Communication Styles and Management Tips for Gen X, Gen Z, and Millennials

Today’s workplace is as diverse as it gets. In any given company, managers can expect to work with people from all races, genders, cultures, and age groups. Most organizations know the value of diversity and prioritize hiring around diversity goals. McKinsey reports that diverse companies outperform non-diverse peer organizations by 35%, representing a substantial boost to the bottom line. 

Age diversity, in particular, has been shown to decrease employee turnover and boost innovation. Inviting age-diverse viewpoints into the conversation helps broaden the market for new products and services and establishes a platform for mentorship that supports business continuity. 

But managing age-diverse teams can be challenging where communication is concerned. Each generation has its own distinctly different communication style, so it’s essential to understand all viewpoints and preferences so you can support and motivate your team for the best outcomes.

Today, we’re going to look at three of the most significant generational groups in today’s workforce. We’ll discuss communication styles for each group and how managers can develop strategies that work with—rather than against—their preferences.

Communication with Gen X

Generation X (Gen X) was born between 1965 and 1980. They are adaptable, resilient, and independent, stemming from a common experience of growing up with parents that worked full-time. They are innovative problem-solvers and self-starters, and most are accustomed to figuring things out on their own. As such, they don’t like being micromanaged. They are capable of working independently and maintaining high productivity levels, making them particularly well-suited to remote work or hybrid work environments. 

Here are a few things managers should know about Gen X:

Gen Xers are calm and not easily flustered

Gen Xers are calm and not easily flustered

You won’t often see a Gen Xer get rattled or worried about changes or challenges. They are the proverbial eye of the hurricane. 

Work well under pressure

Since Gen X tends to have a more relaxed style, they do well in high-pressure environments and don’t manifest stress or frustration outwardly. They are capable of leading by example and are often the ones other workers turn to in a work crisis. 

Comfortable with technology

Gen X evolved in parallel with technology and the internet. They weathered the changes and embraced them enthusiastically as the world segued from analog to digital. Gen Xers are early adopters and (generally) embrace new tools with enthusiasm.

Adapt to new processes quickly

Agility is a key feature of Gen X, but not just from a technological standpoint. New ways of working come easily, and they can switch gears quickly.

They place a high value on work-life balance

Gen X is passionately motivated. Whether that means family, friends, hobbies, or activities, they are sure to manage their time in such a way that allows plenty of room to enjoy life outside of work.

Gen Xers do not shy away from challenges

Your Gen X employees lived through recession and uncertainty. Many watched their parents struggle and are used to working hard, so they’re capable of taking on significant challenges. 

Communication styles for Gen X

Considering Gen X’s personality trait, establishing a good work rapport should be easy. They are confident, adaptable, and respond well to feedback, placing a high value on honesty and transparency. Avoid micromanaging, but don’t be afraid to provide feedback. They may even solicit your opinion, and if they do, there is an expectation of directness. 

Do:

  • Respect their time and experience
  • Solicit their opinions and input
  • Give them the flexibility to live their lives outside of work
  • Provide growth opportunities
  • Invest in their professional development

Don’t:

  • Micromanage
  • Be indirect or withhold information

Communication with Millennials

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. They currently comprise just over one-third of the American workforce, but their preferences are markedly different than their Gen X predecessors. They’re ambitious and often have a reputation for being self-absorbed. Ultimately, they are not opposed to leaving one job for a better one if they see greener pastures, but money is not a significant motivator. 

Here are a few more things to know about millennials in the workforce:

They are tech-savvy

Millennials grew up with advanced technology and are generally eager to try new apps and tech-based tools. As such, they expect their employers to have similar preferences. 

Flexibility matters

Work-life balance matters more than money. Millennials prefer a flexible work environment that allows them room to enjoy the things they love.

They want to be heard

Millennials are naturally collaborative and prefer to work with others rather than alone. They also want to feel that their opinions mean something, no matter where they are in their career journey.

Love of learning

Give millennials as much information and content as possible. They have a deep desire for personal growth and will actively seek opportunities for mentorship and learning. 

Loyalty can be fleeting

If a company’s brand image doesn’t align with a millennial’s principles, don’t expect them to stick around. 

Communication styles for managing millennials

Recruiting and retaining millennials can be challenging because employers must appeal to their sense of ethics. They want their jobs to mean something and to feel like they are contributing in a positive way. Here are a few tips for managers to communicate more effectively with millennials in the workforce:

Do:

  • Offer them flexible, remote, or hybrid work environments if possible
  • Listen to what they have to say
  • Include them in conversations and strategy discussions
  • Provide learning and mentorship opportunities
  • Provide collaborative and team opportunities
  • Celebrate and acknowledge their wins
  • Foster an atmosphere of respect and trust
  • Be transparent about challenges they might face

Don’t:

  • Isolate them or force them to work on their own all the time
  • Overwork them to the point where they have no time to themselves
  • Keep them in the dark
  • Overlook their accomplishments
  • Put them in positions where they are primarily engaged in repetitive, tedious work

Communication with Gen Z

We often refer to Generation Z (Gen Z) as digital natives. Born between 1997 and 2015, many are just now starting to work, although their penetration is already significant. Gen Z currently makes up almost a quarter of the global workforce and contributes to the economy in a meaningful way. 

Here are a few things to know about Gen Z:

They are tech-savvy

Gen Z never knew a time when the entirety of the world’s knowledge could not be held in the palm of your hand. 

They’ve lived through crisis

This generation grew up watching their parents struggle. Recession, civil unrest, and the pandemic have colored their experience. 

Place a high value on mental health and wellness

Having lived among stress and uncertainty throughout their lives, Gen Z prioritizes health and wellness above all. 

Stability and security are priorities

Gen Z is highly career-motivated, security-minded, and risk-averse. They actively seek employers to work for instead of taking a more entrepreneurial approach. 

They welcome instruction

Since many Gen Z are highly educated and fresh out of school, most are disciplined learners and welcome the opportunity to advance their skills and knowledge.

They expect diversity, equity, and inclusion

Gen Z gravitates to diverse and inclusive workplaces. Statistically, they are 47% more diverse than generations before them, and almost 16% identify as LGCTQ+.

They are not afraid to question anything

Gen Zers are cautious, suspicious, skeptical, and very good at squirreling out the truth, whether in the workplace or the media. 

Communication styles for managing Gen Z

Generation Z is a little more stoic and stability-minded than their millennial parents, but their sense of ethics is much more pronounced. It’s critical for them that their employers are aligned with their principles of fairness, diversity, equity, and inclusion and that their jobs provide them with the financial stability they crave. 

Do:

  • Prioritize mental health and wellness
  • Offer generous pay and benefits
  • Embrace diversity and equity
  • Provide learning and growth opportunities
  • Give them the technology they need to thrive
  • Provide a warm and welcoming onboarding process (especially in remote work environments)

Don’t:

  • Disregard ethical concerns
  • Withhold information
  • Discount the value of mental health support

Final Thoughts

Today’s diverse workforce requires a more thoughtful and empathetic approach from managers, who can no longer expect to apply a single communication style to all employee interactions. Understanding the unique preferences and ideals of each generational group under your purview will help you establish strong work relationships based on trust and mutual respect.

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