalist may be more comfortable with an in-person meeting while a baby boomer may prefer to communicate on a phone call, a gen-Xer via email and a millennial with texting. As a baby boomer myself, I find if a colleague has something they want to communicate to me me right away that they are most successful with a call or even seeing me in person rather than emailing me or texting me.

It is instructive to understand the differences between the generations and can help build a more positive workplace atmosphere. However, the important thing is not to assume that everyone you interact with in a generation thinks the same way. For instance, regardless of the generation, focus on who you want to communicate with and how that person is wired for communicating. You’ll have a better chance of having your message received and acted on, and less frustration at having it ignored.

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