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Boomers, Gen X'ers and Gen Y'ers: Bridging Cultural and Communication Gaps

Having a staff comprised of Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers can be a real challenge in the workplace. There are approximately 75-80 million Baby Boomers. Generation X is about half the size. Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, is estimated to be about as large as the Boomer generation.

Each generation has its own preferred communication style, as well as distinct values and feedback needs. But, according to Dr. Paige Graham, a core faculty member at the University of the Rockies who has studied generational characteristics, “It’s all about bridging the gaps, real and imagined, in communication styles, cultural habits and response needs.”

“When conflicts arise in the workplace between members of different generations, the issues often center around communication styles, cultural practices, and approaches to problems, processes, risk and technology,” she says.

“For example, when faced with a problem to solve or a task to accomplish, Boomers respond by marshalling a team and applying a process, while Generations X’ers and Y’ers are more apt to rely on data, technology and intuition.”

Wide gaps in tech savvy and different approaches to technology can also lead to frustration, according to Graham. “Millennials eschew PowerPoint and email as archaic. They prefer to communicate via SMS (text) and social media and view these channels as integral to everything from networking to job searching to making consumption choices.”

In addition to favoring different communication tools, the younger generations tend to communicate in more casual, cryptic ways than their elders, using sentence fragments, phonetic spellings, and alternative constructions that are adapted to the constraints and structure of technologies like texting. “This can lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and even total communication breakdown,” Graham says.

However, Graham’s research reveals more similarities than differences among the three generational cohorts. “Everyone wants respect; you just have to discover how different people define it,” she says. She offers these tips to managers, supervisors and co-workers:

  • Learn how to flex your communication style;
  • Use each cohort’s preferred  communication channel when assigning tasks or giving feedback;
  • Honor each person’s contribution to the group and acknowledge each individual’s need for affirmation;
  • Emphasize commonalities and shared goals.

She notes that there is little research to suggest that the various generations have different work ethics. “I often times hear one generation complain about another, I then ask a person in the generation that is being complained about if it is true. I've never heard anyone agree.

"Think about the individual person as opposed to 'them.' Try not to generalize the entire group. Consideration of individual needs, emphasizing commonality and not differences, makes for a better workplace.

"Everyone wants recognition for the work they do, access to the resources they need, and feedback that is delivered in an appropriate way. We all want to know how we are doing and how we can do better.”

Bridging the Gap: It is important for managers of cross-generational workforces and multi-generational teams to understand the needs and customs of each generation. “When Boomers, Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers function cohesively as a group, they bring together a terrific combination of skills, experience, depth of knowledge and curiosity.”

After the Boomers Retire: Currently Boomers occupy the majority of leadership and management positions. As the Me Generation retires and leaves the workforce, a lot of organizational knowledge, experience and leadership will be lost. Many companies are already grappling with this issue using technology, modified organizational structures, and innovative mentoring and training programs to prepare for the inevitable shift that is coming.


About University of the Rockies

University of the Rockies is an advanced graduate institution for tomorrow’s thought leaders. The University provides an intimate and dynamic learning environment, offering highly specialized master’s and doctoral degree programs in the social and behavioral sciences, access to industry experts, campus clinical programs for practical experience, and research and publishing opportunities. University of the Rockies is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association ( Small by design, University of the Rockies classes are presented in a progressive online format and at its Colorado Springs, Colorado campus and its Denver Instructional Site. For more information, please visit or call Shari Winet Rodriguez, vice president of Public Relations, at 866.621.0124 x2513.