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CASE STUDY: COMMUNICATING WITH THE MILLENNIALS

CASE STUDY: COMMUNICATING WITH THE MILLENNIALS The Millennials (including Generation Y) have arrived in the workplace, and they are bringing new ways to communicate. Surveys report that cell phones (particularly smartphones) have become the medium of choice among Millennials. Al- most all (97%) Millennials in the United States with cell phones send text messages, 84 percent access the internet, and 73 percent send or receive email using their cell phones. In contrast, among cell phone owners over 50 years old, less than two-thirds send text messages, only about one-third ac- cess the internet, and only about one- third send or receive emails using their phones. Millennial communication also relies much more on so- cial media. Almost 90 percent of Millennials regularly visit Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites, whereas only about half of Americans over 50 years old visit these sites. Thirty percent of Millennials use Twitter, compared to less than 10 percent of people over 50 years old. These statistics send a clear message: Millennials prefer different communication channels (cell phones, social media) and different communication styles (i.e. short, informalmes- sages) than those dictated by most organizations. These gaps between corporate and personal communication preferences not only produce dysfunctional conflict and frustration; they also undermine the company’s ability to attract future talent. “[Millennials] will judge companies on the social media prac- tices and policies, which includes how companies utilize so- cial media in their operations, their digital awareness, and any restrictions imposed on employees’ access and usage of social media during work time,” warns Barry Thomas, direc- tor of Cook Medical Asia-Pacific. Most companies aren’t hearing the message. They con- tinue to block social networking, text messaging, and other channels preferred by Millennials. Some firms argue these practices are workplace intrusions that undermine productiv- ity. Others justify blocking communication through these channels due to security risks. Whether these arguments are valid remains uncertain, a growing chorus of experts are advising that companies need to adapt to the communication styles of Millennials rather than reject them outright. Furthermore, companies need to make better use of the communication skills that Millennials bring to the workplace. “A new employee who comes in with the ability to man- age a network of 1,000 Facebook friends every day. That’s a fabulous skill in, let’s say, a sales organization,” says Ross Smith, Director of Test at Microsoft, Inc. The problem he suggests, is that many companies don’t know how to leverage that communication potential. “It’s likely that the organiza- tion has no idea, particularly because the organization is gen- erally going to be run by boomer, Gen X managers, who aren’t savvy Facebook users. But the Gen Y or millennial em- ployee coming in certainly knows how to do that.” Smith believes the solution is to give Millennials more freedom to try out new communication practices. “If the se- nior leaders or the organization can develop a culture of high trust, then the individual’s going to be free to experiment and suggest new things and try new ways of doing things and uncover how Facebook skills map to a sales organization.” St. Luke’s Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, is a case in point. Hospital leaders discovered that the younger medical staff were texting each other with medical orders and patient updates. Texting is one of the preferred communication methods among these physicians and nurses, and it is a much more efficient than the hospital’s formal practice of phoning and paging people. But texting through public networks lacks security (it could be hacked by outsiders) and violates industry regulations. Another hospital would have banned the practice without further thought, but St. Luke’s is instead contracted with an IT company to set up a secure texting system for the hospital. “I’ve heard [officials of] other organizations say, ‘We can’t do that,’” says Jennifer Mensik, St. Luke’s administrator of nursing and patient care services. “But when people are try- ing to do the best they can for the patient, they’re going to try to find a workaround. That should be an alert to some of the older generation that this is a good idea. Let’s not stop it. Let’s figure out how we can do it legally and correctly.” Although companies need to adapt to Millennialcommu- nication preferences, the reverse is also true. Millennials need to spruce up their skills using older technologies. For in- stance, advertising sales at Metro Guide Publishing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, were down, and publisher Patty Baxter noticed that the office lacked the buzz of sales calls. The problem, she realized, was that most of Metro Guide’s new generation of employees were emailing clients rather than selling advertis- ing by telephone. Baxter explains that email doesn’t work in business deals, where personal rapport and quick understanding of the cli- ent’s needs are critical. “You’re not selling if you’re just asking a question and getting an answer back,” she says. Baxter also suggests that phone calls tend to result in fewer communica- tion errors, citing a recent incident in which a sales employee misinterpreted a client’s email about a possible advertising sale. Metro Guide sales staff now receive on-the-job coaching with phone-use consultant Mary Jane Copps, who observes that Millennial employees (as well as others) often suffer from phone phobia. “It’s a lack of confidence that they’ll be able to say the right words in the right order in the right amount of time,” she explains. Discussion Questions 1. Take a poll of your class (at least, the Gen-X and Gen-Y members). At school or work, how many regularly (e.g., daily or every few days) send or receive information (not entertainment) using (a) e-mail, (b) instant messages or Twitter tweets, (c) cell phone text messages, (d) reading/ writing blogs, (e) visiting/authoring social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Instagram), (f) watching/creating online videos (e.g., YouTube)? 2. Even within this generation, there are different prefer- ences for communication media. After conducting the poll, ask students who don’t regularly use one or more of these methods why they don’t like that particular com- munication medium. Ask those who very often use these sources to give their point of view. 3. Companies have been slow and reluctant to adopt social media channels, cell phone text messaging, and similar forms of communication. If you were a senior manager, how would you introduce these communication technol- ogies in the workplace to share information and knowl- edge more effectively?]]>

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