Within 10 years, the number of Gen X and Y'ers in the workplace will surpass the number of baby boomers. I recently participated in an educational session on the generations at the Krisam Group's annual Executive Summit in Cancun, where breakout groups agreed to disagree about topics such as technology and office etiquette. At times, the mood grew as steamy as the Mexican summer.
If there was one common thread, it was that we all need to communicate better. The huge disconnect that exists has as much to do with the message not getting across to younger generations as it does with older generations not being willing to listen.
For example, the youngest breed of workers is used to instant messaging their friends and colleagues; their network revolves around the computer. When one twentysomething in my group mentioned that IM is an invaluable tool when you need to reach someone that second, she was met with resistance from one of the older members. She just doesn't want to learn another tool — she already has too many e-mails.
Those two won't be connecting any time soon.
Another fortysomething at the table spoke about how impersonal electronic RFPs can be and how important it is to follow up with a phone call. The twentysomething across from her went off about how much she has to do every day and the most she can manage is an e-mail, which is at least something. Another miss.
Experts say that part of the problem is that many boomers have children in their twenties and, with that, some preconceived notions about this age group. One is that these “kids” are only willing to work under the conditions they set. But as one boomer in the audience put it, what's wrong with banishing the idea of “face time” and being in the office from 9 to 5? What matters is what gets done, not when people do it. She was overwhelmed with applause not only from the younger attendees but from all those boomers in the audience who are tired of years of long hours and crazy commutes.
When I asked the audience how many people had received multigenerational training at their companies, almost no one raised their hands. How can we learn to work together if we never have these kinds of discussions? It's time to start communicating with everyone — not just the people we understand.