For employees who are Gen Y and Gen X, instant messaging (IM) is a no-brainer. They come into work and log in, using IM to contact fellow employees and others throughout the workday. No problem, right?
For the older generation of Baby Boomers, IM is a problem. It's not how they want to communicate with their colleagues or their peers. They prefer email, the phone, and face-to-face communication. So they choose not to log in to IM first thing on a workday morning.
It may not seem like a big deal, but for companies who rely on all employees to communicate effectively with each other, a little thing like not using the same tools can escalate into something more menacing. What kind of alternate communication channels should be encouraged? How does a company facilitate failing communication between two very different generations of workers?
1. Recognize the needs of each generation and keep everyone focused on the work to be done. Each generation has a way they prefer to work, as we've seen, Gen X and Y adore IM and social media, whereas Baby Boomers prefer more of a personal approach (phone, email, face-to-face), so can't the work get done by utilizing all of these communication channels? Have a face-to-face meeting at first, move to email and IM later, and then end the project with another face-to-face meeting is just one suggestion. Make it work!
2. Utilize each generation's disparate approach to problem solving so that everyone feels as if they play a valuable role. The face-to-face approach helps Baby Boomers feel that they are bringing their experience forward, whereas IM and social media helps Gen Y do research they need to find that same information. Both generations can provide the experience and research, it just takes a well-structured environment to bring it out.
3. Think through each generation's work concerns and figure out how to create forward motion together. While Baby Boomers want stability (and thus often attempt to control a project by their experience and "that's how we've always done it" approach), Gen Y wants to move forward with their careers by thinking outside the box. How a company melds those two concerns and moves forward is a matter of leadership. A manager who sees both sides, and welcomes all viewpoints and concerns will not bend to either side in finding a solution.
4. Above all, each generation wants respect in some way. The best way to give it to them, is to explain that everyone's approach requires some give and take. If Gen Y will let the Baby Boomers have their face-to-face meeting, perhaps the Baby Boomers can attempt to sign in to IM each morning and make their vast experience and expertise available to those who seek it.
All in all, the generation gap requires a strong management role that won't be influenced for or against any communication approach. That's the main challenge of business communications during this time.