Exploring the workplace communication preferences of Millennials.

Author:Hall, Ashley


The workforce today consists of members of the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials (Gesell, 2010). As a result of such age diversity, it is likely that employees will have varying approaches to work, as well as differing workplace behaviors, which may result in conflict. Gesell (2010) contends that the current generational mix makes leadership today more complex, and that because of their stark differences when compared to other generations, using traditional approaches of leadership are not successful. Similarly, Ferri-Reed (2014b) suggested that employers need to transition "from a 'boomer-centric' workplace to a 'millennial-centric' workplace" (p. 13). Hershatter and Epstein (2010) noted that college educated Millennials started entering the workforce in 2004 and will continue until approximately 2022. Millennials as a whole are considered the best educated generation to enter the workforce (Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak, 2000). Given the rise of Millennials in the workforce, managers must consider how to effectively communicate with these employees by recognizing the communication preferences of Millennials.

When a group of Millennials were asked what they look for in a full-time job, many mentioned elements such as "good communication between coworkers and managers," "respectful and professional work environment," "a good support system for guidance," and "good management." It is evident from comments such as these that the manager plays a large role in shaping the work environment and partially impacts whether an employee is satisfied with the job. Other desires expressed include "fair and equal treatment of all employees" and a "good culture in the workplace." In the opinions of those surveyed, bosses should also be "understanding," "easy to work for," "motivational," and "friendly and honest." The focus on boss-related traits when asked for elements desired in a full-time job emphasizes the importance of the manager's role within the organization. These responses and others will be further discussed in the results section of the paper. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of the workplace communication preferences of Millennials.


According to Madlock (2008), the communication competence of a supervisor is the best predictor of the level of job satisfaction experienced by an employee. Cahill and Sedrak (2012) found that many leaders "have made generational issues a low priority" (p. 4) and that sometimes organizations deliberately avoided focusing on generational tensions that existed in the workplace. Since "early life experiences contribute to generational differences that are deeply imprinted in individuals' beliefs, values, preferences, and behaviors and are not easily changed" (Cahill & Sedrack, 2012, p. 4) it is important that managers recognize different generational preferences in order to effectively lead a multi-generational workforce. Alessandra (1995) set forth the idea of "the Platinum Rule." Whereas the Golden Rule focuses on treating others the way you want to be treated, the Platinum Rule suggests, "Do unto others the way they want to be done unto" (p. 23). As it relates to communication, this means communicating with others the way they want to be communicated with, or focusing more on the receiver's perspective, as opposed to the sender's. Alessandra (1995) suggested that by communicating with others the way they want to be communicated with, an "instant rapport" can be established "by learning how to do what they want done" (p. 23).

Previous research has found that Millennials desire "frequent, positive, and open communication in the workplace" (Chou, 2012, p. 75) and readily share information with others as well (Chou, 2012; see also Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008; Hill, 2002; Howe & Strauss, 2007; Marston, 2007; Martin, 2005; Tapscott, 1998; Zemke et al., 2000). According to Cahill and Sedrack (2012), Millennials want open communication and for their opinions and ideas to be heard. Ferri-Reed (2010) calls for managerial coaching that balances praise with constructive criticism. Corrective feedback is necessary, but can cause Millennials who are accustomed to receiving praise to become defensive. Instead, she suggests providing specific, objective examples of what needs to be modified while helping the Millennials "understand that changing their unproductive behaviors will help to increase their success" (Ferri-Reed, 2010, p. 33). In addition, Ferri-Reed (2012) identified three things that leaders can do to help Millennials succeed in the workplace: "give them the big picture, help them find the 'me' in team, and mentor them on career-building behaviors" (p. 18). Given Millennials' desire to understand how their work fits into the big picture of the company's goals and their expectation to be heard, it is important to provide a big picture view for these employees. In addition, many Millennials need help learning the norms of the organization, as well as social expectations and acceptable behaviors in the workplace (Ferri-Reed, 2012).

Ferri-Reed (2014a) noted that Millennials often need detailed directions and desire open communication. Accordingly, Ferri-Reed (2014a) suggested that "Millennials respond best when communication is direct, honest, and without hidden agendas. The quickest way to lose the loyalty of millennials is to withhold information or restrict it to a select few individuals" (p. 16). Behrens (2009) highlighted the fact that due to technology, Millennials are well-connected and aware of many job opportunities that exist. As such, he noted that "The employer who fails to challenge the new [Millennial] employee and provide day-to-day mentoring and encouragement may find the Millennial among the dear departed" (p. 20). Accordingly, it is important that managers are aware of the type of communication Millennials desire and responsive to these needs as a way to stifle turnover due to a lack of communication.

When communicating with Millennials, the manager should also provide positive feedback that is both sincere and direct. It is important to recognize the accomplishments of these younger employees, and doing so could have an impact on their level of loyalty to the company, as well as their commitment to a career path (Ferri-Reed, 2014a). Providing frequent feedback was also suggested, as Millennials want to be told where they stand and how they can improve (Ferri-Reed, 2014b). Ferri-Reed (2014b) suggested that companies "encourage open communication," "involve workers in decisions and change efforts," and "provide continual feedback for performance improvement" (p. 13).

Jablin (1987) posited that an employee's level of job satisfaction is higher when the supervisor is open in...

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