Communicating between the generation gap

Did you know that being sent the goat emoji is actually a compliment? I have been reading an article on miscommunication across the generations and had to Google the opening reference. The dawning realisation that I’m creeping up the age brackets.

So anyway, the goat emoji. It means you’re super talented, the ‘Greatest Of All Time’. I’m going to have to start finding a way of dropping goats into my emails.

The article, part of BBC’s online “The Life Project”, puts forward the proposition that Gen Z, those born between 1996 and 2010 and raised in the age of the internet and social media, will bring change to the norms of business communication. They are also the largest generation in human history.

These digital natives are entering the workplace at a time when we’re also witnessing a massive shift towards remote working. Could the generational divide and a reduction in face-to-face interactions result in a perfect storm of workplace miscommunication?

Interestingly, the article suggests that this change in office culture, towards remote and digital, could actually mean that younger, tech-savvy employees exert a greater influence over workplace communication norms than a new recruit may have done in the past.

Common generational sticking points include younger employees finding formal business emails cold and a little harsh. Conversely, more established employees can perceive younger workmates as too relaxed and casual in their style.

One interesting anecdote touches upon a large company that fired an intern after she directly emailed the CEO for a piece of information. She then sent a company-wide email to 8,000 people with her ideas for the business. A gross violation of the chain of communication or simply a generational misunderstanding?  

Consider it from the intern’s point of view. Raised in an era where social media can get you access to almost anyone, anywhere. Part of a generation that values authenticity above all. And most likely, she joins a company where the CEO claims to always be available to their employees. Should the intern have been expected to know the unspoken rules of workplace etiquette? Should this now become part of a workplace induction?

So why is it worth being mindful of these differing styles of language and professional culture? Wherever you sit on the generational spectrum a successful and harmonious workplace is based on effective communication and mutual respect. At work, as in life in general, it’s better to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you’re being compared to a small, hoofed mammal.  

Consider things from the perspective of your intern, your prospective candidate, the new account manager you’re suddenly dealing with. A casual email may not be reflective of their work ethic. Equally, maybe your boss doesn’t hate you, they just didn’t forge their career against the backdrop of the emoji. The article suggests that “mentorship is no longer a one-way street”, that we should learn from each other’s strengths. Furthermore, it underlines the importance of creating a shared culture, one that can be found in your brand’s own voice, story and values.

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