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Getting the attention of the workforce has never been more challenging — or interesting. The relatively recent birth of the digital age has changed the employment landscape considerably. At the same time, the corresponding proliferation of technology and resulting connectivity has had a profound effect on workers’ expectations and employee communications.
Baby Boomers, who currently dominate the senior ranks in many organizations, are looking for effective ways to connect with their new-generation employees and recruits. What they are discovering is that the line between the generations is defined by more than a seemingly innate comfort with technology and gadgetry, and that the key to effective communication extends beyond the development of funky Web sites or the delivery of electronic media.
As each new group of workers enters the workforce, some sort of generational shift takes place. Like the cohorts that preceded them, new-generation employees—often referred to as Millennials or the Internet Generation (iGen)—are, in a word, different. They are entering the workforce with unique identities, values, characteristics, behaviors, and skills based largely on their experiences and life-defining events. Consistent with their generational identity, they are motivated by different factors and rewards (real and intrinsic) than their Baby Boomer bosses—and enter the employment relationship with an entirely different set of needs and expectations.
Millennials have a strong self-image. They feel confident in their ability to make an immediate contribution and have no intention of falling into the same bureaucratic and autocratic systems that have defined North American business for the better part of a century. These employees want meaningful employment and an immediate say in how the employment relationship will unfold.
And why not? Millennials are generally better equipped than their superiors to manage technology in an increasingly technology-driven world. They're the first generation to grow up in a near cashless society where transactions are primarily electronic. They do and learn online; they have a vast amount of information at their fingertips; they have a can-get-it-now attitude as a result. Paper is definitely passé.
Peer-to-peer communication begins to define Millennials' needs and expectations. They're loyal not to a company or even a supervisor, but to each other. They don’t look to authority figures for credible information, but rather vet it through community discussions in social forums such as Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, and their favorite blogs. It’s a matter of peer approval rather than peer pressure.
Organizations intent on attracting and retaining these new-generation employees must be prepared to explore these differences, to better understand what makes the new generation tick, and to adapt existing (often long-standing) systems. And they need to do so despite the fact that the change will be difficult for some.
To understand the potential challenges associated with integrating Millennials smoothly into the workforce, first consider the landscape—and the likely generation cross-section of employees seeking to influence the workplace:
Each cohort is a product of its time and experience. Events and people of these times shape employees' thoughts, perceptions, values, beliefs, and behaviors. This means they have distinct differences in how they respond to authority, commit to their organizations, interact with each other, manage work and employees, and learn.
Obviously, these important differences will influence the success of employee communications, especially when you note how and where employees access their information. This has never been more true than when you consider the Millennials.
Successful employers will recognize the need to tailor communication practices and tools to engage this new generation, particularly when they consider that effective communication relies on the interplay of three key variables. In descending order of importance, they are:
As the war for talent rages on, there is little doubt that Millennials will continue to exert their influence in the workplace and employers will struggle to find balance between traditional business practices and more progressive ones. Ultimately, employers must provide management structures and communication systems that are functional and effective for the existing ranks of workers, but that address the growing demand for technology-driven, interactive, peer-based, and personalized communications that appeal to new-generation employees and recruits.
If we accept the premise that employees are the functional core of a company, employee engagement remains a key to operational success. Business leaders intent on winning the employment game have little choice but to invest the time and effort required to understand and respond to employees' communication needs — even if those needs challenge the leaders' own generational identities and sensibilities.
Denise Foster is a principal and the practice leader of the Employee Communication department in the Seattle office of Milliman. With 17 years of experience in member communications, her specific areas of expertise include healthcare, retirement, and member research. She has advised organizations in both the public and private sector, many with a significant union presence.
Paul Harrietha is a principal and communications practice leader with Eckler Ltd., Milliman's associated firm in Canada and the Caribbean. He specializes in change management, member engagement, and the communication of total reward programs. Over the past 20 years, Paul has designed and implemented strategic communication programs for a range of clients in both the private and public sectors.
Mind the gap: Engaging a new generation of employees
Getting the attention of the workforce has never been more challenging — or interesting. The relatively recent birth of the digital age has changed the employment landscape considerably. At the same time, the corresponding proliferation of technology and resulting connectivity has had