Editorial: Millennial Communication in the Workplace

Millennials make up 35% of the work force today (Meng and Berger, n.d.) and the term “millennials” is defined as a generation of people born between the years of 1982 and 2001. Communication in the work environment is defined as a process of interchanging both verbal and non-verbal communication between two or more individuals within a company or organization. Communication is vital in the workplace because it increases productivity. For example, if someone who works in the public relations industry effectively communicates with other journalists, the organization will likely thrive. The key element in any profession is good communication. The whole goal in the workplace is to make sure that everyone does a great job so that the organization as a whole can reach their goals.

Millennials have been labeled and are often described as being self-centered, disrespectful, having an acute relationship with technology, and lacking motivation. These stereotypes have concerned companies and organizations about how well millennials will transition into the workplace. However, according to a meta-analysis conducted by Constanza et al. — which discusses the generational differences in work-related attitudes — they found that there were no huge differences in attitudes and more likely a result of age rather than specific generational attributes (Constanza 2012).

Millennials will be leaders in the field of public relations and many other fields for the next 30 to 40 years. Because of this fact, several researchers have explored the differences in communication in the workplace between millennial communication professionals and older generations, the preferences millennials have in the workplace, and how to prepare for workplace communication as a millennial.

Researchers Juan Meng, Ph.D. of the University of Georgia and Bruce K. Bereger, Ph.D. of the University of Alabama in their article, “Millennial Communication Professionals in the Workplace,” report on their study which examined the workplace attitudes and values, and leadership capacities of millennial communication professionals. Through their study the researchers were seeking to understand the differences between millennial communication professionals and their managers regarding the workplace values in these generations.

The researchers used a survey approach to exploring the topic further. They distributed the surveys online to 420 millennial communication professionals and the 420 professionals who manage them. The millennial communication professionals surveyed were between the ages of 21 and 36 — two-thirds were female, 35% were male, and 1.9% were transgender. The mangers of these professionals were aged 37 and older — half were female, 48% were male, and 1.3% were other. This survey consisted of 71 Likert-style questions based on a 7-point scale where “1” stood for “not all” and “7” meant “to a very great extent.” There was one open-ended question which asked about what the respondents thought their company or organization could do in order to increase their commitment and motivation to it. The survey questioned the participants about “workplace values, engagement with the job and the organization, leadership capabilities and development opportunities, and recruiting and retention drivers.”

The researchers found that for more than 80% of the survey questions, the differences between the millennial professionals and mangers were notable. Some of the biggest highlights in their findings came to their discoveries about workplace values and attitudes and leadership capabilities. More than 80% of the millennial professionals said that they were excited about work but only 50% of their managers agreed. For leadership capabilities, 70% of the millennials communication workers were ready and willing to lead while only 47% of the managers agreed. They also found that managers with a team of 16 or more millennial communication professionals rated them significantly higher when compared to a smaller group of millennial professionals. According to the authors this showed that bigger teams may make for a more supportive unit because of stronger shared values and a larger sense of accomplishment.

Understanding the environment and workplace preferences millennials thrive best in can also help ease any communication friction millennials have with older generations. In the article, “Exploring the Workplace Communication Preferences of Millennials” published in 2016, Ashley Hall discusses her study which investigated workplace communication preferences of millennial employees. Hall explains how the current workforce is made up of workers from varying age groups including the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials and each generation takes on a different approach in working together in the workplace which could result in disagreement. Hall suggests (based on anther research source) that because of the mix of varying generations in the workforce, leadership is more complicated. Hall conducted this study in order to get a better understanding of workplace communication preferences specifically for millennials.

The methodology that was used for this study were surveys that were disseminated electronically. These surveys were distributed during the spring and summer of 2015 to students enrolled in undergraduate business courses at a university located in the southwest region of the United States. Five sections of courses were included in this study where students voluntarily participated in sharing their workplace preferences. People born outside of 1982 – 2002 were not included in this study. 58.33% of the participants were female and 41.67% were male and there were a total of 84 complete surveys. Hall took the open-ended responses on the survey and then open coded them in order to identify different themes.

Through demographic questions regarding previous work experience, the author found that 50 (59.52%) were currently employed and 34 (40.48%) were not. For the people employed, 76% were employed part-time and 24% worked full-time. The findings reported by Hall were categorized into different themes which included, sharing information, seeing the big picture, the employee-manager relationship, feedback, and coworker communication.

With “sharing information,” Hall found that based on the responses, millennials do not like information being withheld from them. Millennials in this study wanted to know why their boss was having them do a specific type of work and expected their opinion to be valued and heard.

In “seeing the big picture,” 76% of the participants agreed that they needed to understand how their job fit in to the big picture. Millennials preferred their future bosses to be professional, be open to communication, and friendly but not mixing business with pleasure. The respondents rated feedback, both positive and negative, from their boss(s) as very important but didn’t rate it as important between coworkers. Hall concluded that this study confirmed some preconceived notions of millennials but contradicted others.

Hall believes this study has implications for both business and education. She explains that millennials can be taught about generational differences in the way that they communicate, prior to entering the workforce. The limitation of this study was that only millennials in college were surveyed as this study only surveyed students enrolled in the five sections of undergraduate business classes at one university. Hall plans to complete more research in the future using a broader sample of participants, including surveying the mangers of millennials as well.

For an easier transition into the workplace millennials might find taking a course at their university which specializes in this, might be extremely beneficial. In the article published in 2016, Researchers Norhayati Ismail and Chitra Sabapathy from the National University of Singapore, mimicked a workplace environment for students which contributed to a larger setting within which other setting-based duties and projects (graded and ungraded) were placed, ruling in an in-depth and incorporated method to the instructing of professional communication abilities that are both applicable and beneficial for students.

The researchers sought out to conduct this study in order to help redesign a professional communication course to first through third year real estate students at the National University of Singapore. This course focused on preparing students in the areas of general communication theories and professional communication skills. After examining course evaluation feedback from students, it was highlighted that the students were lacking in some areas other than communication skills. These included poor practice of skills in the classroom, the incapacity to see the real world relevance of this course relating to their professional and academic careers, and failure in being consistent with delivery styles and methods. In order to tackle these issues, an effort was made to completely redesign the class structure and remake it into a course that simulates the workplace.

The researchers conducted this study over the course of 12 weeks, which was the length of the entire semester. There were a total of 109 participants who were all real-estate students enrolled in the course at the university. The total amount of participants were broken down into course sections which made out to a team of four to five instructors each teaching between one and three groups of 18 students.

This study incorporated a virtual company named “DRE Holdings” which was created for the students to participate in day-to-day job tasks that would be done at a real company. A company website was implemented which included an organization chart which showed the course instructor being the CEO of the virtual company and other tutors in the course took on the role of senior members of management. This was done as a way for students to understand visually the hierarchy of a company and their role as “employees” in this scenario. It also showed how the students in the classroom had a lower status compared to their instructor and tutor.

During the simulation students had to partake in tasks done in the workforce like general staff meetings and how to best present themselves to their bosses and other members of the staff in order for their colleagues to want to work with them.

To analyze the effectiveness of this experimental simulation course, the researchers disseminated course evaluations which were then reviewed to see if the original issues that needed to be tackled in this course were resolved. The researchers additionally used Google forms, which is an online survey questionnaire service, and sent them out to students to get their feedback on whether or not the workplace simulation enhanced their learning of professional communication skills and to get their reactions to specific characteristics of the newly designed course. Out of the 109 students who participated, only 44 students participated in sharing their thoughts on the survey. Overall the researchers found the students general perception of the course increased significantly from a 3.437 out of 5 to a 4.057 out of 5. They also found through qualitative responses that the simulated classroom was a key component that made their experience interesting, stimulating, and applicable.

The authors believe this research is significant for students in getting them to be exposed to a real workplace setting and helped to create a richer learning environment for developing professional communication skills.

Without millennials, the workforce would not be complete. There is also no way to stop them from entering the workforce so this is a reality many people need to adjust to. The idea that millennials are pampered, over reliant on technology, and want success immediately are all misconceptions to what the real issue of what millennials and older generations face in the workplace. Workers in older generations can overcome the friction they might experience with millennial workers by simply understanding the generational differences in workplace communication. Having an awareness of millennial preferences and the different ways they best communicate are important in order to avoid contributing to the labeling of millennials in the workforce.


Costanza, D. P., Badger, J. M., Fraser, R. L., Severt, J. B., & Gade, P. A. (2012). Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Business and Psychology, 27(4), 375-394. doi:10.1007/s10869-012-9259-4

Hall, A. (2016). EXPLORING THE WORKPLACE COMMUNICATION PREFERENCES OF MILLENNIALS. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 20, 35-44. Retrieved from https://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1827844874?accountid=10559

Ismail, N., & Sabapathy, C. (2016). Workplace Simulation. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 79(4), 487-510. doi:10.1177/2329490616660814

Meng, J., & Berger, B. K. (n.d.). Millennial Communication Professionals In the Workplace. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from http://plankcenter.ua.edu/resources/research/millennial-communication-professionals-in-the-workplace/


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