In this edition of Generational Viewpoints, we asked Generation Y staff accountant Krisstel Hunt, born in 1983, and Baby Boomer shareholder Raleigh Cutrer, born in 1955, from Matthews, Cutrer & Lindsay PA, a Ridgeland, Miss.-based firm with approximately 30 employees, to answer the following question: "What do you think the biggest communication differences are between the generations? How does technology factor into this (if at all)?"
HUNT'S GEN Y VIEWPOINT
I think the rapid change in technology has definitely set a gap between generations. It has enabled people to gain access to an unlimited amount of knowledge in an instant and improved the lives of those who embrace it. In my opinion, younger people are more willing to accept new technologies as a medium to help them perform both personal and business tasks on a daily basis, while those who are more mature seem more likely to be reluctant to accept these changes.
In general, Generations X and Y welcome technology because we are naturally more comfortable with it. We have been brought into a digital world, a world in which we can share our lives with people without picking up the phone or being face to face. We prefer to communicate with our family, friends and even clients via e-mail because, to us, it is more efficient and maintains a good record of conversations. Individuals in older generations often enjoy communicating via the telephone or in person because they believe it keeps the relationship with the client on a more personal level.
Another difference in the workplace relates to the approach that people from different generations take to perform daily assignments. Younger-generation team members like the flexibility of being able to complete tasks at our own pace, to be able to choose where we work, and to be able to communicate using technology, as long as we arrive at the same conclusion or deliverable. We are more focused on the end result than the steps taken to arrive there. Individuals I know who belong to older generations often measure success by witnessing the completion of particular steps within a process, so it is more difficult for them to feel like progress is being made when those steps occur outside of a typical 8-to-5 schedule or outside of the office.
As a firm, we must be able to close the gap between generations to better serve our clients. By becoming aware of generational differences, we can help predict and prevent miscommunications between staff and clients. We must understand our superiors' and clients' individual preferences related to communication and adapt to those particular needs in order to improve quality of work and become more profitable, but firms must also be prepared to adapt to the changing norms of communication driven by younger staff -- and younger clients.
CUTRER'S BABY BOOMER VIEWPOINT
I think technology has, for the most part, hindered the communication between my generation and the younger generations. I was taught to communicate face to face, if possible. If I could not talk to a person face to face, then I should contact them by phone or write them a note. The importance of face-to-face communication, and, to a lesser extent, phone communication, is that you can better ascertain the other individual's thoughts by reading body language and/or the tone of their voice.
So many of the younger generation have grown up texting, instant messaging, e-mailing, tweeting, etc. Sometimes, in remote, typed communication, the intent of the message can be misconstrued. When I have interviewed young people, I believe they have a harder time communicating face to face because they have not done it as much. My children ask for a date by texting instead of calling. I know my thoughts on this may sound "old school," and they probably are, but in my opinion you need to hear the person's voice or see the person's face to be able to interpret how they feel about you.
Technology has made us increasingly accessible, to a fault. My generation struggles to understand why someone needs to tweet everything that is on their mind, and the younger generation thinks we are "sticks in the mud" because we are not on social media as much as they are. I can see many advantages of social media and have embraced most of them. However, I wish our young people would communicate more one on one, without any electronic devices.
Ultimately, we have to take our clients' needs and desires and incorporate them into how we communicate value to them. If our client wants us to communicate using the most "cutting-edge" technology, then we -- as a firm, a Baby Boomer, a Gen X or a Gen Y -- should communicate in that manner. The opposite is true as well. We need to understand that not all of our clients are technology-savvy.
The biggest communication difference that is not technology-related is the need to be appreciated. Many in our generation worked without expecting much recognition from our bosses or peers. The younger generations are completely different. I have to be constantly mindful to encourage our staff when they do a job well, instead of considering "doing the job well" part of the job description.
This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. To have your firm's generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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