As workplaces evolve, and a new generation starts to rise up the ladder, a clash in communication styles is being felt.
The traditional rules of office life authored by the Baby Boomers now find themselves challenged by the younger members of Generation Z. Misunderstandings arise from seemingly innocuous phrases and the struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing corporate culture.
Navigating a new age
According to a column in the UK-based Daily Telegraph, a 50-something city executive recently found himself in hot water when junior staff complained about feeling triggered by his use of the term “financial self-harm” in an update. The incident highlights the difficulties faced by older generations in navigating a workplace environment that is increasingly shaped by the sensibilities of Gen Z. The challenge is not limited to language alone but extends to understanding and respecting the diverse perspectives and preferences of younger colleagues.
The fear of cancel culture
The fear of being “cancelled” has permeated society of late, and the corporate world hasn’t escaped its clutches. This could lead to managers avoiding conversations with their younger counterparts altogether.
This fear underscores a lack of understanding and a reluctance to adapt to the changing norms of communication. Companies are witnessing an unprecedented convergence of five generations in the workplace, and leaders find themselves grappling with the unfamiliar territory of managing diverse communication styles.
The role of people departments
HR professionals are, we read, stepping in to provide guidance to older male board members on speaking the language of the younger workforce. This includes sensitivity to gender pronouns and avoiding assumptions about personal relationships. Businesses are even allegedly seeking advice from generational consultants to bridge the communication gap.
Wokery wars: a convenient enemy?
The term “woke” has become a battleground where clashes over power and privilege play out. Some dismiss the concerns of younger workers as mere “wokery”, a label that conveniently allows them to avoid addressing legitimate issues. Elon Musk’s habit of dismissing dissenting opinions as part of a “woke mind virus” is emblematic of a dismissive attitude that fails to acknowledge the validity of diverse perspectives.
Navigating workplace diversity
While there is a need for open-mindedness from both older and younger generations, a balance must be observed. Workplace diversity initiatives should not be summarily dismissed as wokery, and older generations should approach change with patience and understanding. The first chapter of working life should involve mentorship and learning from experienced colleagues, fostering a culture of mutual respect and curiosity.
Finding common ground
Empathy and understanding can go a long way in improving workplace relations. Younger workers should recognise the real concerns of ageism among their older counterparts; they worked hard to get where they are and expect younger cohorts to pull up their sleeves and put work above other lifestyle commitments. Older workers on other hand should consider the lasting effects of the pandemic on the mental health of Gen Z, often described as the loneliest generation.
Embracing change and building bridges
Rather than resorting to generational consultants and language lessons, genuine efforts to understand and appreciate each other can dissolve stereotypes and foster meaningful connections. When the fear of saying the wrong thing is replaced by open dialogue, employees across all ages can find common ground. The corporate world may be experiencing a shift in communication norms, but adapting to these changes is essential for fostering a workplace that is inclusive, respectful and capable of thriving in the future.