The present day organisational workforce is a mixed bag. It comprises of different generations of people, working at various levels. The rich experience of the veterans when combined with the technical expertise of the younger generations, undoubtedly spells great advantage for the organisations. But it is not without a flip side. As each generation has its own approach towards work, the scope for communication gaps and conflicts increases manifold. Therefore, this kind of work environment warrants good communication to eliminate misunderstandings.
Usually in organisations when three to four generations of employees work together, each generation follows its own style of communication. This often leads to misinterpretations and ego clashes. Srimathi Shivashankar, Associate Vice President, Diversity and Sustainability, HCL Technologies explains this scenario with an example. She says the traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y are the four cohorts that are usually seen in the Indian workplace today. Their beliefs, value system as well exposure to technology impact their communication styles. So, in a problem situation, she explains, “Generation X is used to micro management, and does not mind if the manager sits with them and provides guidance on tasks. On the other hand Gen Y is quite comfortable to receive just directions, and be provided with the flexibility to work on a problem more in a collaborative manner with their colleagues and rather in an unstructured way. So the differences in approach to solving a problem itself warrants for specific communication. Naturally some of the conflicting issues include managers believing that the Gen Y is not taking tasks seriously, is interdependent to execute any action, and not being time conscious. While the Gen Y may believe that their managers are too much of control freaks, and do not want to allow them to think independently. The result is either no communication or too much of communication leading to relationship breakdown.”
Acknowledging the differences among the generations is the first step that helps to design communication mechanisms that prevent conflict. Manoj Biswas, Unit HR Lead, Accenture India asserts, “When you have employees from different generations, you as an organisation would need to be cognisant of issues and concerns that are native to them.
Conflict and issues can arise in all aspects of the workplace including recruiting, retention, team building, managing employees, training, and motivation. These conflicts occur as a result of each generation’s distinct attitudes, expectations, motivations, and communication techniques.
Identifying, addressing, and resolving these issues will reduce employee conflict and increase the organisation’s productivity.”
“Research shows that all generations expect respectful communication, consultation on matters affecting them, rewards and recognition for achievements,” says, BNV Ramana-AGM-HR, Consolidated Construction Consortium Ltd. However, owing to differences in their age and experience levels, style of communication varies from generation to generation. While traditionalists prefer a more formal type of communication such as memos and letters, baby boomers would like to have informal conversations over a cup of coffee. On the other hand, the Generation X prefer direct communication without any time waste through emails or voice mails. Generation Y, the youngest of them all prefer the latest communication techniques such as instant messages and blogs.
In fact, the communication style and speed are actually linked to the functioning style of each generation. According to Mr Ramana, the seniors, who are committed and show loyalty for the organisation always try to stick to policies, rules and play it safe while the younger generations come with new ideas and suggestions, look for dashing changes and challenges and are willing to take risk irrespective of loss or gain.
These differences in the attitude and functioning styles often lead to communication gaps among the various generations. As communication gaps invariably lead to productivity loss, bridging them becomes mandatory. Therefore, organisations employ different techniques to reduce the gap as much as possible. Mr. Pradeep Vaishnav, Senior Director- Human Resources, India and South Asia, Sanofi, says, “Since at Sanofi, we hire a large number of people belonging to Gen Next, we run a host of programmes to strengthen the people management skills of managers across levels to help bridge the generation gap through effective communication. These programmes focus on dialoguing skills, managing ‘crucial conversations’ and competency based modules on people development.”
Mr. Sreehari S, Managing Director of India Development Centre (IDC) – The Attachmate Group, says “In order to cash in on the high energy, drive and confidence of the new generation workforce, we need to create a very open culture of communication top down. We need to encourage an open culture of questioning status quo, raising issues and speaking one’s mind (but within reasonable boundaries). Else we would be curbing innovation, radical thinking that affect progress.
We take an approach of coaching people on effective communication and smoothening rough edges in specific cases, rather than curb the freedom of expression.”
Different strokes for different people it is said. As generations vary, attitudes, communication preferences, functioning styles vary too. The trick is to find ways to bridge the differences.