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The Technological Ups and Interpersonal Downs of the Millennial Generation

by Harwant Khush, PhD, Research Consultant, Tero International

Millennials, Generation Y, or Echo Boomers are some of the common names given to the American population born between the 1980s to the early-2000s. Never a day goes by when the public does not read about or listen to the work ethics, behavior and attitudes of Millennials that are different from generations preceding them. Demographers state that this cohort is the largest population group ever to enter the labor force at one time in the history of this country. Millennials were one-third of the total U.S. population in 2013 (Council of Economic Advisers Report to the President of the United States, October 2014), and it is estimated that by the year 2020, there will be nearly 86 million Millennials in the work place. That would be 40% of the total working population.

Being the first generation to enter the work force in the 21st century, Millennials are the most popular subjects to research and evaluate. Their lives are transformed by multiple factors, including social, economic and technological, that were unknown and almost nonexistent in the lives of Generation X (born: 1965-1979), and the Baby Boomers generation (born: 1946-1965). Consequently, this impact has generated a paradigm shift in the values, attitudes, social and interpersonal skills of Millennials at work.

Some of the hallmark qualities that have been observed of Millennials are technical adeptness, innovativeness and entrepreneurial skills. They are known to be confident, self-assured, decisive and extremely well informed. In a detailed and a comprehensive article, the Time Magazine (May 2013) described Millennials as those who "might be the new greatest generation." According to the Pew Research Survey (2012), Millennials should be recognized for being multitaskers, well informed, and civic-minded.

However, the research also indicates that they have been observed as being self-obsessed, self-promotional through social media, and are short on social skills. According to the Pew Research Survey, "They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills..."

It concluded that Millennials benefit but also suffer due to their hyper-connected lives. Discussing similar drawbacks, the Time magazine's article on the Millennials points out that, "jobs are going unfilled as a result, which hurts companies and employees."

These research results indicate that Millennials, like all employees would benefit from improving and enhancing verbal and written communication skills. They need to be observed as engaging in active listening, developing social and relationship skills, and becoming fully contributing team members to be successful and productive workers for contemporary organizations. These views are based on the assumption that people with strong interpersonal skills are more successful in personal and professional lives as compared to those who are lacking in these skills. What are those essential interpersonal skills?

Proficiency in Verbal Communication Skills

Research studies show that inadequate verbal communication skills have put Millennials at a great disadvantage in the present job market. A survey conducted by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College found that 60 percent of prospective employers said that millennial applicants lacked "communication and interpersonal skills." These applicants excelled in hard skills or STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), but their deficiency in soft skills (social skills, and ability to build relationships) held them back. According to Wendy Bedwell (University of South Florida), "employers have put business schools on notice that collaboration is the norm and they don't want to hire people who can't talk."

Declining verbal skills are usually attributed to the excessive prevalence of technology in modern day lives. Frequent use of text messages, short twitter posts, and abbreviations in daily language rather than face-to-face time to communicate has definitely added to the weakening of language skills. The vital importance of verbal communication skills is crucial to advance in careers, maintain and build relationships, and project a positive image at the work place.

Written Communication Skills

Job seekers need to communicate and learn to write in a clear and concise language. However, it has been observed by recruiters that writing skills are on decline. "For generation Y, everything is shorthand; you see it in the business world - existing employees or job candidates looking for work" according to Bram Lowsky (Executive Vice President of Right Management).

The casual, informal, and brief nature of tweets, emails and text messages have contributed to this problem. It is important to "know your audience" before writing emails and text messages. Not all CEOs, Professors and Executives are pleased when they receive short messages from young job seekers without subject line and addressed as, "you guys." Even though technology creates opportunity for more casual communications, it is still important to understand the different hierarchical levels, and to communicate appropriately with each level. Once hired, it is also vital for all employees to adhere to the existing norms, sensitivities and standards of the organization in written communications with other organizations.

Social Skills

To be proficient in the age of globalization and to work effectively in a competitive corporate environment, Millennials have a unique call to action. It is to sharpen their social and relationship building skills. "Relationship-building is the key," says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director of Robert Half International. "Young people need to be aware that they'll be working with not just one or two people - it's everyone."

To develop contacts and clientele in any business, success depends on building customer relations, observing protocol, and projecting professional etiquette. Research indicates Millennials may feel more comfortable in small and short talks and they have been observed to be less comfortable engaging in prolonged dialogues. Talking effectively in all communications is a necessary trait in building relationships and becoming charismatic. Adeptness in appropriate social and business etiquettes, protocol, and courteous behavior enhance the status and reputation of all. The millennial employees focus on these skills will positively affect them and the organizations they are affiliated with throughout their careers.

Active Listening

Active listening skills are a vital element of interpersonal and communication skills. The essential tasks of building consensus, collaboration, and rapport at the work place are evidenced through good listening skills. According to David Stauffer in the Harvard Business Review, "Not only are poor listening skills considered bad form, but the inability to listen can be costly to your business when you fail to hear and comprehend what your team members, boss, and customers have to say."

Active listening involves more than just "listening." It means understanding the speaker's verbal and non-verbal cues, establishing eye contact, paying undivided attention, and being empathetic rather than judgmental during communication. Active listening is an imperative technique to be successful. Proficiency in active listening facilitates in business negotiations, conflict resolutions, and avoiding misunderstandings in cross-cultural communication.

Effective Teams

Although Millennials are recognized and valued to be team players, their team skills can be challenged and challenging when they are collaborating and working with multigenerational teams. They hold the special task of needing to show tolerance to the values, norms and appreciation to the expertise of older generations who might not be at the same level of expertise technically. Lynne Lancaster, author of The M-factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace, calls this phenomenon an "inversion of the knowledge pyramid," namely where the younger generation is educating the older generation. We all benefit from working to maintain a delicate corporate balance among multigenerational employees, and getting used to the age disparities and other subtle differences in work habits while managing employees from different age groups. This task requires the millennial employee to demonstrate patience and tolerance in this reverse mentoring role to maintain productivity and relevancy of their organizations.


It is just not the prevalence of technology that is of paramount importance to be successful; it is also the understanding and appreciation of the verbal and written communication, social skills, active listening, and effective team formations discussed above1.

The 21st century professional faces multiple challenges entering the job market. High-tech proficiency and hard-core skills are necessary and valued, but professionals also need to be adept in soft skills. At work, we have to deal with people, and that necessitates the need to be proficient in interpersonal skills.

Coupled with the advantages Millennials bring to the work place and job market, by enhancing their interpersonal communication skills, Millennials may turn out to be, as the Time Magazine mentioned, the "new greatest generation".

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