5 Powerful Ways to Communicate with Millennials in the Workplace

how to communicate with millennials in the workplace

Guest article written by Kelly Andrews

We hear a lot about companies decking their offices with ping pong tables, new hip lounges, or soda machines in order to engage millennials in the workplace. But what if the secret to millennial engagement lies not in the objects or memorabilia, but rather in the dialogue between you and your employees? Encompassing ages 18-35, millennials are a generation that wants to be heard; one Entrepreneur.com article even went so far as to title itself, “I Am Millennial. Hear Me Roar!”

Though common communication techniques found in frequent bestsellers may work for some, millennials display a unique repertoire of behaviors that need to be understood before entering a conversation. Here are five meaningful ways to get you started:

1) Involve Them. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” So it is with millennials, but to a heightened degree. With stimuli coming from their favorite app or social media feed, you have to compete by creating active participation in every conversation. This includes asking thoughtful questions, acting out stories, or checking for understanding.

2) Work Around Their Schedules. The days of 9-5, punch-in, punch-out are disappearing, and millennials are at the forefront of this movement. Peter Economy, a columnist for Inc.com, concurred that “Nontraditional schedules are becoming more common in business, and millennials are prepared to work after they leave the office.” Don’t be shocked by that 8pm reply or Saturday night analysis; learning to communicate around the clock will be essential to communicating with this workforce. 

3) Use The Right Tools. Why would you ever call someone if a text will suffice? Millennials are apt to use the latest tools to get their message across, and you have to keep up with the latest trends in order to keep communication alive. As a recent post from CIO.com put it, “Millennials are forcing businesses to catch up, as these digital natives enter the workplace armed with an arsenal of mobile communication tools and expecting the same from their employers.” Before hitting send on that email, make sure your young audience will actually be tuning in.
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4) Create Safety. Actions must be taken to create an environment where safe dialogue can occur. In a joint study by VitalSmarts and the Association for Talent Development, it was found that of all recent generations, “Millennials are the least confident in their ability to handle a difficult conversation.” There could be many reasons for this, but knowing how to react when these tough conversations arise will determine your future relationship. Check your assumptions at the door, show understanding, and be open to feedback.
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5) Demonstrate Respect. According to Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, “The number one reason Millennials leave companies is that they don’t feel valued or respected.” As a generation that has grown up with access to information at their fingertips, the playing field has become flatter and flatter in their minds. Yes, they are probably less experienced and, at times, naive, but think about how much you will stand out by extending appropriate trust and confidence that they seldom see elsewhere.

The bottom line is this: millennials already make up nearly 40% of the workforce and it’s only going up from there. Though it may be tough, in order to drive business results and create productive teams, you’re going to have to learn how to communicate with them better. Figure out how to do this, and you have yourself a highly engaged generation of employees.


kelly_andrewsKelly Andrews is part of the Development and Delivery team at VitalSmarts – makers of New York Times Bestseller Crucial Conversations. With a keen interest to empower behavioral change, he researches and writes on topics related to communication, e-learning, organizational change, and human resource management.