As Millennials continue to enter the workforce and begin to assume management roles, Baby Boomers are retiring. These generational shifts demand internal communication professionals make major adjustments in how they communicate.
Millennials are expected to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025 (Deloitte, 2014), and according to internal communicators I interviewed, they have different communication expectations.
My recent study of this topic was published in the latest edition of Public Relations Journal and is titled “Emerging Issues in Internal Communications: Generational Shifts, Internal Social Media & Engagement.”
I interviewed 32 internal communicators working in 26 companies and organizations. The participants represented 11 states and the District of Columbia. Two companies and organizations in the study have been featured on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and as an indication of their standing, seven companies in the study have been featured among the Fortune 500 and three among the Global 500.
No more long emails
One of the key findings was Millennials’ dislike for long emails as a form of internal communication. As one of the participants said:
“Mass emailing of push communications, they won’t stand for it. They’ll just delete it and ignore it. So it’s got to be moved to mobile, it’s got to be moved to short messaging, as opposed to long emails” (p. 10).
Rise of Internal Social Media
One of the rising communication channels is internal social media platforms that allow employees to collaborate, share content and comments. Some of the popular platforms in use by the employers in this study included SharePoint, Yammer, Jive and Chatter.
Some employers took a hands-off approach to these new communication channels allowing for user-generated content and only monitored the content for insights into employee concerns, while others would take a more proactive approach by joining the conversation with “a voice from the subject matter experts or somebody else that is a champion for it” (p. 11).
Focus on Core Values
While some the internal communicators pointed out that Millennials have a reputation for being less loyal to their employers, some were addressing this issue by promoting their core values as a means to increase employee engagement and commitment. As one participant said,
“With these new generations coming into the workforce, more than ever they’re looking for those values. That’s important to them. What does this company stand for, what does it mean? So we’re seeing companies put a lot more time, effort and resources into communicating and living their values and that is true in new employee orientation from the beginning… it’s true in recruiting as they try to find people who match their values, in new employee orientation and then throughout that life cycle” (p. 12).
Based on the accounts of the internal communicators in this study, human resources executives are responsible for introducing and communicating the company/organization’s core values in employee recruitment campaigns and new employee orientation, and public relations executives reinforce those core values through routine communication. Several executives also reported that their employers integrate their values into the annual awards program and recognize employees who exemplify those values.
Measuring Employee Engagement
Finally, the internal communication executives discussed ways to measure employee engagement. Several executives reported that their companies and organizations routinely conduct surveys related to internal communication and culture. A manager of employee programs for human resources described the specific questions they use:
“We want to know if people are proud to say that they work for the company, are they extremely satisfied working for us, would they recommend us as a great place to work, are they willing to give extra efforts to help the company meet its goals… related to engagement is their intent to stay…We ask them, do you think about looking for a new job outside of the family of businesses here, if you were offered a comparable position with similar pay and benefits somewhere else, would you go or would you stay?” (p. 13)
Other participants reported using similar questions such as familiarity with business priorities and how employees rate the organization on its core values. In addition, they look for signs of improvement compared to previous years’ responses. Another key metric that internal communicators are examining is turnover, specifically regrettable attrition, which involves tracking the loss of the most valued employees.
All of these trends indicate a move to a more strategic role for internal communication and more dialogue with employees rather than one-way communication.
Deloitte. (2014). Big demands and high expectations: The Deloitte Millennial survey. Retrieved from:www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-dttl-2014-millennial-survey-report.pdf
Dr. Marlene S. Neill is an assistant professor at Baylor University. She previously worked for 12 years in government and nonprofit public relations. Her research focuses on PR management, integrated communication, and ethics. Follow her on Twitter @neillpr.