I have a running list of Gen Y stereotypes that bother me, and this week I think the chart topper is saying millennials have short attention spans and demand instant results. There’s a notion that millennials are like gnats, and if only they would sit still and dive deep into research and projects the way boomers did at their age, the quality of their products would improve. That’s not exactly true.
Millennials are doing a lot of things at once. That’s the nature of work these days. And they’re able to do this, as are their Gen X and boomer peers, because of the technology that enables them to. Technology that includes 30-second, not five-minute, videos, immediate correspondence via text and IM, information at their fingerprints in the office, at home, at the grocery store. There’s a device, software and app for everything, making the workforce move fast and millennials even faster. These tools are great for productivity, but they’re also how leaders should communicate with employees.
I interviewed Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark, which develops videos to explain benefits and HR issues to clients’ employees — many of whom are digital natives — to discuss the best ways to communicate and engage with employees and how that affects how those employees are developed. Excerpts from our interview are below.
How do generations differ in how they want to be communicated with?
Kitani: There’s been quite a bit of mainstream press (Time, Forbes) about a supposed culture clash brewing in today’s multigenerational workplace. It’s the millennials versus the baby boomers, or in other words, everyone in their 20s and early 30s against those with decades of workplace experience.
We read about how the younger generation wants access to an abundance of technology to enable flexibility with work schedules and less formality (video conferencing replacing meetings, texts instead of long-form emails, etc.). A recent survey revealed that 56 percent of millennials wish their employers would communicate benefits in a way that is easier to understand. Boomers, on the other hand, seem to respect the more traditional office culture, which does include tools like email, but doesn’t extend to texting, instant messaging and constant posting on social media.
While we don’t see it as one group versus the other in most workplaces, a definite shift is emerging. Workplaces are increasingly adapting to engage a younger generation that demands connectivity — communication through social media, video, chat, text and all forms of digital connection available today. They have grown up with these tools as an everyday part of their life. Their mentors and leaders are learning these technologies and adapting to them, but at the same times are trying to respect that they are serving multiple generations and want to maintain the workplace culture they worked hard to establish.
What do you find millennials want?
Kitani: In a word, technology. CompTIA, a nonprofit organization for IT professionals, released a study revealing that 67 percent of millennials judge their employers by their technological knowledge. If a prospective employer doesn’t live up to millennials’ own technological prowess, these young candidates often won’t even consider working for them, according to CompTIA’s President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux.
We have found that as this generation moves up, they’re pushing their employers to meet them in two specific ways when it comes to technology. In fact, 44 percent prefer to receive information from their employer on their mobile devices. Millennials define the bring-your-own-device movement: They live on their smartphones and tablets and they want to be able to use these devices for business as well. CompTIA reports that almost two-thirds of millennials use their own devices at work, while only one-third of boomers do.
Secondly, and perhaps most critically, we’re seeing that millennials want technology to help deliver messages quickly and succinctly. Because they’re used to the shorthand of texts and Twitter, the younger generation sees brevity as an asset. We’re finding that they’re much more receptive to a five-minute training video than a 30-minute one.
How does all of this change the way their leaders should be communicating with them?
Kitani: Along with keeping communications generally short and sweet, workplace leaders will most successfully communicate with millennials through easy-to-access, engaging and digital messages delivered through tools like instant messaging, video and social media. Millennials grew up on these platforms, and many have been using them professionally for their entire career — a stark difference from baby boomers who entered the workforce when typewriters were mainstream.
To lead millennials effectively, an employer must empower them to consume information on their terms and own timeline, and that requires knowing which digital tools to use when. So, for example, consider looking at tweets or company status messages as things employees will read while waiting for a cup of coffee and longer form content like blog posts as things that will require more quiet time and attention.
Also, try communicating in formats in which they are most comfortable and willing to engage. In recent years, there has been an explosion of video, with about 6 billion hours watched per month. Video-related sites such as Skype or YouTube have played a key role in the daily lives of millennials, thus making video a popular choice for communicating and consuming all types of information.
With the average YouTube video being just over four minutes long, according to Sysomos, aim to prioritize information in video messages to employees. And the other benefit of videos today is that they can also easily be consumed on mobile devices, again providing employees a choice on when, where and how they want to consume the information. So, for example, using an intra-office social platform to share something like a video guide to the best running routes around the office would be a great way to pull millennials into the office culture, engage them in discussions around wellness and get them working (and playing) together.
Leaders who consider which media to use to deliver particular messages and target these messages carefully will collaborate well with this younger workforce.
Does this change in communication change how millennials expect to be trained/developed?
Kitani: Yes, absolutely. All of the above applies here — companies need to provide training on all devices, in very convenient, straightforward and to-the-point formats.
But there are unique opportunities for training and developing millennials as well. As Jenna Gourdreau writes in Forbes, it’s a highly educated, eager, knowledge-and-experience-hungry generation. They want to learn new things all the time and to always feel like they are growing. What better use for short video clips, social media-based groups and other digital discussion forums than to promote constant opportunities for engaging in higher-level tasks, building relationships with mentors and maximizing learning potential?
We’ve got an exciting group of talent joining the workforce; now the onus is on leaders to figure out how to best engage them. In many cases, the tools are there; it’s learning how to best apply them and when. Once leaders embrace this new paradigm, they can more effectively recruit millennials, exceed their expectations and help them thrive in the workplace world.