Communication Aging and Organizational Communication
by
Robert McCann
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0236

Introduction

Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over sixty years will double from about 11 percent to 22 percent, with the number of people aged 60 years and above expected to reach two billion by 2050. Said differently, it is projected that approximately one in five people around the world will be over 60 years old by the middle of the 21st century. For workers of all ages, it is safe to assume that tomorrow’s workplace will continue to be a focal point for intergenerational interaction. Communication, whether mediated, interpersonal, or other, will remain at the heart of how we relate to and interact with those of different ages. The study of aging as it intersects with organizational communication is addressed in a variety of literatures including management, marketing, law, policy, health, media, contact, culture, social psychology, stereotypes, gerontology, and communication. The more specific field of intergenerational communication, particularly as seen from an intergroup perspective, is also characterized by a rich literature. An intergroup perspective on social interaction in organizations is highlighted (though not exclusively) throughout this bibliography as it reflects a core research paradigm in the study of communication between members of different age groups. Several themes emerge in the age and communication literature in organizations, many of which focus on problematic interaction between those of different ages in organizations. For example, ageist stereotypes are prevalent in organizations, as are behavioral outcomes such as ageist language and age discrimination. The growth of age diversity awareness and interventions in organizations can carry with it both communication problems and opportunities. For example, greater age diversity may hasten communication difficulties and conflict in companies, just as it could lead to more diverse team decisions, better use of worker talent, smoother intraorganizational communication, and a greater ability to understand the needs of customers of varied ages. Technology also plays a role in distancing people of different ages at work, and the lack of opportunity for appropriate technology training for older workers stands out as a key reminder of age-biased decisions in organizations. Still, age-tailored interventions such as training in new technology, intergenerational team formation, and cross-generational mentoring represent exciting age diversity interventions that are garnering increasing research and industry attention.

General Overviews

The study of the relationship between aging and communication in organizational settings is strongly interdisciplinary. Communication scholars in areas such as intergenerational, intergroup, organizational, and health communication have written on the topic, as have those from a range of other disciplines (including business, medical, and gerontology). Still, research dedicated to age and communication in the workplace remains relatively sparse, so scholars must turn to complementary literatures for insight and guidance. For example, Harwood 2007 and Williams and Nussbaum 2001 focus exclusively on communication perspectives of intergenerational interaction and aging, while edited volumes such as Giles 2012 and Harwood, et al. 2018 place their primary emphasis on intergroup dynamics (though they do include thorough chapters on intergroup dynamics and aging). McCann 2012 stands out as scholarship dedicated to the topic of communication and aging in the workplace setting, as do the chapters McCann and Giles 2002; McCann 2016 (cited under Age Diversity Solutions, Communication, and the Older Worker); and McCann 2017. Particular attention is paid to the role of communication with older workers in these three works. At the other end of the age spectrum, considerable scholarship exists regarding how various generations (such as Millennials) interact in organizations. A well-cited book, Howe and Strauss 2000, provides a good starting point for understanding differences between the United States’ Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer generations. Numerous articles have since followed which extend this generational line of research into the sphere of communication. The business literature also offers considerable insight into the topic of aging at work. Edited handbooks like Borman and Hedge 2012 and Field, et al. 2013 provide comprehensive overviews of the aging workforce from varied perspectives.

  • Borman, Walter C., and Jerry W. Hedge, eds. 2012. The Oxford handbook of work and aging. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This multidisciplinary edited volume presents individual, organizational, societal, and international perspectives on the topic of work and aging. The volume highlights the current state of literature at the time of its writing, and sets forth a roadmap for future research and application. The authors cover six core themes: demography, theoretical and methodological considerations, the older worker, organizational strategies for an aging workforce, individual and organizational perspectives on work and retirement, and societal perspectives with an aging workforce.

  • Field, John, Ronald J. Burke, and Cary L. Cooper, eds. 2013. The SAGE handbook of aging, work, and society. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This handbook illuminates key issues and challenges surrounding the aging workforce. Book topics include managing an aging workforce, living in an aging society, and developing public policy around aging. Chapter 14 in this handbook is especially relevant to communication scholars as its authors (Richard A. Posthuma and Laura Guerrero) examine age stereotypes in the workplace. Other pertinent chapters analyze older person training and learning challenges and strategies.

  • Giles, Howard, ed. 2012. The handbook of intergroup communication. New York: Routledge.

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    The intergroup perspective on communication integrates many traditional conceptual boundaries in communication, including the organizational. This handbook brings together research, theory and application of intergroup situations, and explores the communication aspect of groups. The handbook will appeal to scholars and graduate students interested in a cross-disciplinary approach to intergroup study, as well as the many contexts (such as ageism) in which intergroup communication takes place.

  • Harwood, Jake. 2007. Understanding communication and aging: Developing knowledge and awareness. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This well-written book on communication and older adulthood provides a comprehensive framework for considering communication and aging in the context of biology, sociology, and psychology. The book examines core topics including health communication in old age, interpersonal and family relationships in old age, media portrayals of aging, and cultural variations in intergenerational communication, to name a few. Chapters on technology, identity, and stereotypes are all appropriate reading for the scholar interested in older worker communication dynamics.

  • Harwood, Jake, Jon F. Nussbaum, Cynthia Gallois, Herbert D. Pierson, and Jessica Gasiorek, eds. 2018. Language, communication, and intergroup relations: A celebration of the scholarship of Howard Giles. New York: Routledge.

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    An essential read for students and academics in the disciplines of communication, language, and social psychology, this edited volume celebrates the work of the pioneering communication and intergroup scholar Howard Giles. Drawing from the fields of communication, sociolinguistics, and social psychology, the volume is centered around the themes of language and culture, intergroup communication, intergenerational relations, interpersonal accommodation, and institutional accommodation.

  • Howe, Neil, and William Strauss. 2000. Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York: Vintage Books.

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    This popular mainstream book provides an in-depth examination of the Millennial generation in the United States. While the book is meant for a generalist audience, and also does not center on communication per se, it remains as one of the more heavily cited books in the cross-generational literature. The book paints a vivid picture of America’s Millennial generation, and includes some interesting demographic and health trends.

  • McCann, Robert M. 2012. Ageism at work: The role of communication in a changing workplace. Girona, Spain: Editorial Aresta.

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    This book stands out as the first scholarly book dedicated to the topic of aging and communication in the workplace. The book has chapters on age stereotypes in society and at work; the relationship between aging, communication, and well-being (including retirement); age discrimination (its meaning, its measurement, and the role of language in age discrimination cases); and global perceptions on aging and communication. The book is available in English, Spanish, and Catalan, and is written with a global audience in mind.

  • McCann, Robert M. 2017. Aging and organizational communication. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Communication and Culture, Organizational Communication, Intergroup Communication. 28 December 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.472E-mail Citation »

    This article is an important read for anyone interested in how workers of different generations communicate—and are communicated to. The article introduces readers to the topic of communication and age in organizations by highlighting scholarship in areas including Age Group Categories; age stereotypes (in society, in organizations, and across cultures); age discrimination; age diversity strategies in organizations; intergenerational contact; and the role of communication and technology in organizations.

  • McCann, Robert. M., and Howard Giles. 2002. Ageism in the workplace: A communication perspective. In Ageism: Stereotyping and prejudice against older persons. Edited by Todd D. Nelson, 163–199. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

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    This influential book chapter examines the devastating consequences of ageism for older persons in the workplace. The article draws upon the authors’ extensive content analyses of legal cases in the area of age discrimination, and categorizes the language used in such cases. The authors argue that a better understanding of workplace discrimination of older people will be attained through an examination of the ways older and younger persons communicate their attitudes, values, and expectations to each other.

  • Williams, Angie, and Jon F. Nussbaum. 2001. Intergenerational communication across the life span. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    One of the earlier books on this subject, this book is written by two influential intergenerational scholars, Angie Williams and Jon F. Nussbaum. The book frames intergenerational communication via several unique theoretical perspectives drawn from the communication discipline. The role of intergenerational contact is explored extensively, and literature on how people evaluate their intergenerational experiences across the lifespan is highlighted.

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