Communications: Talking about – and talking to – your generations

March 8, 2017
| United States

Lisa Beyer
Senior Communications Consultant

With a few exceptions, most organizations now have four generations working side by side, and workforce composition is changing every five years. The remaining Traditionals and Baby Boomers will be retiring within the next few years, while Gen Xers and Millennials take over as the major demographics.

Generational diversity is likely to result in differences in attitude and aptitude when it comes to your benefits and your employees’ understanding of them. For example, seasoned employees have seen their benefits evolve several times, often before some of their younger colleagues were born. Younger employees are learning to choose and manage benefits for the first time in their adult lives. It’s your job to help all employees make the best benefit choices for their current life, health and family circumstances.

If not managed effectively, generational differences can lead to frustration, conflict and poor morale. By taking the time to learn more about each generation’s traits and values, you can develop total rewards solutions that strengthen your workforce and your company’s bottom line.

According to the book When Generations Collide*, “the events and conditions each of us experiences during our formative years determines who we are and how we see the world. As a result of these events and conditions, each generation has adopted its own “generational personality.”

The time period and names of each generation differ slightly according to different resources. But for our purpose, we have used the most popular name for each generation and a time span of approximately 15 to 20 years.

  • Traditionals were born between 1926 and 1945 and comprise 12% of the population. Many traditionals are retired, but some are still working to further save for retirement or to stay busy. People in this generation are often loyal employees who have remained with one employer throughout their career. They usually respond well to face-to-face meetings, print documents such as a benefit guide, posters or flyers, and materials mailed to their home, such as postcards and wallet cards.
  • Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and comprise 32% of the population. Many of these employees will be working for several more years while others may be gearing up for retirement. Baby Boomers are service-oriented, driven and are willing to go the extra mile for their coworkers and employers. They prefer to put process ahead of results, advocate for team building and like to work with people who have similar points of view.
  • Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1980 and comprise 27% of the population. Employees in this age range have been in the workforce for several years and will have to keep working for several more decades before retirement. They are self-sufficient risk takers, balancing careers with family life and helping their parents. Gen Xers prefer having multiple projects and working independently, and they believe in self-reliance. They rely heavily on electronic communications including video, social media, text messaging, electronic documents, materials accessible online, interactive presentations, email, digital wallet cards and even voicemail blasts.
  • Millennials were born between 1981 and 2000 and comprise more than 26% (and growing) of your workforce. These employees are just starting out in the workforce and will look to their peers in other generations to acquire the knowledge they need to succeed in their field. Many millennials may be getting married and buying their first home. They’ll need your help to navigate the benefit system, set up life insurance beneficiaries, enroll in medical and dependent care flexible spending accounts and plan for maternity leave. Millennials are tech savvy — they have taken the lead in using the Internet, mobile technology and social media. However, while many millennials say they want to receive information in electronic formats, they still crave face-to-face time to ask questions and seek immediate answers.

When planning your communication for the year, take the time to consider your audience and how they prefer to receive information. Think about age, gender, position, where they are located and accessibility to technology. A healthy mix of print, digital and in-person communication vehicles can boost your chances of reaching everyone in your company.


* When Generations Collide by Lynne C. Lancaster