IABC International Conference – Lynne Lancaster

Lynne LancasterThis year’s IABC Research Foundation luncheon speaker, Lynne Lancaster, addressed the topic Minding the gaps: Engaging four generations in an info-saturated world.

What happens when generations collide?

Generational differences can be very challenging when you are required to communicate across four generations in any one day. The magic lies in people who are able to see through the eyes of another generation.

65% if resondents to the Generations Survey conducted by Lancaster and her partners reported that generation gaps make it hard to get things done at work.

The four generations now in the workplace:

  • Traditionalists – born pre-1946 – 75 million in the USA (8 million in Canada)
  • Babyboomers – 1946-64 – 80 million (9 million)
  • Generation X –  1965-81 – 46 million (7 million)
  • Millenials – 1972-2000 – 76 million (8 million)

When approaching generational analysis, be careful not to put people in a box. The analysis is just one way to get extra insight into people.

Key issues:

  • Succession planning: As 80 million baby boomers leave the workplace, they will be followed by only 46 million Gen Xers.
  • There will be a shortage of skilled workers – 4.2 million by 2010 and 14 million by 2020. Companies like Ernst & Yonge have established programs to stay in touch with their alumni as a source of potential future recruits (*”Boomerangs”).
  • Knowledge transfer will become an issue as institutional memory walks out the door with longtime employees.

Generations in motion


72% of Traditionalists plan to return to work after they retire. This is a change from traditional norms. This is driven by several factors, especially a fear of being unable to afford retirement.

60% of Traditionalists say they do not have a clearly defined career path in the place they work. Companies who address this will be able to retain or hire Traditionalists, with their strong work ethic and reliability. Wells Fargo is a company that has understood the needs of Traditionalists and is using this understanding to recruit Traditionalists to return to work.

Baby BoomersBaby Boomers set out as optimistic, idealistic people who could make things better. Today, the number one reason for boomers to stay in a job is “making an impact.” However, this have become increasingly difficult for them to do and frustration is setting in.As boomers age, they are questioning themselves, their situation and rethinking.Boomers are a sandwich generation – sandwiched between aging parents and the needs of their kids. Boomers are feeling “pretty burned out.” They want more personal time. 75% say that “more time off” is the most valuable reward they can get in the workplace.

Generation X

One of the most formative experiences on Gen X was the explosion of media. By age 20, the average Gen Xer had watched 23,000 hours of television.

They witnessed the veil of privacy on the part of public personae drop away in an “anything goes” television environment. This fueled a profound skepticism. Gen Xers believe that they have a better chance of seeing a UFO in their lifetime than they do of receiving a Social Security cheque.

Communications must respect the skepticism of Gen Xers and work with it. Moster.com has done a superb job in doing this with a television ad that plays to Gen Xers’ belief that they cannot rely on institutions to take care of them.

When dealing with Gen Xers give them short, simple, to the point information, honestly.


The digital generation: 50% of millenials have a computer monitor in their bedroom. Consider what they have seen – unfiltered. They have tried to sort through information their entire lives.

One of the most essential functions of communicators in dealing with Millenials is to provide cues regarding the reliability and trustworthiness of sources of information.

Millenials arrive in the workforce with less work experience. Teens work less than previous generations. Additonal school requirements, divorced parents, requirements for community service, keep many out of the workforce during their formative years. Employers will have to provide much of the cues and information necessary to help them learn the workplace norms.

Millenials are impatient with the pace of communication. Voice mail demands too much time. They have moved on the immediacy of Instant Messaging.

Millenials look for information online. They have learned to live their lives virtually online. Colleges have increasingly taken their courses and the recruiting experience online. They will expect this from their employers.

However, remember that technology does not equal communication. Technology will never take the place of good research, good planning and well thought-through communication.

Organization communications standards must be flexible to try new things.