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Building Trust with Baby Boomers and Generation X

Here we are, months into a global pandemic and weeks after the tragic death of George Floyd. Two devastating examples of how 2020 has been a year of change and uncertainty. While many people are quarantining, others are marching. Businesses, communities, and graduating seniors are asking themselves, “What happens next?” People are anxious to get back to “normal,” but there is no denying that normal is going to look a lot different for the foreseeable future.

As societal tensions remain high, people might disengage from their work or feel uncertain about the future. While a difficulty can temporarily unite us, agreeing upon a course of action can certainly divide us. Some people seek comfort with how things were to reestablish a sense of order. Others find change necessary and welcome the unknown. At either end of this spectrum, there is concern about who can be trusted to move us forward.

Trust in leadership during times of crisis keeps employees engaged and allows people to buy into new strategies. It helps keep people optimistic when forced to approach work in a whole new way. Above all else, it retains confidence in your business. It’s that confidence in leadership that will help see your company through these challenging times.

Over the coming months, BridgeWorks will be offering solutions for building trust across different generations of employees and clients. This starts with establishing a sense of empathy about why different generations react to change the way they do and learning how to communicate your message in a way that everyone can relate to and feel confident in.

Baby Boomers

Much has been said about COVID-19 and its effect on younger generations in respect to their finances and careers. Many Millennials and Gen Zers have had their careers bookended by crisis, starting with the 2008 recession. But make no mistake, Baby Boomers and Generation Xers are concerned about their futures too. A recent Forbes article details how Baby Boomers in particular are facing their own set of challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Late Boomers, born after 1960, have seen their savings and 401(k) take a considerable hit since the 2008 recession, leaving them especially vulnerable to the current financial downturn. For many, retirement will have to wait. These Boomers have a lot of career ahead of them, so establishing trust and confidence in leadership is tantamount to making sure you’re getting the most out of them moving forward. Here’s the challenge: how do you earn trust with a generation that has lived long enough to see multiple recessions and wars?

Baby Boomers connect with and respond to credibility. They came of age at a time when Walter Cronkite was polled as the most trusted man in America. As national challenges arose, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam war, he provided a credible and confident voice that helped them persevere with optimism through adversity.

This is precisely what Boomers respond to today during turbulent times. Trust is established when leaders provide credible and decisive messaging that lays out a plan for success. Make sure your employees and your clients know you’re doing everything you can to navigate the challenges ahead. And remember, for Boomers, small talk isn’t small. Keep in touch with your clients. Ask how they’re doing and see if there is anything you can do to help them as they make their way through the new world of work. For Boomers, a check-in builds trust and credibility. It can go a long way and pay off big time when it comes to retaining their business.

Generation X

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Generation Xers were experiencing their own struggles. Born between 1965 and 1979, Generation Xers find themselves the new “sandwiched” generation. Ada Calhoun, author of "Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis," says that Gen Xers, women in particular, do most of the caregiving for children and aging parents. Now, the coronavirus has sent children home to be schooled by their parents, and it's threatening senior citizens more than anyone else. Factor in the fragility of the workplace and marketplace right now, and you have a generation that is growing more skeptical by the day; however, that skeptical outlook started long before the coronavirus.

Generation X’s formative years were shaped by the explosion of, and their subsequent consumption of, the media. On average, Gen Xers watched 23,000 hours of television during their formative years. Unlike the Boomers before them, cable TV and 24-hour news offered constant exposure to scandals and crises. From the AIDS epidemic, political and celebrity scandals, to economic hardships like the dotcom bust, Xers had a front row seat and a peak behind the curtain of institutions that were being seen through a different lens. News came from cable TV pundits rather than Walter Cronkite, and trust in institutions began to erode.

As a result, Gen Xers are very skeptical by nature, often questioning most of what they’re told, even by those in positions of authority (sometimes even more so). Don’t blow smoke, and be honest about difficult situations. Share what you know, admit what you don’t know. (Do we need to cut expenses? Are we losing benefits?). Don’t be grim, but don’t paint a picture that isn’t truthful. Make your communication with Xers as transparent as possible. For Xers, transparency builds trust. Moreover, your Xer clients will appreciate efficient communication now more than ever. As they continue working to keep their own teams intact, be a resource to them, not a bother. For self-sufficient Xers, purposeful communication is a better approach than constant communication.

Remember, building trust across generations is established and maintained through an understanding of who they are, what they value, and how you communicate your message. It will boost morale, increase productivity, and build confidence with your employees and clients. Trust is your greatest asset when it comes to the future of your business.