February 17, 2021

Communication in the Multigenerational Workplace

By Edwin Raagas, Associate Director, NYUSPS Wasserman Center for Career Development

Today’s workforce spans five generations: Traditionalists (born 1928 to 1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Generation X (born 1965 to 1980), Millennials (born 1981 to 1996), and Generation Z (born 1997 and after) (Pew Research Center). As the "office" moves online in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the eldest and youngest employees of organizations find themselves having to blend communication styles even more than usual.

With 1.3 billion Gen Zs set to enter the workforce over the next 10 years, older generations now carry the onus of adjusting office culture to be conducive to work and communication styles of Gen Zs, meeting them somewhere in the middle -- emojis and hashtags in tow.

To explore this further, the NYUSPS Wasserman Center for Career Development hosted a conversation that brought together three members of different generations: a Gen Z, a Millennial, and a Gen X. The goals included (1) discussing effective methods of communication in today’s multigenerational workforce; (2) naming and avoiding potential communication breakdowns rooted in generational practices; (3) understanding the impact of the virtual working environment on multigenerational communication; and (4) discussing workplace “code switching” as it relates to generational norms.


panelist slide

Panelists represented different generations: Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X


As Kate Morgan for BBC writes, “Although older generations, and even millennials, are likely to ‘code switch’, sticking to a more codified type of professional communication, Gen Z is keeping things much more casual. Gen Z values authenticity above all else. It's why younger employees are less willing to do the same 'code-switching' that past generations have.”

So while business effectiveness and efficiency are certainly desired objectives of managing various communication styles in the workplace for older generations, for Gen Zs - so is a sense of belonging and inclusion. Gen Z is generally motivated by diversity, personalization, individuality, and creativity (Purdue Global).

What generation are you a part of, and how do some practices of that generation help or hurt communication in the workplace? 

Gen Z: Start being more present, especially as many of us will be starting our careers mostly in a virtual environment. Being present will allow us to communicate with other generations more effectively in the workplace.

Rachel Kim, NYUSPS BS in Hospitality and Tourism Management '21

Millennials: Continue to embrace change and younger generations like Gen Z. There is about to be the largest transfer of generational wealth in history to millennials, and all that money is going to values and purposes that younger generations prioritize.

Farhan Husain, Director, Global Head of Communications - S&P Global Market Intelligence

Gen X: Start being more open to communication tools like emojis. Put yourself in the shoes of younger generations. There is a change happening, and we have to change with younger generations.

Manny Romero, Executive Director of Public Affairs, Borough of Manhattan Community College

Watch the video recording of the conversation.

Highlights include:

12:30 - How generations use various communication methods (ie. email, live chatting, in-person meetings)

24:00 - Common communication breakdowns influenced by generational practices, particularly in a virtual environment

33:00 - Authenticity in the workplace and the disruption of ‘code-switching’

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