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Bridging the generation gap: top 10 communication skills

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Communication skills are some of the most integral skills needed to succeed in the workplace.

For those in a leadership or management role, becoming an expert communicator is of the utmost importance in order to be able to motivate, retain and optimise the performance of your team.

The best way to manage the infamous Generation Y, commonly known as Gen Y or the ‘Millennials’ (defined as people born between 1976 and 1991), has caused a stir in recent years.

Employers have cast their votes, and unfortunately the verdict isn't pretty. More often than not Gen Ys are seen as tech-savvy, travel-mad, celebrity-obsessed, Facebook-addicted, brand-conscious, 20 to 30-somethings who are short on skills, impatient, demanding and disloyal – and that’s on a good day!

Since Gen Ys were brought up during the age of the internet, cable TV, 9/11, environmentalism and globalisation, they tend to have completely different values than their older baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976) colleagues. Also, most Gen Ys have grown up seeing their parents’ low quality-of-life and received an ‘empowerment’ style of parenting. As a result, they tend to be independent and place a high value on self-fulfilment in work environments. So, unlike their predecessors, Gen Ys want to work, but they don’t want work to be their life.

As the largest Australian generation, Gen Ys already represent a significant force in the workplace and, according to a report by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, currently constitute approximately 40 per cent of the Aussie workforce. This number is only set to increase with the imminent retirement of many baby boomers, and as many Gen Xs start families. A massive skills shortage is on the horizon, and attracting and retaining Gen Y employees will be all the more vital for businesses in the years ahead.

One of the biggest challenges facing managers and business owners today is how to bridge the gaps of a multigenerational workplace and keep this new demographic engaged, motivated and committed to working for the business. This is a question that all business owners facing generational issues must address. The answer – perfecting and adapting your communication skills to suit Gen Y and ensure you effectively harness their energy.

Here are our top 10 communication tips to help bridge the generational gap:

  1. Ask them about their strengths – Gen Y employees can't understand why their boss would ask them to do work they know is not their strong suit. Your best bet for keeping talented Gen Ys productive and highly motivated is to ask them where their efforts are best utilised, and then make a concerted effort to give them projects where you know they'll shine.
  2. Explain the reasoning behind it – Gen Y kids grew up being provided with explanations for practically everything, while previous generations had to put up with, "Because I told you so." If you’re willing to explain the relevance behind a task, you’ll get their most considerate performance to date.
  3. Don't skimp on praise – Don't hold back on letting Gen Ys know when they have given a superior performance. Providing instant recognition and praise for work well done will not only give them an incentive to wow you again, but also provide an opportunity for them to learn your future work requirements. The more specific, the better.
  4. Walk the walk – Gen Y staff are motivated by leaders who they see as inspiring and worthy of being followed. Therefore they may not automatically be loyal to you as a leader, despite knowing that you're in charge. The more Gen Y workers see you 'walk the talk', the more you will gain their trust, loyalty and respect. Always be true to your word, and follow through on your promises, or you will quickly lose their trust.
  5. Got a bone to pick? Tell them now – The traditional annual performance review is not enough for Gen Y workers. They require and seek out constant feedback and prefer a more involved management style. Their mentality is, "Why did you wait till now to tell me you were unhappy with my performance?" If possible, inform your Gen Y team member that same day, if not within the hour, of their blunders, to ensure criticisms are timely and constructive.
  6. Be open Gen-Ys don't respond well to old-school authoritative management styles, and favour leaders who exercise emotional intelligence. They are happiest when they feel they are being listened to and respected, and in return, Gen Ys will work harder to impress you with the quality of their work.
  7. Be honest during recruitment – It is important to be aware that Gen Y candidates are often interviewing you just as much as you are them. Be honest about how your company is different, as well as the future opportunities for advancement available to them. Their decision to work for you will often be influenced by your business' reputation or brand, so offer them compelling reasons for working for you.
  8. Outline clear career goals – Set time-specific goals and clearly outline that consistent achievement means career progression. Gen Ys are more industrious if they have specific goals to work toward and can see how they fit in with your business' big picture.
  9. Offer ongoing training – Since a majority of Gen Ys choose to enter the workplace with at least one university degree under their belt, they have already become highly accustomed to environments of learning. To keep your Gen Y employees motivated and enjoying their work, offer them as many opportunities for learning and growth as possible and voice your interest in assisting them achieve their personal development goals. Learning skills is exciting for Gen Ys, and work that is rewarding and intellectually stimulating ranks high on their list of priorities, especially if you provide ongoing training for skills such as organisation, time-management, leadership, and communication. As Margaret Kirby, managing director of iGroup, says, it is quite hard to overtrain Gen Ys because “they are like sponges”.
  10. Listen to them – Take a chance and listen to the words of your Gen Y employees. If anyone is going to have their finger on the pulse of the next big trend or gadget to hit your industry, it's probably those twenty-something Gen Ys in your office who'll hear about it first. Plus, Gen Ys’ creativity, charisma and energy is sure to keep your business ahead of the curve with new ideas. So pay attention; you might just learn something!

So if you want to recruit and retain the best and brightest Gen Ys, the ones who will lead your organisation into the future, then you must adapt to ensure your message is heard effectively – and it all starts with great communication skills.

If you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Friday, January 27, 2012

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