Communicating Through the Generations in the Workplace Essay Sample

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Introduction (l 15)

            The purpose of the field of organizational behavior is to study human behavior in an organizational setting (cited in Modaff, 2007, p. 85). Understanding what influences human behavior in an organizational setting is of critical importance to the management in structuring the organizational culture in a way that will take those influences into account. For this reason, an important component in all organizational cultures is the communications system. Creating the right kind of environment where employees feel comfortable in communicating with each other is a difficult challenge because demographic backgrounds vary widely from one employee to another and these variances strongly influence adult behavior which in turn influences how employees communicate in the corporate environment. One of the most important components in terms of demographic backgrounds is the generational gap between employees. This gap springs from events and experiences which differ from one employee to another depending on the time period in which they were born and this gap is manifest in how employees from different generations communicate.


            Diversity in the workplace is valued highly because it generates a diverse range of ideas in how to manage different organizational processes efficiently and effectively (cited in Robbins & Judge, 2006, p. 210). However this benefit of the diversity in ideas comes at the cost of complicating the area of organizational behavior. An example of the way in which organizational behavior is complicated is how employees from different generations communicate differently when it comes to performance measurement (cited in Johns & Saks, 2004, p. 12). Because different generations have had different experiences through different events and conditions, the values and expectations generally characterizing each generation are shaped differently (cited in Miller, 2005, p. 34).

These are demographic differences that if ignored will ultimately affect employee performance. Therefore valuing these differences is one of the most important factors contributing to employee motivation. The diverse range of values and expectations that the organizational culture must have the flexibility to work through is one of the difficulties arising from diversity in the workplace. One aspect of the organizational culture that is strongly affected by cross-generational diversity is employee interactions (cited in Modaff, 2005, p. 130). How employees interact with their colleagues, superiors and subordinates is a major area of concern arising from the cross-generational composition of the current workforce.

The importance of an efficient and effective communications system cannot be overemphasized. Inasmuch as a well functioning communications system goes to the very heart of maintaining employee motivation and morale by facilitating employee interactions, it is of critical importance to ensure that the employees feel comfortable with communicating ideas and grievances to their superiors and subordinates (cited in Johns & Saks, 2004, p. 211). However it is up to the management of an organization to build the kind of communications network which motivates employees from different demographic backgrounds to actively participate in different interactive process critical to disseminating information organization-wide.

Therefore it is important for the management to understand the different demographic backgrounds which make up the workforce. The different demographic backgrounds manifest themselves in the form of different generations. Currently, based on these demographic backgrounds, generations in the work place are broadly categorized into four groups. These are (cited in Miller, 2005, p. 140) 1) traditionalists who were born in the time period 1922-1943 2) Baby boomers who were born in the time period 1943-1960 3) Generation X who were born in the time period 1960-1980 4) Millenials who were born in the time period 1980-2000. The values and expectations that shape the mindsets of employees from each generation are different and organizational communications must adapt to those differences.

In the current business environment of intensifying competition, organizations have to maintain strategic focus. Maintaining strategic focus requires building an enabling organizational culture. In order for the organizational culture to be in alignment with strategic focus, employees must be made to feel welcome. That is why the field of organizational behavior strives to understand diversity so that it can be fit into an organizational culture that can then capitalize upon it.  Understanding diversity requires understanding cross-generational differences between employees (cited in Modaff, 2005, p. 230).


            Events and experiences are responsible for the different mindsets as manifest in different employees with different generational backgrounds (cited in Miller, 2005, p. 143). For example traditionalists experienced the great depression, World War II, the New Deal and the Korean War while Boomers experienced civil rights, sexual revolution, cold war, space travel and assassinations (cited in Miller, 2005, p. 143). The Generation X were born during the time when the Watergate scandal unfolded, the Berlin Wall fell and women’s liberation took place (cited in Miller, 2005, p. 143). The Desert Storm and the Energy Crisis are also two of the key events which happened during the time period in which the Generation X were born. Key events for Millenials were school shootings and rapid progress of technology (cited in Miller, 2005, p. 143).

These events and experiences shape the way in which employees from different generations communicate with one another. The roots of the different communications styles arise from the different values that were shaped by the key events and experiences. For example, traditionalists value hard work, sacrifice and dedication. They also promote honor, respect for rules and duty before pleasure. Baby boomers value optimism and working in a team environment. They also promote involvement, personal growth and gratification. Xers like diversity in the workplace, however they like to see an informal working environment. Xers are also comfortable with the use of technology. Millenials respect diversity in the workplace as well however they are more achievement oriented. These are the differences that account for the different styles of communications seen in employees from different generations. Thus a manager caught between generations has to communicate differently with employees from different generations.

            As a deputy manager in multimedia development in a software development organization, my experiences include working with all four generational groups. For example, my superior belongs to the boomer generation who does not like to see change in the way different work processes are conducted. He also does not like his decisions questioned and authority challenged. Therefore I have to communicate with him accordingly. My subordinates however include employees from all four generation groups. The challenges are there particularly when it comes to designing feedback on their performance. I know that my traditionalist subordinates do not like applause when they do well. They like feedback in subtle forms which frequently include non-verbal communications. When it comes to the Xers and the Millenials however, they have a need to know frequently how they are doing. While the traditionalists treat silence as a mark of approval, the Xers and the Millenials treat silence as disapproval.

Therefore, I have to design the feedback system accordingly. Xers and Millenials like to innovate on their work processes. They like to put new ideas to work. They are frequently bringing new ideas to me and I give them my full attention. Traditionalists according to my experience prefer permanency. However the industry to which my organization belongs undergoes change frequently and we have to keep pace. Business process reengineering takes place frequently and this requires traditionalists to abandon their existing work practices and adopt new ones. While the Xers and the Millenials show a great deal of enthusiasm for change, traditionalists resent it and it is my job to make them feel motivated to participate in change. I put the theory of employee involvement to work. According to this theory, employee resistance is minimized when they actually contribute to change. I put this theory to work once by having traditionalists contribute content to a website that was being installed. While the Xers and the Millenials needed no encouragement, traditionalists needed a long talk on the benefits of having the new website up and running. I also had to prepare a very tight business case in order to sell the concept to my superior. If he had been one of the Xers or the Millenials, his skepticism would have been tempered by enthusiasm. Therefore, generational differences strongly affect my performance.


            Generational differences are one of the most important springboards of diversity in my organization. The problem in this case is to devise the kind of performance measurement system which does not give preferential treatment to any employees. Performance measurement systems are critical to ensuring employee performance that will facilitate realization of organizational goals and objectives. The management in my organization meets this challenge by making sure that information flows in all directions so that no single group is left out of the communications system. Employee feedback is highly valued and everyone feels motivated to contribute to enriching the organizational culture.


Johns, Gary and Alan M. Saks. (2004). Organizational Behavior: Understanding and

Managing Life at Work. McGraw Hill/Irwin.  

Miller, Katherine. (2005). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes.

McGraw Hill/Irwin.

Modaff, Daniel P., et al. (2007). Organizational Communication: Foundations, Challenges

and Misunderstandings. McGraw Hill/Irwin.

Robbins, Stephen P. and Tim A. Judge. (2006). Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall.  

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