Communicating to all generations

by Rebecka Freels

Employee engagement is the buzzword of the 21st Century, but according to a 2013 Gallup survey of US businesses, most employees think their employers are doing a poor job of engaging them. The survey found only 30% of US employees were fully engaged in their jobs. Communication is the glue between employee and employer, but unless your efforts resonate with the psychological and emotional needs of your audience, they won’t deliver your desired impact.

Communication with multi-generational employees differs when it comes to attitudes, needs and preferences.

The trucking industry employs more Boomers than most other Canadian industries. To improve workplace satisfaction, trucking employers need to understand the communication styles and habits of their workforce.

Some helpful research has been done on workplace communication expectations and preferences of Boomer and Gen Y workers. A six-nation study conducted in 2008 for the International Association of Business Communicators and Deloitte Consulting looked at workers in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, as well as Brazil, China and India. Some insights to help guide your engagement include; for younger and older workers in all countries, being proud to work for their employer is the leading driver of overall satisfaction; workers, regardless of age or country, want more opportunities to learn and grow, as guidance of a mentor and training opportunities are not just for the young; and both age groups in industrialized countries said they like to receive company information via the company website, e-mail or intranet, but one-third of respondents still preferred more traditional communication channels, like company newsletters and meetings. Findings from workers in industrialized countries by age cohort also differed.

Boomers: For older workers to feel workplace satisfaction they need to feel they can trust their business leaders to consider employees’ interests.

More than anything else, this group wants to receive performance feedback and be recognized for performance excellence. Boomers want to learn company policies and hear about other colleagues, and placed high importance on getting an explanation of the organization’s goals. Information about company goals and business/industry performance was preferred to be received via print, in person or via Website.

Gen Y: A key factor in worker satisfaction among younger workers is having a sense of belonging and connectedness to the organization. They have a strong appetite for information delivered across many communication channels and are accepting of informal communication, but they want it to be fun and interactive. Opportunities to interact with co-workers is important, as are employer-sponsored team building events.

Young workers generally believe their employer would consider the best interests of employees when making decisions, but despite their more positive view, the younger cohorts are far less likely to stay with their current employer beyond two years. Gen Y sees technology in the workplace as a way to improve communication, with the company intranet/Website and e-messaging being the preferred way to learn about business and industry news and print as a good secondary channel.

Communication preferences of Canadian employees: Canadian workers, both young and old, overlapped in what they ranked as the Top 3 forms of communication they want from employers: performance feedback, employee recognition and company policies.

Canadian workers, regardless of age, are open to receiving information via a variety of communication channels, and not surprisingly, younger workers enjoy electronic forms of information delivery, while older workers prefer more formal business communication including print, website, intranet and email.

So, what’s the takeaway for employers? In all your communication outreach activities, make sure you are hitting the right hot buttons to ensure an engaged workforce. Older workers want to feel appreciated and convinced their employers are making good decisions on behalf of their employees. Like their younger counterparts, they seek opportunities to expand their skillset. They are far less likely to seek out and use new communication channels, so make sure you communicate using a variety of platforms (new and traditional).

Younger workers need to feel a sense of belonging. To keep them engaged with your organization, communicate often using a broad spectrum of communication channels. Also, accept rather than fight these workers’ lifelong habits of using communication technology. Discounting or limiting the use of communication technology is likely to decrease their feeling of belonging. For both age groups, meeting those expectations and ensuring they are satisfied with employer communications is critical to workplace satisfaction. 


Rebecka Freels, former CTA and OTA communications director, operates a Calgary-based marketing, communications and events practice with clients in the transport industry. Reach her at 

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