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Workplace Communication: Closing the Generation Gap

Understanding generational differences can help everyone work together better.

February 17, 2011  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Traditionalists (born before 1945)

This group is practical, patient, loyal, and hardworking. They are rule followers and respectful of authority. Their world was shaped by their parents, whose values go back to the 1800s. This generation experienced the Great Depression and World War II. With regard to trust, they take their time in developing relationships and their word is their bond.

Traditionalists are also called the silent generation. They don't share their thoughts right away. They like formality whether in oral or written form. This group draws lines in the sand and expects you to honor them. This generation is strongly influenced by family and religion. Though most of this generation is retired, the ones still working are in senior positions and wield considerable power. This group accounts for approximately five percent of the workforce. Their need for social order is often viewed as being biased, prejudiced, or sexist.

Traditionalists Tips

1. They prefer face-to-face or written communication.

2. They don't like their time wasted.

3. When speaking, focus on your words. Cut back on body language.

4. Use a historical perspective as they prefer what has worked in the past.

5. They have a high work ethic, which doesn't include having fun at work.

Baby Boomers (1946-1960)

This generation did not go through as hard a time as their parents. The Traditionalists wanted their children's lives to be better than theirs and gave them the best of what they could. As a result, boomers developed the importance of "me." This group grew up during a time of prosperity (1950s) and also in times of social upheaval (1960s). This was the first group to feel a shift in family values. The concept of marriage as an institution started changing. The boomers account for the largest group comprising approximately 45 percent of the current workforce.

While their parents worked for the benefit of the company, the boomers work for the benefit of the individual. It was the boomers that started the workaholic trend. The difference in perspective between Traditionalists and Baby Boomers is that Traditionalists worked hard because it was the right thing to do. Baby Boomers work hard to be successful and get to the next level.

Boomers embrace the team concept and tend to shy away from the more rigorous structure of their parents' companies. They don't like rules for the sake of having rules and tend to challenge the system. Boomers are very accepting of others as long as they can perform to their standards. They are very competitive and will fight for a cause.

Baby Boomer Tips

1. They are the "show me" generation, so body language is important.

2. Avoid controlling language as it turns them off.

3. Answer questions thoroughly and expect to be asked for details.

4. They like options in their thinking and don't like being boxed in.

5. Recognition is important, so provide it often.

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