‘We need to talk tomorrow.’

If this Teams message appeared, what would be your immediate response?

Would you immediately fear the worst? Assume your job was on the line? Or that you were going to be in some sort of trouble? Maybe you’d phone the sender to check what it was about. Or drop them an email asking what the subject was going to be? Perhaps you’d shrug and think that it can’t be that important if it can keep until tomorrow…

This short phrase is a great place to start exploring how different from each other the generations in the workplace really are. How different our reactions might be, our behaviours, our drivers and our stressors.

And it also raises some questions for us as individuals  – How successfully do you bridge the communication gap across generations? How well are you adapting the way you interact with different age groups within your own workplace? Have you given it any thought at all?

We know, simply by looking at our colleagues, that we now have a workplace where more people of different generations are working together than before.

Broadly speaking our working generations are:

  • Baby boomers – born mid 1940s to early 1960s
  • Gen X – mid 1960s and throughout 1970s
  • Millennials – 1980s through to mid 1990s
  • Gen Z – mid 1990s to end of 2010s

But we need to view these parameters flexibly, because arguably it’s sometimes easier to think of generations by the paradigms that shaped their formative years. For example, were they a generation who experienced economic recession or boom times? Lived through a particular political era? Saw social change take place? Experienced significant technological advancements – the internet, Iphone? Survived a pandemic perhaps?! We’re naturally shaped by our experiences and our ‘take’ on life can be moulded by living through those periods and events.

It’s also crucial to remember that we can’t just generalise everyone according to their supposed generational traits – we are all unique individuals and that needs to be borne in mind too.

Nevertheless, our generational perspective can affect our world view, our behaviours, what’s important to us and – crucially – how we want to be managed and communicated with in the workplace.

A straw poll amongst my own Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z contacts gave the following responses when I asked how they’d respond when receiving that Teams message. Their replies included:

Gen X

I’d feel okay, I’d just expect to speak with them tomorrow.
Something may have gone wrong, but it can’t be that urgent as we can leave it until tomorrow.


Probably get on skyscanner and just leave the country tbh!
I’d have a heart attack!
I’d be super anxious…there’s no context to explain why…
I wouldn’t sleep that night!

Gen Z

It’s the full stop – I’d assume they hated me
The only positive is that it’s not the dreaded ‘Ok.’
…or even worse, they might call you instead, out of the blue with no warning!

If one phrase can be so differently interpreted by different generations, then how much miscommunication is happening all the time in the workplace? Especially when remote working is considered normal and people have less face to face contact. WhatsApp messages, Teams, text, email, phone…so many ways for us to inadvertently mess things up!

As individuals, and as leaders, we need to be mindful and able to adapt the way we interact with others. Listen and take onboard more diverse voices, opinions and thoughts that may well differ from our own. Think about how and what we’re communicating – and whether it’s the right way, method, channel for that person.

We need to be more open about how each of our generations see things, how we communicate, what’s important to us, how we can change to be more inclusive in the way we interact…and the first step must surely be to ask each other, open the discussion up…and listen!

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