MONDAY 3 FEB 2020 2:50 PM


Give Millennial and Gen Z employees tech, truth and purpose if you want to retain their loyalty, says Callum Gill

There tends to be two sides to a very worn coin tossed around in the discussions around Millennials and Generation Z in the working environment.

On one side, you have a group who will claim to be able to tell you their preferences and pet hates, loves and loathes, even their shoe size and favourite type of coffee. On the other side, is the brigade begging people to 'stop putting us all in boxes,' arguing that categorising people by generational marketing buzzwords is not just unhelpful, but wilfully lazy and ultimately misleading.

They’re both right and they’re both wrong.

The truth is in any cadre, cohort, team or tribe, there are individuals who will behave similarly regardless of age, race, place of birth or favourite boyband. But dismiss the demographic segmentation of your internal audience at your peril. We know those in the younger age graphic do behave very differently to their older colleagues: 90% of these individuals expect to leave their jobs in the next three years while only 37% of Gen X indicate the same.

Assuming unique millennial habits without due diligence is also reductive as 77.3% of Gen X check their social accounts more than 15 times a day at work as does the exact same percentage of Gen Z. The ‘me, me generation’ label is also one that was applied to Gen X in the height of grunge, and yes, you guessed it, was slapped on the baby boomer generation in the height of their ‘rebel without a cause’ youth.

I seem to be arguing both for and against embracing the dismissal of generational labels, but what it boils down to is the one immovable fact that’s not up for debate when it comes to demographic profiling. Date of birth. It may sound simple, but it’s all you need to know to understand why behaviours are so different in the workplace.

If you were born between 1981 and 2019, you’re a Millennial. Gen Z? Roughly 1995 onwards. Older Millennials have had complex IT infrastructure to content with their entire adult lives. Gen Z cannot remember a time without the internet or touchscreen technology. This has an unequivocal impact on their tolerance of shoddy communications in the workplace.

Many firms still design shoddy, sub-standard comms on dated tech and wonder why they don’t inspire retention or loyalty. A recent DRPG survey of comms professionals showed that 78% used software, websites or apps banned by their organisation to do their jobs every day. We’re talking WhatsApp, WeTransfer and the like. That’s shameful. The attitude still tends to be: if we don’t understand it, ban it. Previous generations were more forgiving, but Millennial and Gen Z audiences have far less tolerance for this type of set up.

Cost to invest and understanding the right route are often mooted as obstacles to success, but in most of cases, especially WhatsApp and WeTransfer, the cost is the price of a sim card. The image this projects to aspiring young team members is not one of an organisation testing the waters or trying to find a sure thing in tech comms, but one of an organisation with nothing but contempt for them and their preferences. Things they use day in and day out are withheld for no discernible reason.

Our research demonstrated that barriers to success in this area are not budget, IT restrictions or even GDPR. The number one barrier to delivering a more rounded, innovative and tech-driven experience for young employees is internal process and procedure.

We are creating our own hurdles rather than simply running the race.

Finally, the most important preconception that needs addressing to truly engage with Millennial and Gen Z audiences in 2020 is that you are a liar. Younger audiences are the most sceptical, the most challenging and the least likely to take your first answer as gospel without investigation. The Edelman Trust Barometer suggests that 46% of employees place a great deal of trust in their organisations. When you look at employees under 26, this falls to 21%, which means 89% of this audience don’t trust employee communications as standard.

A myriad of factors contributed to this, such as growing up in the era of post truth and fake news. However, regardless of whether we caused it or not, employee communications functions have to navigate this landscape and rectify it.

Some organisations are rightly placing their faith in brand purpose. Millennials now rate an organisation’s purpose as the most attractive factor when deciding to work for it above pay and package. Believability and integrity are born of a human face. Faceless communications from amorphous company comms functions have little impact, human fronted comms, especially from relatable peers or trustworthy leadership figures transform this dynamic. Millennials who felt their leaders were trustworthy were 63% more satisfied with their jobs, 55% more engaged, 58% more focused, and 110% more likely to stay with their organization.

In 2020, to maintain a genial rapport with this group as they fast became half – that’s right half – the viable workforce, is to prioritise purpose over profit, truth over triumph and tech over tight purse strings.

It’s easier said than done, but I’m sure everyone went to at an industry shindig in 2019 that bemoaned the talent crisis and inability to keep good candidates. The reasons are staring us in the face. Sometimes it’s just easier to explain them away and carry on with what we’re doing. In 2020, uncertain times, a continued focus on honesty capital will mean this isn’t an option and organisations who get it right early stand to leave the rest in their wake.

Callum Gill is head of insight and innovation at DRPG