Perhaps no generation gap has ever been wider than the one between baby boomers and millennials. In media, the younger generation is often accused of being lazy or disconnected from reality, always attached to their phones instead of experiencing the world around them. This is an overgeneralization, and it would be inaccurate to write off an entire group of people so flippantly.
Still, the fact remains that the world in which millennials were brought up is very different from the one that baby boomers are used to. Because of this, it can be difficult for an older person to communicate with the younger generation, particularly in a professional setting. Here are a few tips for effective communication with millennials:
- Provide Continual Feedback. Millennials are used to constant, instant communication. This doesn’t just mean chatting with friends. It means that, when they’re performing a task, they expect to be able to find out, relatively quickly, whether or not what they’re doing is correct, and how they can improve. Many companies have an approach of simply giving basic instructions, then leaving their employees to their own devices. However, most millennials are much more productive when they can talk to their superiors regularly, either in person or via e-mail, to discuss what they’re doing and how they should proceed going forward.
- Integrate Technology. To say, “millennials only like things that are new,” or “the only thing young people understand or care about is the latest gadget” is a generalization and largely inaccurate. What is true is that the younger generation tends to understand technology better than the older one, and is more equipped to integrate it into their daily lives, particularly when it comes to communication. For example, say you have a baby boomer who’s done the same job for decades. Then one day, you give them a tablet and tell them to use a specific program to communicate with clients, coworkers, and managers in the performance of their daily tasks. It might take some time to get used to, slowing down productivity in the process. On the other hand, if you do the same thing for a millennial, their communications will likely become more efficient. They’ll end up doing their job better and increase their productivity. The whole purpose of new technology is to make our lives and jobs easier and more productive. If you have millennial workers that can help you do that, then it’s worth the investment.
- Take an Interest in their Personal Lives. The old way was that, whatever’s going on in your life outside of work, you leave it at the door when you come in every morning. Ignore it for eight hours and don’t let it affect your performance. Unfortunately, that way doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. A working parent may need an afternoon off to take their child to the dentist. A family illness may distract an employee from their job and be detrimental to their productivity. On the other side of things, someone’s hobby that they work on in their spare time may make them better suited to a particular task within the company. Who we are has an impact on what we do, and it’s important to take that into consideration. By getting to know what millennial employees’ lives are like outside of work, it’s easier to understand their performance and work with them to optimize it.
In the end, communication with millennials is just like any other group of people. Your differing backgrounds may make it difficult at first, but with a little time and effort on both sides, you may discover that you’re not so different after all—and that the ways in which you are different can be beneficial to your company, rather than detrimental.