Don’t generalise the generations- post-COVID-19. Here’s why.

For what seems like a lifetime we have been discussing, at great length, how to communicate with employees from different generations. Despite the fact that in recent years the generation demographics have chopped and changed, and we are entering a time where we have all four generations in our workplace, the discussion hasn’t evolved greatly. 

We still try to convince others, and ourselves, that each generation should be catered to with a unique communication style. The cliches that surround how we communicate to each, which can do more harm than good, have continued well into 2020. They go a little bit like this.

“Generation Z are born with technology in their hands- we won’t need to train them as much to use the intranet and we probably need a TikTok channel or an App to really get them to pay attention. They probably don’t even know how to read a pamphlet anyways.”

“Communicating to Millennials- ah yes, let’s make sure we have the coffee machine strategically placed near their collaboration zones so we can target our comms accordingly. Also tech-savvy right? So focus on the intranet or App to communicate.”

“Generation X and Baby Boomers. This is where those colourful posters and desk-drops come in handy guys. They hate technology and only like communicating face to face. Email is good though. They can manage Email.”. 

See what I am getting at here? I’ve heard these descriptions countless times despite the fact they are aimed at people from drastically different populations, cultures or departments within a workplace. It’s overdone and a bit tedious- especially when you are trying to create a communications campaign to engage all your workforce in one go. 

I could go on about the dangers of communicating through the generation bias lense all day but instead- I’m going to talk about why this is now completely irrelevant. Or at least, it will be in a post-COVID-19 world. 

This was echoed in a recent Forbes article I read, which outlined how we are all going to be reevaluating our priorities post lockdown with technology playing a major part. All of us meaning- all four generations.

So for internal communicators, it’s high time we drop the generalisations and focus in on a few of the following facts:

  • Baby Boomers are highly likely to be returning to the workforce upskilled in digital forms of communication and software. They have been forced for the first time ever, partly as they are at a higher risk from the virus, to delve into online shopping, Face-Timing and dealing with not a printer in sight. 
  • Generation X will be in a similar situation. Many of which are leaders of companies who have taken to platforms for virtual conferences and presentations faster than you can join the queue for toilet paper. 
  • Millennials (Generation Y) and Generation Z have normalised e-learning and video conferencing to continue to develop and grow in their careers while helping their older relatives and friends to upskill.

Now I’m not saying that your entire internal communication strategy needs to be digital-focused, forgetting about everything else. Far from it. What I am saying is that now is the time to put the generational differences aside and unite your employees under one common purpose within the workplace- and communicate this purpose with one approach. Here are a few tips to get you going:

  1. Move away from all of those hours you spent creating ‘learning’ toolkits for your digital screens, apps and intranets. Older generations have proved they can use tech and are actually quite good at it- so don’t go back to putting them in a technologically-illiterate box just because everyone might be. 
  2. Stop focusing so much on how you communicate (tools, tech, desk-drops etc) and focus on what you are communicating. All four generations are more susceptible to persuasion when empathetic and emotive language is used. 
  3. Spend time talking to all of your employees, regardless of their generation, about what they want their company to be. This way, when it comes to helping your leaders shape their strategy around a uniting purpose (link to other post), you will be in a position to please everyone without making those damaging assumptions. 

Finally, avoid going back to the old ways of doing things. This lockdown has provided you with a chance to bring together the Millennials, the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Z. Drop the labels and fight the generalisations. It will pay off. 

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Gihan Hyde
Gihan Hyde is an award winning corporate communication expert with a deep passion for internal communication. Her roles spanned different organisations including HSBC, Barclays, M&S, and Department for International Trade, and the Riyadh Metro Project.
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