By Corporate English Solutions

20 February 2024 - 15:10

Gen Z (born between 1997-2012) is the youngest and fastest-growing generation in the workplace. As their numbers grow, their experience of technology, global connectivity, diversity and digital transformation is influencing workplace communication, collaboration and organisational culture. 

Discover common characteristics of Gen Z’s communication style, their impact in the workplace and actionable steps you can take to enhance inter-generational communication and collaboration in your team and organisation. 


Reading time: 5 minutes 

‘It's not that easy to step out of your comfort zone,’ muses Min, an L&D manager with over a decade of experience. Over the past four years, Min's team of seven, spanning ages from their early 30s to mid-50s, had developed a particular way of communicating that worked well for them and the other L&D teams they collaborated with across six countries in the region. ‘When Dani and Santosh - our two newly recruited Gen Z colleagues – joined our team, they not only brought fresh perspectives but also challenged our established communication patterns.’ 

Min’s multigenerational team is fast becoming the norm. For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workplace. Gen Z (born between 1997-2012) is the youngest and fastest-growing generation. Simply put, they are the workforce of the future. As their numbers grow, so does Gen Z’s influence on workplace communication, collaboration and organisational culture. 

Like previous generations, Gen Z’s communication styles have been influenced by the era they grew up in. While each individual’s experience is different, there are some common themes. The biggest influences? Technology, global connectivity, diversity, and the rapid evolution of online platforms.

Read on to discover common characteristics of Gen Z’s communication style, their impact in the workplace and actionable steps you can take to enhance inter-generational communication and collaboration in your team and organisation.

Understanding Gen Z’s communication style 

Digitally native, tech savvy and connected. More than previous generations, many of Gen Z grew up surrounded by technology, effortlessly switching between devices and platforms with endless streams of content, scrolling, clicking and swiping from a young age. McKinsey describes Gen Z as a ‘hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information.’ 

The impact on Gen Z’s communication style at work? 

‘Dani and Santosh seem to multi-task more and have a much shorter attention span than the rest of our team’, reports Min. She’s right: according to research, Gen Z’s attention span is approximately 8 seconds, one second shorter than a goldfish’s. Character limits on social media platforms and the fast-paced nature of digital conversations often impact Gen Z’s written communication preferences. ‘Straight away the team noticed that they preferred instant messaging to emails and that their messages were super short – often sentence fragments using punctuation in non-traditional ways like “Got it thx!”, and abbreviations such as “kk” and “G2G…”. 

Frequent engagement with social media leads to Gen Z tending to adopt a more informal language style in the workplace. And sometimes they don’t use words at all, answering messages with emojis. While they often prefer text over voice messaging, using social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat means that many of Gen Z enjoy visual communication. This allows them to personalise written messages, adding layers of expression to text-based communication, enabling nuance in conveying complex feelings concisely. 

Online platforms and global connectivity promote inclusivity and sensitivity to diverse perspectives. Gen Z’s adeptness with these tools frequently results in a workplace communication style that places a premium on valuing and integrating diversity. Min explains: 'Santosh and Dani straight away pointed out some commonly used words by our team that others might have considered exclusive or even offensive.'

The impact of Gen Z’s communication style at work

‘Some of our team thought Dani and Santosh were really rude, too direct or not serious enough and would complain about their business communication being unprofessional’, reports Min. ‘Not everyone in the team was comfortable with the change of pace in communication and it took time for them to understand certain acronyms and slang. It was even harder for some of the other teams in the region, especially those whose English levels were lower. And Santosh and Dani had some common Gen Z soft skills gaps when they joined, particularly in business writing and presentation skills. At times, all of this together caused misunderstandings and delays, which impacted the roll-out of our new learning initiatives.’ 

Despite the initial challenges, the communication style of the two new Gen Z team members presented unique opportunities for Min’s team. 

‘I noticed our team’s communication gradually changing’, highlights Min. ‘Their writing became more concise and to the point, more efficient than previously. They began to use more gender-neutral language, contributing to a more inclusive environment. And when the tone of our team members’ written communication started to become less formal, our overseas colleagues told me that they seemed more approachable. But the biggest impact was on our team culture: once we learned to balance more traditional communication and Dani and Santosh’s relaxed style, it fostered camaraderie and created a sense of closeness the team hadn’t experienced before. 

Fostering inter-generational communication

To overcome challenges and make the most of the opportunities of having Santosh and Dani in her team, Min took a proactive approach. ‘We took a training course on inter-generational working and openly shared our communication preferences and expectations with each other and how we felt about the differences. We made agreements about which communication methods we’d use for various tasks and how formal we expected people to be in specific situations.’

What actions can you take to foster better understanding of your Gen Z colleagues’ workplace language and communication styles and cultivate inter-generational collaboration? 

  • Initiate open communication channels and inclusive language practices: Foster an environment where team members of all generations feel comfortable expressing their communication preferences and seeking clarification.
  • Encourage in-person or synchronous online activities: Balance asynchronous written communication with video calls, group discussions and team activities to foster interaction, gain understanding and build relationships. 
  • Establish clear communication norms: Create clear guidelines for when a formal style is expected, but also flexible templates that would work best for concise, informal communication. 
  • Develop a living language guide: Develop a collaborative guide that outlines common terms, acronyms, and slang used by different generations and encourage all team members to regularly update it. 
  • Implement formal and informal learning initiatives: Conduct training focusing on the communication styles of different generations, creating awareness and understanding. Implement soft skills training for Gen Z employees to upskill them in key areas needed for success. Pair up individuals from different age groups in mentorship programmes, promoting mutual understanding and knowledge exchange. Provide resources team members can refer to in the flow of work to increase understanding. 
  • Foster a culture of learning: Emphasise a continuous learning culture where team members are encouraged to understand and adapt to evolving communication styles, regardless of age. Enliven your organisation’s learning with Gen Z skills and knowledge and enhance your learning ecosystem so that all generations benefit.

The future of workplace communication is here

Min’s team’s journey demonstrates that there is a lot we can learn from Gen Z language when we are open to change and new perspectives. And it doesn’t have to mean losing sight of professionalism. As Gen Z will soon make up more than a quarter of the global workforce by 2030, their communication style will impact the future of workplace communication. 

How prepared is your organisation for this shift?  

British Council has over 80 years’ experience of partnering with organisations and individuals in over 200 countries. Our holistic, research-driven approach to learning and assessment and forward-thinking industry leading solutions empower growth and engage teams, positively impacting individuals and organisations.  

Partner with us to develop strong communication skills in your multigenerational workforce. Download our Professional Skills brochure or book a free consultation.