A Boomer's Guide to Communicating with Gen X and Gen Y

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As a Gen Xer who has worked in Silicon Valley for nearly a decade, I've been at small startups like Netflix and large corporations like Plantronics, where I'm currently manager of public relations. I've cheered on Gen Yers as they've entered the workforce and admired their self-confidence and willingness to push back on authority. (I know two who have actually requested new bosses!)

I've also seen boomers, as well as my own generation, fumble their communications with Gen Y. There are plenty of differences between Gen X and Gen Y, and it often falls on boomers to help both groups navigate the workplace. So here's a guide for dealing with younger members of the team.


Technology

Generation X: Keep it up-to-date and motivating. Music at work, BlackBerrys, IM, and fast computers will help Gen X stay productive.

Generation Y: Encourage suggestions and don't fear change. Gen Y is more comfortable with technology than any other group. Learn from them and stay on the cutting edge.


Compensation

Generation X: Be willing to negotiate. Gen X has the experience to make them marketable. Consider offering perks like a better title or a flexible work schedule if you can't budge on compensation.

Generation Y: Highlight the importance of building their resume instead of their bank account. An impressive work history can make all the difference in a slumping economy.


Collaboration

Generation X: Limit in-person meetings. Offer alternatives like conference calls, video, and Web conferencing when collaboration is truly needed. For face-to-face meetings, stick to small productive groups and skip long planning sessions.

Generation Y: Gen Y started online social networks. Think about how you can leverage them in the workplace to encourage team collaboration and knowledge sharing.


Workplace Gossip

Generation X: Be direct. Let them know, "I get it. You think Bob is an idiot. Might want to keep that to yourself though." Layoffs can be inevitable regardless of interpersonal skills but there is no reason to tempt fate by gossiping.

Generation Y: Be subtle. Say something like, "True, Bob doesn't know much about search marketing but he's negotiated some of our best deals and is pretty well respected around here." They might just need a reminder that not everyone grew up with technology.


Attire

Generation X: Give them a heads-up if they should dress nicer for specific meetings or when customers are visiting the office. They're aware it's important to look professional, so telling them to "step it up" should not cause too much tension.

Generation Y: They're new to the job market and might be oblivious to your company's culture. Let them know dressing better will help defeat "slacker" misconceptions, build credibility with execs, and help their career over the long haul-especially in a weak economy.


Work Ethic

Generation X: Trust them. Giving Gen Xers, many of whom now have families, the flexibility to telecommute or work outside business hours will help you gain their trust and maybe a little loyalty.

Generation Y: Accept the inevitable. By the time this generation is fully in the workforce, the standard work week will likely be replaced by a new set of rules based on productivity, not hours at their desk.


Socializing

Generation X: Invite but don't push them to participate. They're used to being overlooked by boomers and tend to dislike corporate politics anyway.

Generation Y: Appeal to their career goals. Gen Yers are more likely to attend a networking event that will expand their personal contacts.


Corporate Loyalty

Generation X: Limit bureaucracy. Provide access to information and resources without burdening them with corporate politics and excessive meetings.

Generation Y: Don't discount them because of their age. Despite the weakening economy, Gen Yers tend to job-hop -- especially if they think they're being judged on "seniority" instead of "quality."

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