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Communicating With an Age and Educationally Diverse Workforce Judith A. Malveaux Queens University of Charlotte

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION Abstract This study examines the best ways to communicate with an age and educationally diverse

workforce. Researchers will question a representative sample of employees in a school district of more than 100,000 students in the southern United States in telephone interviews to look at both current communication methods and preferred channels. The results will indicate that employees communication preferences do not vary as much by occupation as by age. The results will also show that employees who are not school-based tend to have a more positive view of current communication practices than those employees at schools who are directly involved with instructing students.

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION The Importance of Communicating With an Age and Educationally Diverse Workforce

It may not be a secret that internal communication is an important practice for companies, but the practice is one in which many organizations admit they are not effective or deeply invested. This has worsened as the current climate of economic instability has weakened many organizations and reduced internal communication efforts as communication staffs are reduced and open communication is sacrificed. Communication is even more important during times of transition, including todays economic recovery (HR Focus, 2010). Sharing as much information as possible can be helpful. In a 2009 column, business management expert Lisa Ward points out that when organizations communicate with employees during difficult times has a tremendous impact on morale, engagement and productivity. Thats important because retaining key talent and keeping productivity high helps organizations succeed and get back in growth mode (2009). Its also important because innovation continues to be a strong differentiator in the marketplace and engaged employees are more creative than non-engaged employees. During difficult economic times, communicators must reach out to employees, inspire conversations and help engage workers in ways that will increase their business productivity (McKenzie, 2010). Consider this: Three of the six communication secrets identified in top-performing organizations involve internal communications (Trahant, 2008). Those three recommendations involve engaging employees in running the business, measure the impact of employee communication and branding the employee experience as a recruiting tool. These suggestions illustrate that the key for any internal communications professional is to develop an internal network across his or her business (Sage, 2008). Organizations must focus on talking to their employees, thinking about how to communicate with them and considering what to communicate with them. In the current

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION environment, it is particularly important that we maintain two-way communications with our people. And we need to ensure we talk with them through the most appropriate and accessible channels for specific groups of employees. Communicating with multiple groups of employees

in the workplace can be more difficult than it seems, particularly when factoring in the diversity in ages of current employees. An age-diverse workforce comes with a unique set of challenges: differing work styles, different goals and objectives and diverse attitudes and viewpoints (Brody, 2010). Increasing generational diversity and technological change is causing a transformation in the way employers must manage human resources. The Human Capital Institute notes that, The homogenous human capital model of the past simply will not work with such diverse cohorts in the workforceIt is time to throw out the one-size-fits-all model of talent management and embrace a more flexible model (Hannam & Yordi, 2011). But theres another layer to complicate todays internal communications: educational diversity. Diversity in todays workforce includes more than just age and race. It also includes educational background, which can influence both accessibility to communication and channels for communicating. If a corporation employs people with educational levels that vary from vocational skills to doctoral degrees, how can the organization effectively communicate with and engage all of them? This must be determined. Literature review Internal communications Internal communications has been defined as the transactions between individuals and groups at various levels and in different areas of specialization that are intended to design organizations and coordinate day-to-day activities (Frank & Brownell, 1989). Internal communications is important in an organization because the activities and transactions it encompasses can have positive or negative effects on an organization. Communicating with

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION employees brings value and can affect to the overall reputation of the company (Dortok, 2006). This was shown in a study of the attitude toward internal communication at companies with

excellent reputations and companies with lower reputations. The study examined the top 10 and the bottom 10 most-admired companies in Turkey, as determined by the countrys leading business magazine, Capital. Researchers surveyed the senior managers of communications in the top and bottom companies about the interaction between corporate reputation and internal communication and found companies with good reputations attached more importance to internal communications than companies with lower reputations did. While both groups said the importance given to internal communications was lower than it should be, the importance attached to internal communication by companies of lower reputations was lower than the importance the highly regarded companies placed on internal communication. Effective internal communication Keller (2006) compares internal communication to a relay race. The teammate holding the baton (the internal supplier) must accurately place it in the hand of the next runner (internal customer) at the right time, in the right position and at the right speed. When the baton is in the right place and the next runner can fully concentrate on running, the team can win. Internal communication is vital, but it must also be effective. A 2008 report discussed effective organizational communication, focusing on openness between senior management and employees that can result in employees being more engaged and productive. It cites research from the Society for Human Resource Managements 2008 job satisfaction survey, which notes that communication between employees and senior management is among the top five very important aspects of employee job satisfaction. It further notes that strategic and continuous communication lends credibility to an organizations leadership, while a lack of communication


or poorly communicated information can lead to distrust, dissatisfaction, cynicism and unwanted turnover (White, C., Vanc, A., & Stafford, G., 2010). This study examined how employees view information flow and their communication preferences. It looked at 147 employees of a multicampus university, asking open-ended interview questions about communication practices at the university. The researchers interviewed top management, professional employees, exempt and nonexempt staff. Researchers found that employees preferred direct internal communication. Many of those surveyed said they were concerned that information from top managers is filtered or distorted as it is relayed through bureaucratic layers. While they said email was the most efficient method to receive information, most preferred face-to-face, interpersonal interactions. The companys website was also found to be a poor communication tool. While it was effective for getting information that was needed, employees said it was not a good channel to receive news and updates. Though employees found meetings to be time-consuming, the employees said they valued them as an opportunity for face time with managers and as a channel to receive feedback. This research showed that employees at all levels said access to information affects their morale and, when given more information, they feel respected and important. Employees at all levels also said they resent learning things about their organization through the media and believed members of the family should know first. One study examined the influence of supervisors ability to communicate and their leadership style on employees job and communication satisfaction. A supervisors leadership style was also found to have a significant and positive relationship with employee job and communication satisfaction. This study showed that this major piece of internal communication supervisor-to-subordinate can affect an employees job and communication satisfaction. This is important because it builds on other research that found face-to-face communication to be a

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION majority of the way supervisors communicate with their subordinates (Madlock, 2008). If managers are effective at communication and leading, then this can further the companys overall goal of having effective internal communication because employees find this communication area to be of great importance in determining their perception of a company. Effective internal communication has become more complicated as the workforce has changed. The type of information that management presents coupled with how they present it

can be determining factors in whether employee development succeeds in the workplace (Proctor & Doukakis (2003). A study examined superior-subordinate communication to determine the degree of difference, or perceptual disparity, between managers and their subordinates regarding the managers communications and communication practices. It included research stating that 50 to 90 percent of managers time is spent communicating and much of this time includes face-toface communication with subordinates. The researchers found that managers perceived their communications practices more positively than their subordinates perceived them. It also found the disparity in how managers and their subordinates perceived managers communication practices negatively affected subordinates job satisfaction as well as their perceptions of conflict and the climate of the organization. The way organizations send messages their clarity is highly valued in enhancing employee commitment to an organization (Bambacas & Patrickson, 2008). Benefits of internal communication The benefits of quality internal communication also includes higher productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher quality of services and products, increased innovation, fewer strikes and reduced costs (Clampitt & Downs, 1993). Another study found that examined relationships between employees perceptions of their supervisors use of person-centered communication, the


quality of their leader member relationship and their job satisfaction found significant positive relationships between person-centered communication and leader-member relationship and employees job satisfaction. In addition, person-centered communication was found to be more predictive of employee job satisfaction than leader-member relationship (Fix & Sias, 2006). Internal communications in the 21st century Defining organizational communication for the twenty-first century requires the identification of important social trends and the repositioning of communication practices in the changing landscape. Workforce diversity is also an issue for internal communications even where it concerns age differences among employees. Bambacas and Patrickson cite data from United States Bureau of Labor Statistics that says, for the next 10 years, the current largest workforce group, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), will walk off the stage and generations X (born 1965-1980) and Y (born 1981-1990) will become the dominant workforce groups (2008). A generational gap will exist and the generations will go through a learning curve stage on how to better collaborate with each other. Unlike previous generational integration of the somewhat obedient Silent Generation versus the workaholic Baby-Boomer generation versus much the independent Gen X, this round of changes will be an integration of the highly cynical and pessimistic Gen X versus the high self-esteemed and positive Gen Y. In the present turbulent environment, traditional ways of doing business and of communicating are no longer effective. Instead, new principles of effective organizational communication must be developed, new challenges and potential improvement points should be addressed to reflect and make progress in improving communications in the workplace (Eisenberg & Goodall, 2005). Lyons et al. (2007) conducted research to explore how four generations differ in their basic human values such as openness to change, conservation, self-


enhancement, and self-transcendence. This research shows that generations differ in basic human values and, thus, must be communicated with differently if they are to be engaged. Generational diversity in the workplace A study examining intergenerational communication in the workplace investigated younger workers accounts of intra- and intergenerational communicative satisfaction in the workplace with variables such as age, culture and organizational rank (McCann & Giles, 2006). It also expanded in concept to understand intergenerational attitudes and how age is perceived in daily workplace conversations in different cultures (Thailand and the United States). It details how the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that ageist language appeared with alarming frequency in the 20,000 age-discrimination cases filed in 2002. The study found young bankers perceive they are communicated with differently (accommodated less) by older bankers than by young bankers. It also found young bankers believe they communicate more respectfully with older bankers than with young bankers. In general, the research found young workers favored intragroup communication versus communication with different age groups. Communication channels also vary with age groups. A study examined specific electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers and how different generations use them (Mulvill, 2011). The results are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International in the fall of 2010. They surveyed 3,001 adults in English and Spanish, on landlines and cell phones. Researchers found cell phones, laptops and desktop have become popular across generations. While use of these devices is increasing across generations, younger adults are increasingly using mobile devices and in more ways than other age groups. For example, 85 percent of adults own cell phones, and 90 percent of all adults including 62 percent of those 75 and older live in a household with at least one

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION working cell phone. Members of Gen Y, however, are far more likely to use cell phones for a wider range of functions than other generations. A majority of Gen Y uses cell phones to go


online, send email, play games and listen to music. The researchers found that about nine percent of adults or one in 11 do not own any of the electronic devices discussed, including cell phones, laptops and desktop computers. From these findings, one can conclude that various generations use and prefer different communication tools. In establishing effective internal communication in an age-diverse organization, a clear understanding of how different generations prefer to receive information and communicate is important. Understanding which tools are preferred and used and applying this knowledge to communication planning helps to increase the likelihood that communication will be received across a broad demographic of employees. There has been a recent proliferation in academic writings aimed at generational diversity and inter-generational collaboration. Some key issues are based on the notion that different generations should be approached differently to minimize intergenerational tensions and maximize synergy (Wong et al., 2008; Mclntosh-Elkins, 2007; Sirias et al., 2007). Diversity in educational levels in todays workforce While intergenerational communication in the workforce has received extensive study, an additional implication that remains unexplored is communicating with an educationally diverse workforce. Little research addresses the implications of engaging this type of diversity in an organization. Research has shown, however, that putting a target audience under a microscope for close inspection, and investing in research to find out what they want to know and how they would prefer it to be presented, is a vital early step in the communication process (Smith, 2008). Incorporating the needs of the various interest groups employees might represent can prove

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION expensive in the short term, but it must be done if an organization wants to be seen as treating employees respectfully. Addressing todays diverse workforce This study will look at communicating effectively with both an age-diverse and an


educationally diverse workforce. It will build on existing research to determine the best channels and strategies to communicate effectively with this diverse group. To illicit the most detailed, thoughtful responses from a random sample of employees, I will use in-depth telephone interviews to conduct my research. This will allow for follow-up questioning and strong qualitative data that will effectively support my findings. In my research, I will seek the following information from employees: Research question 1. How do employees perceive the flow of information they currently receive from the organization? Research question 2. How do organizational communication channels affect the messages and its reception? Research question 3. How do Gen X employees prefer to receive information? METHODOLOGY Research for this study is based on the social constructionism theory that considers how social phenomena or objects of consciousness develop in social contexts because it appropriately addresses the social aspects of a multigenerational and educationally diverse workforce has on an organization (Keyton, 2011). Setting I plan to interview a representative sample of employees in a large school district of more than 100,000 students. This district has more than 150 school buildings and offices spread

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION throughout a county mixed with urban and suburban areas in the southern United States. I will


conduct the study in the spring or late in the third semester to allow for the majority of the school year to have passed. Participants Employees will represent the age and educational diversity of the districts employees. The employees will be between the ages of 22 and 65, with a representative sample to correspond with the percentage of employees in that age group. The representative sample will also include employees with educational backgrounds ranging from high school diploma to doctoral degree. Employees invited to participate will include 10-month and 11-month schoolbased employees such as teachers, counselors and assistant principals, as well as year-round employees in school such as principals and secretaries and year-round staff in non-school locations such as finance and human resources employees. Procedures I plan to interview representative samples from each employee group based on the percentage of the group within the overall employee population. Those interviewed will be randomly selected and given a telephone (Appendix C). Probes will be used to elicit more information pertaining to the research questions. Data analysis After interviews are conducted, interviews will be transcribed for analysis. Researchers will analyze interviews in each employment category, noting that sample size is less important than the repetition among respondents (McCracken, 1993). Inductive analysis that prescribes linking and relating subcategories by denoting conditions, context and categorical groups of responses will be used to examine the transcripts (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). From this grounded



theory research, we will derive themes for the responses through comparison and evaluation of transcripts. We will then look at the concepts and central ideas shown from the data and make recommendations based upon those central ideas. Once data is analyzed, I believe we will find that education levels do affect how communication is received but it does not affect their preference in communication channels. It will also find that employees communication preferences vary more by age than by occupation or education level and that non school-based employees tend to have a more positive view of current communication practices than those at schools who are directly involved with instructing students. Implications Findings I believe that this study will result in findings that employees at all levels value frequent communication from the school district to them using frequent channels. I believe that we will find that age may play a factor in determining which channels are found to be more effective for receiving communication, with email and phone being more popular with Gen X and Baby Boomers respectively. I also think Gen Y will prefer more information be made available through mobile means such as text messages and social media updates. I believe that education level will not be a large factor in communication channels. I think the findings will show that age more than educational level are a factor in preferences of communication channels. I think that educational level and job classification will prove to be more of a factor in determining how effective employees believe communication is. Those who are not classroom teachers or directly involved in instruction at schools will feel the district communicates frequently enough and, in some cases, too much. Those directly involved in instructing students at the school level will prefer more communication about the district more frequently.



This study could have broad appeal to organizations that, like the school district studied, are grappling with a large segment of the workforce that is reaching retirement age and an everincreasing segment that are recent graduates or less than five years removed from college. The findings could also have implications for organizations that have a workforce that includes employees who are highly educated and those who may have know a skill or trade but are not highly educated. Lastly, this study could help educational institutions improve their communication practices with employees. Limitations Because this study looks at an educational organization which includes some employees who work all year and some who work 10 or 11 months this studys findings may not be applicable to private organizations or companies where all employees work year round. This study also does not look at ethnic diversity, which researchers have studied extensively, but could use further review in relation to an educational organization. Given the qualitative analysis done in this survey, follow up research to assess the implications of changes made to the organizations internal communication practices may have to be done in qualitative method for continuity or in an annual employee survey, which would provide quantitative data.

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION References Bambacas, M., & Patrickson, M. (2008). Interpersonal communication skills that enhance organisational commitment. Journal of Communication Management, 12(1), 5172. doi:10.1108/13632540810854235 Brody, M. (2010, May 6). Effective workplace strategies: Manage generational differences. Retrieved from http://blog.ragan.com/coaching/2010/05/ strategies_to_manage_generatio.html Clampitt, P. and Downs, C. (1993). Employee perceptions of the relationships between communication and productivity A field study. Journal of Business Communication, 30, 5-28. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria. Qualitative Sociology, 13(1), 3. Dortok, A. (2006). A managerial look at the interaction between internal communication and corporate reputation. Corporate Reputation Review, 8(4), 322-338. Eisenberg, E. M. and Goodall, H. L. (2005). Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint (5th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. Employee satisfaction: Key to recovery success. (2010). HR Focus, 87(4), 1-15. Fix, B., & Sias, P. M. (2006). Person-centered communication, leader-member exchange, and employee job satisfaction. Communication Research Reports, 23(1), 35-44. doi:10.1080/17464090500535855 Frank, A. & Brownell, J. (1989) Organizational Communication and Behaviour: Communicating to Improve Performance (Orlando, FL: Holt, Rinehart and Winston).


DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION Hannam, S. & Yordi, B. (2011). Engaging a multi-generational workforce: Practical


advice for government managers. Retrieved from http://www.businessofgovernment.org/ sites/default/files/Engaging%20a%20Multi-Generational%20Workforce.pdf Keller, S.B., Lynch, D.F., Ellinger, A. E., Ozment, J., & Calatone, R. (2006). The impact of internal marketing efforts in distribution service operations. Journal of Business Logistics, 27(1): 109-VIII. Lyons, S. T., Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2007). An empirical assessment of generational differences in basic human values. Psychological Reports, 13, 339-352. Madlock, P. E. (2008). The link between leadership style, communicator competence, and employee satisfaction. Journal of Business Communication, 45(1), 61-78. McCann, R. M., & Giles, H. (2006). Communication with people of different ages in the workplace: Thai and American data. Human Communication Research, 32(1), 74-108. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2006.00004 McCracken, G. (1993). The Long Interview. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Mclntosh-Elkins, J., McRitchie, K., & Scoones, M. (2007). From the silent generation to generation X, Y and Z: Strategies for managing the generation mix. Orlando: ACM. McKenzie, T. (2010). New challenges for engagement. Communication World, 27(3), 24- 27. Mulvill, A. (2011). Pew study: Inside the tech generation. Information Today, 28(4), 10-11. Proctor, T., Doukakis, I. (2003). Change management: The role of internal communications and employee development. Corporate Communications. 8(4), 268-277. Sage, G. (2008). Reaching a large and diverse audience at Tesco. Strategic Communications Management. 12(6). Retrieved from http://www.melcrum.com/ pdf/Journals/SCM12.6.pdf

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION Sirias, D., Karp, H., & Brotherton, T. (2007). Comparing the levels of individualism and collectivism between baby boomers and generation X. Management Research News. Smith, L. and Mounter, P. (2008). Effective Internal Communication. Pennsylvania: Kogan Page Limited. Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory, procedures, and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Trahant, B. (2008). Six communication secrets of top-performing organizations. Public Manager, 37(3), 68-75.


Ward, L. (2009). Straight talk in tough times: Effective employee communication in a troubled economy. Public Relations Tactics, 16(2), 9. White, C., Vanc, A., & Stafford, G. (2010). Internal communication, information satisfaction, and sense of community: The effect of personal influence. Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(1), 65-84. doi:10.1080/10627260903170985 Wong, M., Gardiner, E., Lang, W., & Coulon, L. (2008). Generational differences in personality and motivation. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 878-890.

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION Appendix A March 1, 2012 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 600 East Fourth St., fifth floor Charlotte, NC, 28202 Attn.: Hugh Hattabaugh, Interim Superintendent


Dear Mr. Hattabaugh, I am currently conducting an academic research study examining the best communication practices for educationally and age diverse workforces. The goals of my study are to improve communication practices to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees by identifying the preferred communication practices and channels. The findings from this study will have important implications for your organization by helping to improve this communication and increasing employee perception of CMS, their engagement and employee retention. I am currently recruiting people who are employees to participate in an in-depth telephone interview regarding their communication experiences with CMS. This informal interview will last approximately 30 minutes per person and will be conducted at a time that is convenient for the employee. The names of all employees, references to their particular job and the name of the school district will be confidential in my report analysis. The only criterion the employees is that they have been employed since the beginning of the current school year. Thank you for your time and assistance in recruiting school district employees to participate in this study. I will contact you soon to discuss the study further, including obtaining a sample of employees that meets my study criteria. Please contact me at 704-537-2319 or judithamalveaux@aol.com if you have additional questions. Sincerely,

Judith Malveaux Graduate Student, Queens University

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION Appendix B Diverse Workforce Communication Study Proposed Procedures


The method of data collection will be semi-structured interviews. Participants will first be asked to read and sign an informed consent form. They will then receive a copy of this form for their future reference. Second, participants will be instructed to complete a Demographic Questionnaire so researchers can determine their age group and educational level. Finally, the researcher will use questions from the Interview Protocol during the interview. The questions are aimed at ascertaining employees opinions on the organizations current communication methods and channels and their preferences in communication methods and channels. All interviews will be done by telephone and taped using a digital recorder to ensure accurate recording of the data. Interviews will be transcribed word for word following each interview for data analysis and write-up. Researchers will analyze interviews in each employment category, using McCracken (1993), who notes that sample size is less important than the repetition among respondents. Using Strauss and Corbins grounded theory research (1990), inductive analysis that prescribes linking and relating subcategories by denoting conditions, context and categorical groups of responses will be used to examine the transcripts. Confidentiality will be guaranteed by changing the names of participates on the transcripts and future write-ups.

DIVERSE WORKFORCE COMMUNICATION Appendix C Diverse Workforce Communication Study Interview Protocol


Introduction (read on phone): As an employee of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, you face the overarching goal of contributing toward educating more than 135,000 student effectively. This is a difficult task with more than 19,000 employees spread across more than 160 schools and dozens of office buildings. For this study, we are interested in examining your perceptions of communication from the district to employees. Please keep this in mind when answering the questions during the interview. 1. In general, do you believe you are well informed about what is going on in the school district? a. Why or why not? b. Please give me an example you recall that illustrates this. 2. Where do you get your information about the school district? 3. How do you prefer to get information? a. Why or why not? 4. How effective has district leadership been in communicating information about the district? a. Why do you believe this is? b. Please give me an example you recall that illustrates this. 5. What has been an example of well-communicated information you received from the school district? a. What made it well communicated? 6. What has been an example of poorly communicated information you received from the school district? a. What made it poorly communicated? 7. What do you consider to be the best ways to receive information? Please include time, weekday and communication channel (email, phone call, intranet story, etc.).