One trend I’ve been noticing in workplaces is the empty break room, where employees would typically gather to take a break from their work routine. There is a generational explanation for this, and it is not that people are necessarily working harder. The fact is that younger employees are more likely to take breaks at their desk, checking social media on their mobile device, or listening to podcasts.
“The young ones hide behind their computer and simply do not engage in person,” managers of Millennials often lament.
The Digital Footprint Started Early
Millennials are, yes, digital natives. In school and at home, Millennials had more electronicdevices and on-demand media than most Baby Boomers ever dreamed possible. With computers in the classroom and at home, the growing ubiquity of cell phones and (later) smartphones, Internet everywhere, wi-fi and video on-demand, it’s no surprise that the generation that grew up with technology is very comfortable engaging with it. In addition, the ability to work from anywhere for many Millennials has made engaging with people in the physical office less critical to productivity.
Give Them a Good Reason to Engage In Person
In recent years, some companies have tried to rein this in and force more in-person engagement among employees. Most notably, IBM in 2017 brought back into the office the company’s work-at- home employees, terminating most telecommuting options as a way to encourage more collaborative product development, comradery and even company loyalty.
Forcing employees to come into the office is, in part, an overblown response to an ongoing myth about Millennials — that they actually prefer to avoid in-person conversations with others, opting for text instead of talk. In fact, repeated studies have shown that Millennials do like in-person communication and even recognize the importance of it in their own career and professional development.
While digital modes of communication make up an important part of Millennials’ productivity and workflow, it’s not digital over in-person or an either/or choice. While some new employees may retreat to their mobile devices until they develop professional friendships, Millennials do come out of their shell and use in-person communication. In particular, they seem to prefer it to digital communications when they need to get help with a project or task, when it comes to learning career-place skills and processes, and in coaching and mentoring relationships.
Ideas to Help Encourage In-person Communications
For managers of Millennials, there are a number of ways to encourage in-person communication among Millennials and other generations of employees.
Have an open-door policy with both the physical space and with communication styles. Regularly hosting “office hours” (the way Millennials’ college professors did) can encourage Millennial employees to walk into executives’ offices and chat about the workplace, goals and strategies.
Develop mentorship and coaching programs that encourage employees to meet for lunch or coffee to discuss professional development, work-life balance and long-term career goals. Mentorship programs are one of the best ways to help make Millennials more loyal to the company and increase engagement and performance.
Create opportunities for teamwork such as professionally-related volunteer opportunities, in-person trainings and activities. Millennials are more emotionally connected to jobs in which they understand and have an active role in how their company contributes to the “greater good” in the community and in the world.
There’s always food. Last week I had a meeting at Bloomberg’s headquarters in NYC. On the sixth floor is a massive reception area with a smorgasbord of free snacks, and Millennials buzzing around everywhere. Coming out of college, many Millennials are comfortable with food-oriented activities. Few things get people away from their desks like treats in the breakroom — but managers may want to center a meeting or activity around those treats to prevent (or at least delay how quickly) those treats being taken straight back to Millennials’ desks.