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Communication in the Workplace: Generational, Gender, and Role Differences

The common workplace certainly has adapted. It has to! (To keep up with the ever changing needs of employees and customers.) This means communication tactics within organizations have shifted as well. There are several factors to explore that have contributed to this shift in workplace communication, including the number of generations in the workforce and the evolution of technology. Despite the differences in generations, gender and professional roles, there are ways to navigate communication in the workplace successfully.

Generational differences in workplace communication – and how to bridge the gap.

For the first time in history, five generations are part of the workforce at the same time. Yes, five! Believe it or not, this is a GOOD thing and business owners have to use it to their advantage. Each of these generations have different communication styles based on their upbringing, experiences, values, and state of the working environment during their career. It’s important to recognize the general differences in communication styles among generations to learn how best to communicate across them. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

  • Traditionalists were born between 1925 and 1945 and make up the smallest part of the active workforce. This generation is most comfortable with communication face-to-face and via telephone. They started in the workforce when typewriters were commonly used.
  • Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and were the largest generation until that time. They were accustomed to communication with rotary-style phones and were part of the workforce when conference calls became commonplace.
  • Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1977 and experienced several major workplace communication innovations, including email, mobile and texting.
  • Generation Y (or millennials) were born between 1978 and 1989 and have officially surpassed the baby boomers as the largest generation. They have a reputation for being tethered to technology and their devices, and their workplace communication style comprises of smartphones and web meetings.
  • Generation Z members were born between 1990 and 1999 and are known for starting a movement back to traditionalist views. Their workplace communication style includes social media, workplace instant messaging, video conferencing and face-to-face meetings.

When communicating across multiple generations in the workplace, remember that language is ever-evolving, so meanings and interpretations of words or sayings may change. When in doubt, use simplistic language that you’re confident everyone will understand, and clarify if necessary. Just to be safe!

Especially when communicating digitally (e.g., text, IM, and email), tone may be difficult to interpret. We’ve all taken offense to an email before when it was hard to interpret tone…it happens to the best of us! When in doubt, face-to-face communication can eliminate any potential translation issues. If that’s not possible, talking can be better than text communication as it allows for a dialogue and the opportunity to ask questions. Even better? A quick video call where you can see the other person’s face, read their expressions and connect on a deeper level.

Everyone – no matter which generation they’re part of – wants to be accepted and make a good impression. (Remember that expression about only getting to make one first impression, so make it good!) The fear that others have a negative perception of them within a workplace with multiple generations is real, so address fears when communicating across generations.

To further complicate generational differences, add in the evolution of technology. In the mid-1980s, collaboration was introduced in the workplace. Since then, digital transformation has allowed for closer collaboration with tools like video conferencing, simultaneous document editing and unified communication (e.g., Google Drive, QuickBooks). These have enabled workplaces to connect on a larger scale.  

With the shift to more remote, work-from-home models, employees are being allowed to do their job on their own team as long as it meets employer expectations. They are frequently using their own devices (read: cell phones) to feel more connected at work when they’re not formally sitting at their desk. (Asynchronous collaboration means everyone can work at different times on the same project and synchronous collaboration means everyone is working on the same task simultaneously.)

Gender nuances in workplace communication – and how to navigate the differences. 

Men and women sociologically have different strengths in communication skills, which can be applied when interacting in the workplace. Because of the inherent differences (à la men “are from Mars, women are from Venus”), tips for effective communication between genders include:

  • Getting to the point quickly and concisely,
  • Standing your ground,
  • And playing to your individual strengths.

Women’s strengths include the ability to read body language and pick up on non-verbal cues, listening thoroughly, and effectively displaying empathy. Weaknesses *can* include being overly emotional, getting off topic easily and using non-authoritative tone and language. Strengths that are overdone can also become weaknesses when it comes to interacting with the other gender as well.

Men’s strengths include physical presence, to-the-point interactions, and powerful body language signals. Their weaknesses tend to include being too blunt and direct, too confident in their own opinion, and insensitive to audience reaction.

How to better communicate across different types of teams in the workplace.

Studies have reported recent growth in teamwork in the workplace. And while there are several team structures apparent in the workplace, the idea is that a team is striving toward a common goal and there’s ascribed roles that create individual and mutual accountability.

The types of teams you’ll see within a workforce include:

  • Cross-functional teams, which pulls team members from different functional areas across an organization to complete a task.
  • Taskforces are usually a group of specialists on a topic used to solve a specific problem.
  • Virtual teams are a group of individuals working toward a common goal from different locations.
  • Self-managed teams are a group of employees responsible for generating all or most of a product or idea and carrying out the execution of goal.

Teams frequently come under fire in execution; sometimes team members do too much or not enough. To best communicate within a group, use these pro tips:

  • Be interested in other people; ask questions that are genuine and actively listen to answers.
  • Show you’re decisive.
  • Make eye contact when you’re speaking to people.
  • Always keep a sense of humor.
  • Be positive and realistic.
  • Consider the message you’re trying to convey, why you’re communicating this message, and to whom the message is directed.
  • Assess the audience and the level of argument your message needs.
  • Be clear, concise, and use plain language.
  • Plan content carefully.

At CEFO Advisors, communication is an essential element of business as we have employees from a variety of different age groups, genders, and beliefs. Using our philosophy of strategy, finance, and culture, we are able to bridge the gap that may exist in the many facets of financial advising for our clients. As a small business, it is our job to use our business philosophy to create a continuation of healthy practices in communication to better interact with clients and coworkers alike.

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