Millennial Communication: It's Not All About I.M.

It’s no surprise that Millennials love their technological gadgets—especially in the workplace. In fact, 93% of Millennials cited modern, up-to-date technology as one of the most important features of an office, and 78% said access to technology they like to use makes them more productive. We already know Millennials appreciate a tech-savvy workplace, but we’re less certain of how they prefer to communicate on the job. Perhaps surprisingly, email remains the top method of workplace communication for Millennials, with one-third preferring to ‘press send.’ Although the popular narrative is that Millennials always opt for the latest and greatest in tech, emerging mediums like Slack fell short of email in terms of preference—only 14% of Millennials indicated this and other instant messaging platforms as their #1 choice. But the results vary by the situation.

For instance, the more serious a situation, the more likely Millennials are to say they favor—GASP!—face-to-face communication. That’s right. Despite the common perception that these 20-somethings loathe direct eye contact, they clearly recognize how important it is for specific conversations. For quick questions, feedback, and status updates, Millennials prefer email; but for alerting one’s boss of a serious issue, suggesting a new approach or idea, discussing performance evaluation and compensation, or quitting a job, Millennials consistently chose face-to-face as their ideal method for communicating. And in general, 62% said they preferred in-person meetings with their manager, regardless of the context. Despite this, there is a significant gap between perception and reality. Only 11% of Millennials said they preferred texting or instant messaging to communicate at work, but 46% thought it was their generation’s preference.

There are a few reasons why face-to-face communication at work is attractive for Millennials. Oftentimes, in-person conversations are more efficient—we all know the horror of the never-ending email chain to answer one freakin’ question—and the ability to pick up on nonverbal cues means there is less likelihood of a misunderstanding. Ever tried dry humor with a work colleague via text, only to be summoned to a meeting with HR? Yeah, me neither… As one Millennial said, “face-to-face is an easier way to make sure we are on the same page. They raise their eyes, I raise mine; it gives me a better understanding of how they feel about what I’m saying.”

Despite the overall inclination for email and face-to-face communication, other forms of technology are still useful for Millennials in the workplace. Seventy-eight percent of Millennials said collaborating with colleagues on their mobile devices is important, and 90% found mobile messaging to be an effective way to communicate at work. Specifically, 80% of Millennials text with colleagues, 60% text with their boss, and 50% use a phone/tablet for meeting jottings.

Leaders of the workforce, take note! Instead of following the common and somewhat-incorrect myth that Millennials prefer to use technology to communicate in the workplace, let the context of the conversation drive which type of communication to use. Avoiding in-person conversations because of the misconception that Millennials can’t stand chatting could cause this generation of workers to feel disengaged and undervalued, and disengaged Millennials have no qualms about moving on to greener pastures.