Communication Tips for a Multi-Generational Organization

Topics: AmTrust

Summary: Up to five generations can work in one organization. But, each generation has different communication styles and life experiences. Learn communication tips for multi-generational companies and how this impacts the insurance industry.

Communications Between Generations in the Workplace

Written by Zelma Sharp, Account Executive

Communicating effectively is a cornerstone to getting our own points across but also to truly hear others. Doing this across generational divides takes intention, but an inclusive workplace is one where everyone feels heard, supported and motivated. Respecting the differences that frame generations helps us celebrate the diversity and uniqueness everyone brings.

At AmTrust, we employ individuals from five different generations – from Generation Z all the way to the Silent Generation. Understanding the different communication styles helps AmTrust collaborate more effectively and serve our customers better.

What are the Different Generations in the Workplace?

While these years are subject to some interpretation (and there are variations based on geography), generally, the generations in the workplace currently fall into the following categories:
  • Silent Generation (1928 -1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)
  • Generation X (1965 – 1980)
  • Millennials (1981 – 1996)
  • Generation Z (1997 – 2012)

What are the Preferred Modes of Communication for Each Generation?

  • Silent Generation (1928-1945)
    • Face to Face, Phone
  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)
    • Face to Face, Phone, Email
  • Generation X (1965 – 1980)
    • Email, Short Conversations, Facts Only
  • Millennials (1981 – 1996)
    • Text, Email, Social (Teams, Slack, and other Group Feature Software)
  • Generation Z (1997 – 2012)
    • Text, Social

It is paramount to keep in mind that these are generalizations. Everyone is their own person and while some items from their birth year may resonate, some will not. These are guideposts only for understanding the different types of communication and the evolution of new ways of communicating.

There is a paradox here that while communication has become less formal, the need for feedback has increased. While Baby Boomers may feel that no news is good news, later generations will interpret the lack of feedback as a negative.

What Were Formative Events That Shaped These Preferences?

Understanding and appreciating the diversity and uniqueness of the different generations, including the formative events, helps us adjust our lens as to why they may see things in a different light or approach a problem from a different angle.
  • Silent Generation (1928-1945)
    • Children of the Great Depression
    • Born during World War II and many lost family members who were killed in the war
    • Tend to be very frugal
  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)
    • Highest birth rates caused them to grow up very competitive in school, society and the economy
    • GI Bill gave veterans economic and educational opportunities allowing the pursuit of higher education and homeownership at low-interest rates
    • Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Moon Landing
    • More savings and disposable income compared to other generation
  • Generation X (1965 – 1980)
    • Colloquially known as the “latchkey generation”
    • Rising divorce rates and women in the workforce
    • Double-Digit Inflation (Stagflation), Crack Epidemic, AIDS
    • Self-sufficient, resourceful
  • Millennials (1981 – 1996)
    • Often are children of the Boomer Generation (Echo Boomers)
    • Team oriented as they grew up in sports and other group activities
    • Achievement oriented
    • Gulf War, Columbine, 9/11, Great Recession
  • Generation Z (1997 – 2012)
    • More racially and ethnically diverse
    • No memory of the world before smartphones
    • More likely to have college-educated parents
    • Gun violence, Election of Barack Obama, Climate Change

Why is it Important to be Able to Shift Communication Modes?

We all have individually preferred styles of communication that can vary depending on the relationship (manager, peer, client – and this applies to familial or other relationships as well). It can feel unbalanced if you are a text person to engage with someone who is a talker and vice-versa. Meeting people where they are at, though, is one of the most powerful tools of effective communication.

The analogy I like to use is that communication modes are all coats and that while one is our favorite to grab out of the closet, we can put on a different one when it better suits the situation, it might not be our favorite, but we can wear the conversation coat as opposed to the text coat. Being able to situationally shift our communication modes, or exercise versatility in our communication with others helps provide greater clarity and demonstrates respect.

Benefits for the Insurance Industry

The most effective and productive organizations are the ones where people feel heard and valued. Effective communication gives teams common visions and allows them to build understanding, and when we understand one another, we build inclusivity.

Perhaps one of the largest benefits is the need in the insurance industry for knowledge transfer. The gap between tenured employees with a wealth of knowledge and those coming into the industry is growing. Many entry-level positions where people have traditionally started their career and knowledge journey have been automated. Finding common communication ground, so that knowledge transfer is happening in both directions (newer employees have a lot to offer to the older generations as well) is a hallmark of high-performing teams and organizations.

A key way to unlocking an individual’s preferred mode of communication is to listen to how they state how they want to hear from you (send me an email, give me a call, send me a text). If you are in doubt, or just want to clarify, ask them how they prefer to communicate (and do not be afraid to let others know your preferred method). Lastly, always assume positive intent; just because someone is not communicating the way we want them to means they are most often defaulting to their preferred method.

Zelma has been with AmTrust since February 2019 as an Account Executive. She has over 30 years of experience in the insurance industry with equal time working on the agency and carrier side. In her prior roles, she helped develop operational efficiencies and was instrumental in developing entry-level employees into roles of greater responsibility and leadership. Zelma’s passion around generational diversity and effective communication really took hold when managing remote offices and finding ways to adapt her style to meet others where they were.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.


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