How to Improve Communication between Generations in the Workplace | EAPA-SA

As rapid and sometimes unwelcome workplace-transformation continues to sweep across all industries and sectors in South Africa, escalated by the coronavirus pandemic, it is inevitable that the way we work will continue to change.  Branded as the ‘new world of work’, the relatively stable on-site workplace model that has been in place for decades in South Africa, has shifted and is already characterised by significant change, with more employees working from home or whole organisations working remotely from one another.

How should organisations set about re-creating and bettering a cohesive workplace and organisational culture – creating an environment that is flexible to meet the different communication needs of a multigenerational workforce?

Generations in the workforce

By way of definition, PwC’s ‘Multigenerational and Diverse Talent Management for a Workforce of the Future’ report classifies the generations who make up our workforce as follows:

  • Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964: 

    This generation is currently in their 50s and 60s and tend to value success. They are work ethic-driven and their preferred work environment is a flat hierarchy, which is democratic as well as warm and friendly. 

The leadership style this generation favours is participative and accessible and what they want from work is a loyal employer, opportunities to mentor others, and respect. Employers can motivate them by utilising their experience and suggestions, leveraging their optimism and offering opportunities for collaboration.

  • Generation X – born between 1965 and 1979:

    They are currently in their late 30s to mid 50s and this cohort tends to value work-life balance. Their preferred work environment is one that is functional, positive, efficient, fast-paced and flexible. 

Their preferred leadership style is self-directed, hands-off and flexible. What they want from work is a trustworthy employer, opportunities, competent colleagues and autonomy. Keeping them motivated requires giving them credit for their work and assigning them meaningful tasks they can complete individually.

  • Generation Y or Millennials – born 1980 and 1994:

    They are currently in their early 20s to mid-30s. Their work ethic is characterised by being ambitious and they are entrepreneurial in their outlook. They see education as an incredible expense and value their individuality and flexibility. 

Their preferred work environment is collaborative, creative and diverse, and they want to work where and when they like.  Their leadership style is cooperative, collaborative, inclusive. What they want from work is an empathetic employer, meaningful work, mentorship, flexibility. 


The typical challenges of a multigenerational workforce include these differences in their values and preferences in their work environment, as well as differing communication styles. Even with the increase in employees working remotely, it is important to align the differing work habits of each generation as they are becoming increasingly pronounced. What is more, Generation Z, born after 1994  is poised to enter the workforce in greater numbers.

“The typical challenges of a multigenerational workforce include these differences in their values and preferences in their work environment, as well as differing communication styles.”

How each generation prefers to communicate

While it’s important not to stereotype employees based on their generation, there are some general differences in the way each generation prefers to communicate.   

  • Baby Boomers are embracing digital technology: including smartphones and social media, but they still want to maintain opportunities for face-to-face communication when possible. 
  • Gen Xers are not digital natives, but they are just as likely to be comfortable using technology in the workplace.  They want technology that supports their professional development.  And, although this generation tends to be overlooked for promotions, they do play a critical role in leadership, managing more direct reports, staying at their company longer and taking on heavier workloads. 
  • Millennials want to work for a company that embraces technology more so than the generations before them. In general, Millennials want mobile technology that facilitates collaboration and teamwork. Not surprisingly, they are leading the charge to embrace cloud-based technology in the workplace.
  • Generation Z has never known a world without technology and expects the tech they use in the workplace to be just as frictionless as the apps they use at home. They prefer a workplace that allows them to use their own device if possible.


Understanding how each generation views technology and prefers to use it can help you decide which tools to implement and ensure you account for everyone’s needs. Following these five tips can help you appreciate generational differences and even use them to your advantage. 

  • Set expectations regarding workplace communication

When Baby Boomers were entering the workforce computers didn’t exist, much less laptops and emails.  Now, we have smartphones that allow us to communicate from virtually anywhere. While it might be second nature for a Millennial employee to have their smartphone on their desk and immediately respond to notifications, older generations might not or may consider being messaged after hours as disrespectful of their personal time.  It is important for leadership to clearly communicate expectations for workplace etiquette when it comes to communication. If everyone knows what is expected of them more room for collaboration and productivity. 

  • Use different types of communication

Baby Boomers prefer face-to-face conversations, while Generation Xers prefer to speak via phone and Millennials by email or text.  Employees should have the option to use a combination of these methods as well as video conferencing, standard conference calls and collaboration tools like Google Hangouts or Slack. However, while you want to give your employees wide-ranging options, you should set expectations for when it’s appropriate to use different communication channels. For example, disciplinary conversations should always be face-to-face, whether it’s in person or via video for remote employees and employees should avoid scheduling team meetings for simple project updates that can be covered in a short email. 

Social media is another form of communication between generations in the workforce.  This is another area where different generations may have vastly different ideas about what is acceptable. To avoid any confusion, consider implementing a social media policy. 

“Baby Boomers prefer face-to-face conversations, while Generation Xers prefer to speak via phone and Millennials by email or text.”

  • Ask, don’t assume

Miscommunication can cause dissension among employees. Encourage your team to communicate. Rather than assuming the worst about their co-workers, they should engage them in conversation and find out more about them. Lead your team by example, breaking down the typical stereotypes along the way.

  • Be willing to teach and be taught

Regardless of how much work experience or schooling an individual has, there is always more they can learn. Millennials and Generation Z can learn some great lessons from older generations as they work alongside each other – knowledge and expertise that they can apply to every aspect of their lives. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers can learn from the younger generations as well—and not just about technology. Always encourage learning and growth within your team. 

  • Personalise your approach

Never make assumptions based on an employee’s age. Get to know your team as individuals. Make an effort to discover what works best for each of them and adjust your communication style accordingly. By making an effort to better understand each generation and support them, you will empower everyone to do the same and to produce their best work. 


Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels