The American workforce is getting younger. Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce in 2016, making up more than 35% of working adults, according to Pew Research Center. By 2030 they'll represent an even greater number, and Gen Z or Zennials will have joined them in the working world.
The biggest difference between younger employees and those around retirement age is the way they interact, both with each other and the customer or client. How do younger employees communicate with end-user groups, and is this a good or bad thing for brands?
Millennial and Zennial communication
Millennials and members of Gen Z communicate differently than generations that came before them. How has communication changed so much in just the last few decades?
“Besides their obvious preference for texting rather than talking, Millennials and Gen Z have a much more informal approach to communication, even in the workplace,” says Ashira Prossack, a Millennial and Gen Z engagement expert.
It’s no secret: Millennials don't like making phone calls. While they are useful for opening up a dialog, many of the same things can be achieved through text messages or emails, which are the Millennial's preferred form of communication. In fact, 68% of Millennials use text messaging more than any other form of communication. The call function has become the 5th most used app, behind games, music, social media and browsing the Internet.
Texting and email serve multiple purposes, but they're popular for their ability to send out mass messages. They bring everyone together with a couple of taps of the screen instead of having to place phone calls to each person. However, just because they prefer texting doesn’t mean Millennial employees are less engaged.
“Millennials’ preference for texts does not mean that they are unable to engage emotionally,” says Elisabeth Kelan, Professor of Leadership and Organization, Essex Business School, University of Essex, UK. “Rather, the contrast. Millennials are often able to read between the lines and respond accordingly.”
Younger workers simply tend to prefer more informal communication and try to make their workplaces less formal as well.
“They like to have actual conversations rather than just making passive small talk,” Prossack says. “They also like to keep the atmosphere casual, rather than formal."
Millennials can often get more done with water cooler discourse than they can with formal meetings. While post-boomers aren't the only workers in the office, they do make up the majority of the workforce, so their communication styles are beginning to affect major change.
This can be challenging in multigenerational offices. Younger generations may clash with Baby Boomers, since many older individuals are foregoing retirement in favor of continuing to work and support themselves. In these situations, it's up to management to find a common middle ground where old and young can come together and work successfully together.
Companies are seeking younger workers
Tech companies have admitted using age-targeted employment ads to prevent older workers from seeing advertisements for open positions in their field. While discriminating against someone because of their age is illegal, companies like Facebook and Google claim they've done nothing wrong. They say age-targeted ads are simply part of a larger campaign designed to find workers of all ages.
Whether that is true or not is anyone's guess, but the numbers don't lie. Gen Xers are 33% less likely to find a job in a tech field, and Baby Boomers are hired 60% less, while Millennials have a 50% higher chance of landing a role in the same industry.
Soft skills are changing
One thing Millennials are known for in professional circles is their lack of soft skills like communication. Older generations are prone to think that Millennials don't know how to communicate because they prefer to use text rather than call, but this couldn't be further from the truth.
Millennials can communicate well, but it's not looked at positively because those soft skills are changing. Things like problem-solving and time management still have their place, but other soft skills are emerging that Millennials excel at, like stress management and emotional intelligence, according to experts.
It's that emotional intelligence that really sets Millennials apart from older generations and their soft skills, especially in customer-facing positions where communication and service are paramount. Millennials are more likely to go out of their way to be empathetic in all their interactions. They treat their customers like human beings and try to put themselves in their shoes rather than treating them like an account number at best, or aggravation at worst.
"Younger generations tend to be more informal when they are communicating. I foresee this crossover coming into dealing with clients. Younger generations are also more personal. So, it’s not, 'Ms. Smith, we see it has been one year since you purchased an item from our site. We hope you have been happy with your item.' It’s, 'Jane, We need to talk. We miss you. What can we do to win you back? Here’s 10% off your next order to get you started'," says Jill Jacinto, Millennial career expert.
That is what sets Millennial communication apart -- they inherently possess the skills employers are looking for, according to PhoneBurner, like empathy, curiosity and integrity, without needing any additional training or instruction. They simply are more likely to treat anyone they talk to like they would like to be treated. It sounds simple, but it's surprisingly effective and may explain why many customer-facing companies are seeking empathetic Millennials rather than older generations.
Changing communication for the future
“Employers will have to adapt to the communication preferences of Millennials to provide a workplace where Millennials can thrive,” says Kelan. “More importantly, many customers are Millennials, too, and will also appreciate those forms of communication.”
By 2020, the post-boomer generation -- Gen X, Millennials, and Zennials -- will make up the majority of the workforce. Change isn't just coming, it's inevitable -- but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Millennials may prefer to communicate by text and email, but they have all but perfected the ability to be empathetic through these mediums.
“As customer service transitions from phone based to chat based, Gen Z and Millennials are primed and ready for that change, since communicating by text or other messaging platforms is their normal,” Prossack points out.
It's that empathy that forms the foundation for their communication strategies -- treating end-user groups like human beings instead of account numbers, which improves customer experience and encourages repeat business.