Earlier this month, Staffing Industry Analysts released a blog entitled “Don’t Try to Email or Call Millennials: Connect with Them via Instant Communications,” and although rules-of-thumb can be helpful, we are going to have to veto this one. Maybe it’s better to not generalize this generation just yet. New communications bring new drawbacks and it’s vital to highlight these before you introduce them into your team.
Somebody is going to get hurt.
When millennials or Baby Boomers are waiting to begin a meeting or a conference call, they might not write a lengthy email response, but they most likely have time to review inbound communications. With instant messages, the reader leaves a guilty read receipt in their wake. However, that reader could be tied up for hours before they can respond properly to that infamous IM. The dialogue afterwards might go something like this:
John: Jennifer, did you finish the report yet? The client says they want it ready by 10:00am tomorrow.
Jennifer: Yes, I saw your message, and I wanted to explain to you that we are still working on the data analysis since the client was late to provide it, so the presentation won’t be ready for review by 3:00pm.
John: What? That is not acceptable! I saw you read my messages. I assumed you would tell me if we couldn’t meet the deadline for review!
Jennifer: I read it, but I was about to start a two-hour concept pitch to a client and I didn’t have time to write a proper reply. We will meet the deadline, but we have less time for internal review.
You get the idea. Avoid the “he-saw, she-saw” of the 21st century by setting up expectations for your company’s IM etiquette.
The more the messier.
Group communications through chat apps, SMS, and social-messaging platforms can become cumbersome as responding team members blast off comments, changing subjects prematurely. By the time you may have typed out a response, multiple team members have moved onto a different project, leaving your comments out-of-place and awkward to reintroduce. Who is to say who has the floor in a digital platform?
Work-life balance takes a backseat.
One notable trait millennials have heard time and time again is that they respect work and life balance. They want to work to live, not live to work. The author for SIA notes that “instant messaging and texting were the first things 35% of US consumers checked in the morning in 2016.” Therefore, it’s argued that these channels should be used for business over email and phone calls.
When checking phones every morning, many people opt to review their text messages first. Often, they would like to start their day by engaging with those from their personal lives. By incorporating business texts into one’s morning routine, the workday can suddenly become longer, and the stress begins earlier. Just because there is an easier way to reach someone, it does not mean that the person can or should be reached at any time of the day. Some people perceive emails as professional and view text messages as more personal. To ensure that boundaries are respected, your team needs to institute a communication escalation protocol early-on in the onboarding process.
‘Read’ does not mean ‘replying.’
Even though a millennial sees a message, they may not prioritize responding until they are settled in the office, officially on the clock. Worker burnout doesn’t only arise from long hours on-site, but also when the lines are blurred between work and life. That’s not good for an organization’s bottom line or productivity, because burnt out employees are slower, less motivated, and become sick more frequently.
Yes, instant communications occur in real-time, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically create the response you’re looking for. For instance, digital messages don’t convey tone as accurately as a phone call, which could lead to misunderstandings that can cost companies time and money.
Moderation is key.
Like everyone, millennials are trying to do it all, and they each have different styles and schedules. The key to communication is options. As technology evolves, that doesn’t mean we have to let go of methods like face-to-face meetings, calls and emails, but instead we can increase our communications arsenal to increase our efficiency. During an emergency, reaching out to someone on their personal phone can highlight urgency and increase the likelihood of a prompt response. For a casual request, email might still be your best bet.
Open a dialogue with your team to see what works best for them and create some ground rules.
When an issue arises, address it, and adjust. Embrace innovation without isolating the past.
Put your team first, before you write off meaningful ways to share information.