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Connecting with a new generation

We’re moving towards a four possibly five-generation workforce. People are living longer than ever before with many choosing – often through necessity - to stay in work for longer, too.

The reality is that not everyone can afford to retire when they want to. In fact, many retirees are actually choosing to ‘unretire’ after leaving work and the average workplace is now a mixed age demographic indeed.

So who are the current workplace generations?

Specific generational definitions do vary from specialist to specialist but in general, there are:

  • Veterans (born between 1925 and 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
  • Generation Y otherwise known as Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994)
  • Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2009).

Generation Alpha

And now, on the horizon, a whole new generation is emerging. Generation Alpha, according to Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle, is anyone born between 2010 and 2025. An estimated 2.5 million Alphas are born globally every week. They are the digital generation – and more so than their Gen Y parents. As Flux Trends puts it: if digital communication and social media is a ‘tool’ for Gen Z who grew up when it was being established, for Gen Alpha, it will be a way of life.

In McCrindle’s view, the almost constant presence of smartphones, tablets and various digital apps from early childhood means that Gen Alpha will have higher levels of digital literacy than previous generations but may have shorter attention spans. They are also likely to be more environmentally conscious and health aware, too. Employee Benefits magazine predicted in 2018 that Generation Alpha are also likely to be at the ‘forefront’ of Wellbeing 3.0 which uses AI and gamification for health maintenance.

So with such a mix of generations and their radically different demands, needs and motivations, it’s no wonder that traditional communication methods are becoming obsolete.

Digital communication

Employers are having to work harder than ever to engage new generations of employees. It’s no longer enough to hold ‘lunch and learn’ workshops, send out generic e-comms or run ad-hoc tutorials in the hope a handful of staff will decide to increase their pension contributions.

Digital is where it’s at, at least for Gen Y and Z. In this way, the move to remote working during pandemic-related lockdowns have given Y and Z the edge over older workplace generations. They’re already used to using apps and messaging platforms, it’s their normal.

Interestingly, a recent study carried out by GenGuru revealed that while 84 per cent of Gen Z prefer in-person communication rather than email or text, many actually include online video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts as being face-to-face.

Yet according to CIO magazine, it’s actually Gen Y who appear to be driving digital transformation in the workplace, possibly because they were the first generation to grow up when the digital revolution was becoming established. They’re tech-savvy, highly influential and they want immediate gratification, mobile-friendly products and services. They’re the ones changing the dynamics of power from employer to employee.

But we shouldn’t forget about Generation Alpha in all this, though. It may be several years before the first cohort of Generation Alpha enter the workplace, but if their predecessors are anything to go by, the emerging generation is likely to be highly disruptive (in a good way) and digitally transformative. More so than ever.

Upping the ante

Employers will have to up the ante to engage with new and emerging generations of employees. The trend is veering towards immersive experiences. Whereas previous generations were content to digest information passively, via newsletters, handouts or emails, digital-savvy generations are wanting to play a much more active role. For them, it’s all about experiences. Have you been there? Have you done that? Have you tried this?

It’s no longer about getting on the property ladder or getting the latest car. It’s about trying a new sport, visiting a new place, immersing yourself in a new culture. For newer generations to really engage, they need to be there, they need to feel it, they need to relate to it.

Think about a colleague’s holiday snaps. How interested are you really in their hundred-odd landscape shots of Mount Vesuvius? But what if you were actually there, actually in the photograph? Chances are you’d be interested then.

User generated content is not a term often heard in the context of employee benefits, but it’s commonplace in our out-of-work lives through social media.

The message for employers is clear: put the employee at the centre of your comms strategy; let them be the star of the show. Create a sense of excitement, because that, after all is what workplace communications should be about. As Rajneesh Chowdhury says in People Matters magazine: “At the core of employee communications is the need to create excitement about the organization among its people and give them a sense of how they can collaborate to realize both personal aspirations and business goals. This is what drives employee engagement.”


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