Effective communication in today’s multi-generational business world requires careful navigation. This is especially true in a workforce now comprised of four distinct generations – Millennials (Gen Y), Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists – all of whom bring their own ideas, expectations, and fears to the job. Due to their different formative experiences, each generation has a unique way of seeing the world and, ultimately, a different way of communicating.

There are solutions to help ease the potential tensions in communicating across generations. To begin, leaders today need to understand each generation’s communication styles and how using them efficiently can profitably impact the bottom line. There are many hot buttons from each of the generations’ styles in language, dress, multi-tasking, and “work ethics,” which can cause stress in the workplace. Key areas of difference that can immediately influence employee engagement and productivity lie in leaders of high-performance companies recognizing that the key to their success is to create an engaged, empowered, and multi-generationally friendly culture.

No matter the economy, top performers have choices. This makes talent retention the next big challenge for business leaders and owners post-recession. In July 2009, Deloitte released a longitudinal study of 319 senior business leaders and human resource executives. The study found that “nearly twothirds of executives are highly or very highly concerned about losing high-potential talent in the year after the recession ends.”

From Sink or Swim to Welcome to the Team

High performers are looking for organizations that create a vibrant, innovative, fun, and results-oriented culture. As a result, savvy leaders need to make it clear to employees from Day One that they matter and that their talent is the key to their company’s success.

Top talent in today’s marketplace want to be part of something great, and this creates an opportunity and a challenge for businesses to make engagement a vital priority from the first point of contact through the crucial first 90 days. Gone is the old school orientation policy of sink or swim. Top cultures begin with an “onboarding experience” to integrate new team members. Many programs are intense immersions that last 30 to 90 days.

When a sports player joins a championship team, it can be difficult to integrate into the team’s rhythm and learn all the signals and codes. Fast-growing companies that double in size or revenue have a similar integration challenge. In thriving companies, onboarding is not exclusively the role of one HR team member. Instead, everyone embraces it – from the president to the parking attendant. James Wong, CEO of Avidian, shares how his firm kicks off the game with their new employees. Wong says, “We don’t have going-away parties; we have welcoming parties. On a new team member’s first day, we hold a special luncheon to welcome them and learn their story.”

No News Is Not Good News Any More

In successful companies, the cultural focus is on empowering people through company principles and not restricting them with company rules. Each person listens for what is missing and is free to speak up and give feedback without fear of reprisal.

The need for productive and timely feedback is a critical success factor for every team member and leader. Managers at all levels acknowledge “feedback” is important, but often they attempt to deliver the communication in their own generational style and in a way that meets their expectations and needs. This is where the big breakdowns happen, leading to disengagement, disillusionment, and, ultimately, costly turnover. To understand each generation’s perspective, we can begin by asking what in each generation’s formative experiences and training led them to consider certain frequency and tone of feedback appropriate.

Traditionalists (1927-1945) entered the workforce under the GI generation’s military format where the rule was “No news is good news.” If your boss wasn’t yelling at you, you were not in trouble. You assumed that you were doing the job right unless you heard otherwise.

Baby Boomers (1946 -1964) grew up with nearly 80 million peers and “competitors” for everything. Their childhood was like a perpetual game of musical chairs. When the music stopped, you’d better scramble for a spot because there was never enough for everyone. So, they didn’t feel good waiting to be yelled at or not, and they thought it was a huge success when they got the “annual review” instituted so they knew how they were doing. They could now compare themselves against their peers and have the data and documentation to back it up.

Gen Xers (1965 – 1977) grew up as the first generation of latch-key kids, with divorced parents and lots of broken promises both from institutions and leaders. They grew up with a healthy skepticism of corporate speak and visionary promises. Xers demand leaders keep it “real” when sharing their feedback. They want applied feedback that correlates to the job at hand, not just once a year when it’s mandated by policy. It doesn’t need to be formal or written down—it just needs to be authentic and pragmatic.

Millennials (1978-1999) are the latest generation to enter the workplace. There are 40 million Millennials in the workforce now, and a projected 58 million more will enter the workforce by 2014. As the celebrated and cherished children of mid-late Boomer or second family of early Boomers, Millennials are a force to be reckoned with. They have grown up with more attention and resources devoted and available to them than any prior generation. They burst in to the workplace hungry for daily mentoring and coaching. Baby Boomers may have tolerated occasional meetings and annual performance reviews with their bosses, but Millennials are actually craving and demanding frequent contact with their boss.

Millennials want to be the best, and they don’t want to waste time waiting months on end to find out how they’re performing against expectations. If they don’t get the feedback and updates on how they are doing, they can quickly decide this company was a bad choice and immediately begin the search for a new home.

Losing an employee for lack of generationally appropriate feedback is an example of a costly generational mistake, as the price of one turnover can range from 50 to 150 percent of an employee’s salary.

Buddies Make the World Better

To address these challenges high performance organizations also often assign a “buddy”– an internal coach or mentor—who is not directly in the new employee’s reporting line. Buddies discuss the new team members’ individual goals and direct them to the right resources. The power of these relationships lie in the fact that the buddy is not a person of authority, but a person of trust who says, “We’re in this together.”

Check in Chats and Career Pathing – Where Can I Go From Here?

After spending valuable resources to hire the best and the brightest, savvy leaders recognize the onboarding process is not limited to formal, structured presentations; peak performance companies committed to retaining talent also have “Check-In Chats” at 30-, 60- and 90-days. The “chats” give leaders an opportunity to explore the new team members’ experiences and informally address any problems or questions that arise.

As the key team member progresses in their development, leaders open a Career Pathing dialogue about the individual’s goals and dreams. On average, Gen Xers will have seven to ten different jobs in their career and Millennial will have 13 to 26 different careers. Smart managers are proactively working to create the freedom and flexibility in their career path that will keep these talented individuals with their organization as long as possible. Establishing open lines of communication from Day One and throughout their tenure is a manager’s top priority.

Simple steps can help management ease the stress and bridge generational communications differences:

 – Educate the team. Awareness can go a long way to create greater sensitivity and harmony. Take time to train leaders in the workplace about the differing generational perspectives and needs around feedback, and consider consulting an expert on the topic.

 – Plan for it. Whether launching a new project, orienting a new member to the team or reviewing a presentation, create opportunities to deliver both informal and formal dialogue and feedback.

 – Leverage the differences. Hold a session with your team members to gain their input on feedback style and frequency. Create an option for a self-career-planning format that team members can proactively fill out and review with their managers.

 – Engagement from Day One. Evaluate how you engage the hearts minds and dreams of your team members: Day One Welcome, Immersion Onboarding, Check-In Chats, Buddies, Career Pathing. Leaders of healthy companies realize that when they proactively address the needs of their top talent their profitability and growth flourish. The benefit of taking these steps will pay dividends in the long run. And, while they might seem cumbersome when revenue conversations are taking priority, following these steps will prevent costly turnover.

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Reprinted with permission from Aginglife.org. Contact Advocare Care Management today and let us help you.