It seems as every generation condemns the generation before us and criticizes the one in front of us. For the first time in history, as the baby boomers hang on longer, we are living amongst 4 generations in the workplace.

There is no mistaking that generational biases can sometimes create communication issues in the workplace but we are also living with a dramatic shift in communications styles over the past 30 years. The entrance of computers and email has changed the way we correspond. We aren’t having to type up letters and memos anymore. Instead we each have the tools to draft and send our own letters and memos from the comfort of our own computers. Add in that almost every person over the age has a cell phone creates another communication dynamic.

In my opinion these tools have increased expectations and also weakened our abilities to communicate effectively. Don’t get me wrong – I love the technology and the freedom it allows for virtual working arrangements and a complete host of other benefits. But the ease of these tools has loosened the reigns on what I consider professional communications. We have become increasingly casual, not a bad thing when managed properly; a time and a place for everything so to speak.

We have gained immediate accessibility to each other and lost consideration, appreciation and politeness. In my opinion technologies should be used to benefit our work-life balance.

I don’t consider myself a very formal person and I appreciate the today’s equalization across the generations. As long as there is respect, I believe relaxed formalities can lead to better relationships. So in order to embrace all the benefits of 4 generations in the workplace, I have created my top 10 electronic communication guidelines for to managing workplace communications.

  1. EMAIL ADDRESSES ARE CURRENCY. I thoughtfully share my email and by that I mean, I provide my email to people that I want to communicate with. Many merchants will ask for your email so that they can send you advertisements. If someone gives you their email address, they have trusted you with the keys to their house. Nothing upsets me more than to receive emails from people that have gotten it from someone else I trusted. Email addresses are confidential.
  2. USE THE BCC & CC: If you are communicating to a group pf people who do not know one another, use the “bcc”. If the people in the group decide to share their emails with the others, they will have the privilege to do so. Use the “cc” when people are part of a team or group that already know each other. Some people believe “cc” is another way of stating that no action is required on your part, and you are receiving the email as an “for your information”.
  3. SEE BELOW. This is a common phrase when someone is forwarding a message. It is personally one of my pet peeves. Like many, I am often screening emails on my phone and don’t appreciate having to scroll through a string of attached emails just to figure out why I am receiving this message. Please take the time to introduce the topic of interest. Forwarding messages should ensure that email addresses have been removed before sending. Otherwise you have just shared others emails without their permission.
  4. REPLY ALL: This is another pet peeve of mine. We see this most often when there is a call for a meeting or a commitment of some kind. There are many easy to use survey type tools that allow you to gather the information from a group without filling everyone’s inbox with a flurry of emails.
  5. NICE THREADS: On a regular basis, I see the course of a conversation change throughout the thread that originated the conversation. This can be confusing and messages can be missed. If the subject has changed, begin a new email. Or at the very least, change the subject title accordingly.
  6. GIVE ME 5: This is my own personal rule that I have created and it goes like this: If there are more than 5 threads in one email conversation, it’s time for a phone call or team meeting. If there are more than 5 people involved, it’s time for some “face time”. Call a meeting, meet in person, or pick up the phone. We have become so “phobic” about meetings that we tend to think email is more efficient. There are times when it is simply not more efficient and other times where conflict of opinion can be misunderstood in writing. You will save time, clarify concerns and resolve difference much more efficiently.
  7. TIMING: This is one of those generational issues that can cause distress in the workplace. We all have cell phones and so we expect instantaneous responses to our queries. This is a workplace issue well worth having the discussion and agreeing to response expectations. Send it whenever you want but don’t expect people to answer immediately or off hours. In my opinion this is not what email is for. Go ahead and email me on the weekend but you won’t get a response from me until Monday. EMAIL SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR URGENCY. If it’s urgent, pick up the phone.
  8. BAD NEWS: It may seem that I am stating the obvious but there are times when any type of electronic communication is simply not appropriate. For situations of a delicate and emotional nature, please reserve the time to communicate face-to-face. There may be times when it is simply not possible but limit those to the exceptions rather than the rule.
  9. HELLO?? Texting is also access to someone’s personal domain and in my opinion, reserved for those casual and personal relationships. It’s a great tool for immediate response to quick questions. But like email is not intended to be used for complicated or delicate conversations. Over the course of time, the computer and smart phone has replaced the telephone as our main means of communication. But it is still a very functional way of communicating – don’t forget it! We go to great lengths to communicate electronically when sometimes it’s just so much simpler to pick up the phone. Try it. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
  10. HUN: Perhaps it’s generational but I don’t believe slang or terms of endearment have any business in business. In my recent transactions, I will and have politely declined to work with anyone who refers to me as hun, dear or anything other than my name. And if you are communicating about business, a text “U in or what?” will result in deafening silence from me.
Today more than ever, organizations are shifting focus towards creating a coaching culture in the workplace. But what does it all mean? The buzz words may be new but effective business management is not. Monthly WHEN WORK WORKS blogs will highlight specific workplace cultures, habits and patterns that can contribute to or detract from an effective work environment whether you work full-time, part-time or volunteer.