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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

Generation X (1961-1980)

This generation is economically conservative and does not rely on institutions for their security. They saw what their parents went through as they felt the pain of downsizing. They have an entrepreneurial spirit. They are often seen as disloyal as they don't trust companies and often move around. They were the first latch-key kids.

This group was the first to start having instant results (TV remotes, Internet, etc). They prefer to manage their own time and solve their own problems rather than rely on management. They seek and value information. They also value feedback and flexibility. Though this generation works hard, they have a balance and value their time off. They prefer an informal atmosphere and like their fun. This group makes up 40 percent of the current workforce.

Generation X Tips

1. They love e-mail as a primary communication tool.

2. Talk in short spurts to keep their attention.

3. Share information and keep them in the loop.

4. Dealing with them in an informal style is a key factor in success.

5. Cut to the chase and avoid unnecessary meetings.

Millennials (1981-present)

This group is the youngest by far and accounts for approximately 10 percent of the current workforce. This is the group that has grown up in a high-tech world and they know no other. This group wants more of a say as to what happens to them. They are more diverse than the last group, being exposed to more diversity either in person or through technology. This group likes to make and spend money. They are more optimistic than their parents about the future. Technology is highly valued as a tool for multitasking and often integrated into everything they do.

Millennial Tips

1. Challenge them whenever you can.

2. Do not talk down to them.

3. They also prefer e-mail communication.

4. Give them regular feedback.

5. Use humor and don't take yourself too seriously

Closing Thoughts

With regard to my earlier example, my platoon went on to be one of the best platoons in the agency, even though the average experience level was only two years. There weren't any magic bullets and I had no clue as to the intricacies of the generational divide (being former military, I never gave it much thought).

I did try two things, however, that may help you in a similar circumstance. I tried to explain more in detail why we were doing things the way we were and I kept stressing that we had to meet our objectives. I did try to create more buy-in and avoided "just do it" situations whenever possible.

In the end though, and to be perfectly honest, I just pulled rank. Nothing seemed to work (I don't do warm and fluffy very well) so I told them that when they made lieutenant they could run their platoon as they saw fit. But since this was my platoon, we would continue to use my framework.

It also helped that I periodically took away their in-car computers for short periods of time and showed them their technology was a privilege, a tool, and not the end all. Amazing things started happening when they walked in the land of the dinosaur. They paid much more attention at briefing, they got out of their cars more often, and there weren't as many jokes about when I patrolled in sandals.

Apparently, being older gives you a sense of wisdom that helps you intuitively overcome problems. Or maybe, rank does have its privileges... LOL. LOL? See, even we dinosaurs can learn new tricks.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired Master Sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 23 years of law enforcement experience, and has been involved with martial arts for 37 years.

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