I’m sure you’ve seen it all — there is constant chatter online about multigenerational workforces, particularly about Millennials. Otherwise known as those pesky snake people.
When thinking about the millennial impact in internal communications, the question stands: how do we now talk to groups of people in the workforce who are so different, at the same time? How do we get the same message across to Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), Generation X (1960s to 1970s and early 1980s), Millennials (1980s to 1990s), AND the incoming group entering the workforce -- Generation Z (mid-1990s to early 2000s)?
Well, I’m convinced that communication in a multigenerational workforce is a lot simpler than we think. It doesn’t even mean signing up for a Snapchat account especially if Snapchat isn’t likely to be the right internal channel for your organization (even though the Snake People love it).
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a Millennial and I'm skeptical of the overuse and oversimplification of the term. Generational categories are helpful for many, but it’s important to remember that categorizing a whole generation of people and overlooking other factors in their lives which contribute to making them who they are, is something to rethink.
The Problem of Mystifying and Generalizing Employees in the Workforce
This isn’t the first time in history that we’ve had multigenerational workforces, but it is arguably the first time we’ve had workforces that care and invest in employee engagement and internal communication. So we need to get a better understanding of how to communicate with everyone— not just the old school way.
Millennials are people too and older generations since Socrates’ time have touted the dangers of the young, pigeonholing them into categories:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise”. - Socrates
Sound familiar? A guy from roughly 400 BC was saying exactly what the boomers are saying now about Millennials — young people use social media too much, they’re addicted. Young people are rude and expect everything to be handed to them, with little work put in for their rewards. Maybe this is a good reminder of how generations are more similar than dissimilar. (N.B. This quote attribution is widely argued, as Socrates lived a long time ago and we can’t exactly know for sure if it was him or Plato or someone else.)
This group isn’t a monolithic generation or unit; at one point, the Boomers were the ‘Millennials’, until they grew up and changed.
Every age group contains people who are different, people who are extroverts, introverts, over achievers and underachievers. From the Economist article on the subject, companies need to recognize that "human commonalities swamp both individual differences and generational variations".
In other words, individual differences are bigger than generational ones. Putting aside the variances between generations like preference towards texting or phone calls or Snapchat, workers essentially want the same things at work: purpose, meaning, respect, happiness.
Focus on Making Communication More Effective and Efficient
There's one main goal for internal communications that all communicators can agree on: communication in an organization must work for everyone.
In essence, we all have similar needs in how we receive our internal messages. It has to be easy, simple, and have a clear call to action that doesn't waste any time. It must be said that, yes, different generations will have a preference of medium but that also differs within the generational group too.
Communication has to feel authentic, both to the organization's brand identity and to the employees. Inauthenticity can be detected from a mile away and it must be said that trying too hard to communicate with the "young people" can backfire and seem insincere for your brand. As much as we love measurement, a lot of internal communications is based on gut feelings. You know your audience best, ask yourself what they want to see.
Make Internal Messaging Better for Employees
Here are a few tips everyone will appreciate once they've received their 15th email of the day -- no matter year they were born in:
- Messages must be clear and concise.
- Write the way you speak
- Read your writing aloud and in a more difficult looking font (For example.. Try Comic Sans. But please don't use it in your internal emails!)
- Have a clear call to action employees can quickly act on
From the book Writing The Works, author Kenneth Roman makes a point that internal communicators can't ignore for their emails: "to get action from busy people, your writing must cut to the heart of the matter. It must require a minimum time and effort on the reader’s part.”
Despite our quest for quick fixes and life hacks, there isn’t a secret to communication or a killer silver bullet here. Good communication has to be efficient and easy for those receiving the message.
Preparing for Generation Z to Enter the Workforce
The same questions will undoubtedly arise when Generation Z takes the workplace by storm. So let’s make a promise. Right here, right now. Strive to be critical of generalized statements about young and eager employees entering the workforce. There are far more similarities between us than there are differences.
Focus not on communicating to multiple generations, but with good communication that everyone can appreciate and feel empowered by.