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Millennial staffers won’t pick up the phone

Forget the Red Coats. “The millennials are coming! The millennials are coming!” That was the chant ringing through the halls at this year’s Women’s Foodservice Forum, said Joni Doolin, founder and CEO of analytics firm TDn2K, from the main stage. While many of those in my demographic see the millennial topic as one that’s been talked to death, the high attendance at all millennial-focused sessions proved that our demographic still is not quite understood. And considering that millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, as told in one session, it makes sense that attendees of a leadership conference would want to delve into us from a staff standpoint, rather than a customer angle.

But who’d have thought a topic that would come up so frequently would be the difference in how we communicate? I’m not talking about our more casual language or our willingness to approach just about anyone, no matter where they fall in the org chart. But how we actually get ahold of and “speak” to others.

We’ve heard time and again that millennials are tech-reliant. We’re the first generation raised on computers, cell phones and more. So it makes sense that tech is a part of how we communicate. But it seems this has become a major source of tension between different generations in many restaurants’ home offices.

Specifically, most millennials prefer to text or email versus picking up a phone. And while I absolutely hate it when people—researchers, observers, whoever—make generalizations about millennials (since they often assert that I’m a lazy, entitled slacker), I must admit that this one is true. I myself am guilty of letting the phone ring, hoping the caller leaves an email address on my voicemail, and then shooting off a typed-out response. This is in sharp contrast to the boomer I sit next to who answers her phone every time it rings.

I don’t have the answer for why this is the case. In fact, it goes against the generalization that millenials crave instant gratification. After all, picking up the phone or having a face-to-face convo is much quicker than waiting for someone to respond via text or email. But, for whatever reason, we covet this tech-reliant communication.

Listening to the many different operators ask why this is and how to cope, it’s obvious that not seeing eye-to-eye on how to communicate has become an issue for operators. So with millennials taking up more and more of the workforce, how can a multigenerational staff get along?

From what was said on the stages and in the audiences, it seems that multigenerational companies that have adopted a best practice of openness and meeting each other in the middle have found success. One speaker recommended that those who work together—no matter what generation—have an open conversation about preferred mode of communication—phone, text or email. While it’s great to do this when onboarding a new employee, she said, it’s an easy enough conversation to have anytime, even to kick off or close the next team meeting. Based on that conversation, a manager has the right to shut down what her direct report says, but there’s also potential to establish ground rules for a mode of communication that keeps everyone happy. The speaker also suggested having the same conversation with clients and/or vendors to ensure this isn’t a pain point in a working relationship.

Another speaker specifically spoke to the text- and email-dependent millennials in the workforce. She suggested staffers adopt the Rule of Three: If you go back and forth over email more than three times, get up from your desk or pick up the phone to have a conversation.

So, again, while I hate assumptions about my generation, it’s clear that differences between age groups do exist. Whether you’re a boomer or Gen Xer managing millennials or a millennial managing up, it’s important to note those differences and figure out the best way to work with your team, clients, suppliers and everyone else impacting your business. 

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