Johnny figures he’ll spend his evening with a beer, watching a game while he texts on his smart phone. Lethargic and depressed, he’ll settle on his parents’ sofa and wonder what happened. Just a year ago, he was a popular college senior, getting good grades, hanging out and playing sports.
Now, back home with a degree, the only job he can find is working the desk at a gym for 40 disheartening hours a week. He can’t afford an apartment of his own. Worst of all, the resumes he sends out seem to get lost in the black hole of automated screening.
Educators have taught Johnny how to read, but have failed to teach effective workplace communication. Most young people raised on social media don’t understand business communication is a complex system of interpersonal exchanges.
I teach career development workshops to students and am entranced by how much facility these millennials have, and how smart, motivated and hardworking they are. But the noise of social media has drowned out what other generations learned about effective communication, especially in the work world.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the labor market for all young graduates remains grim, and a tough entry-level job market and the high cost of education keep young people in dead-end jobs. Deficits in “soft skills” make it even more difficult for young employees to find better job opportunities.
What millennials experience in the flat-screen world of social media is often the polar opposite of business communication, which requires a high level of focus. Here’s what they missed while they were glued to their devices.
• Oral and written communication skills require mastery of the basic rules of (grammar and spelling) and the ability to develop a concise message. Rhetorical skills should emphasize and enhance the message.
• The old adage, “If I’d had time, I would have made it shorter” still applies: Re-writing and editing for the purpose of concise communication are necessary.
• Thoughtful communication also requires a facility with the vocabulary and jargon of the discipline. Law, engineering, medical care and STEM professions require exactness, as do all businesses.
• Social media and texting encourage pithy announcements. Millennials need practice developing substantive arguments to support a thesis.
• When participating in social media, commenting is optional. In the workplace, contributions to the conversation are expected; silent observers get ignored, not promoted.
• Multiple means of communication (email, phone, text and social media messages) can lead to conversations unfolding on multiple platforms. Nobody knows where the next message will come from, making it easy for the ball to get dropped.
• RSVPs are expected. Texting millennials don’t place the same importance on replies, and we have all come to believe it’s impolite to pick up the phone and interrupt someone’s day.
• Young people expect managers will be as consistent and reasonable as the crowd-sourced consensus they trust in social media. Unfortunately, the work world isn’t always “fair” or even understandable. Bosses and corporations can be irrational, incorrect and unreasonable.
• Social media is spin at its finest. What you post can come back to haunt you.
• Choices about what to share or when to copy someone on an email require a sophisticated understanding of workplace etiquette. Millennials grew up accustomed to loose conventions, emotional expressiveness, banality and the candid details of Facebook and Twitter. As a result, these young people are often dumbfounded when they casually share too much information and sparks fly.
Employers want employees with emotional intelligence, and an awareness of nonverbal and behavioral clues. Millennials need communication education to comprehend and appreciate the unspoken rules of workplace communication.