Millennials and Email in the Workplace

The Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, have been entering the workforce for over ten years. They are beginning to reshape the culture and norms of businesses and other organizations in a number of ways. For example, significantly less men wear neckties than they did just five years ago. I personally thank this younger generation for removing the daily noose from my neck.

I wrote this article primarily for Millennials, but I think it might benefit all of us in the workplace. Good communication is one of the keys to success, and the primary form of communication in the workplace is email.

Not the Preferred Form of Communication

In a large research project published in the book, The Millennials, my son, Jess Rainer, and I discovered that relatively few members of this generation prefer email as a form of communication. Texting is the dominant choice. Social media, primarily Facebook, is second, with Twitter following at a distant third. Email hardly made double digits as one of the preferred forms of communication.

Many of this generation are thus entering the workplace with an aversion toward email and a relatively small amount of experience with it. As an old man of 55 years, I am amazed how a form of communication I began using just over 15 years ago has already become passé with the younger generation.

But such is the challenge of the Millennials in the workplace. Email is the dominant form of business communication. These younger adults may change that reality in a few years, but it is reality for now.

A Few Guidelines

Many of you Millennials will be evaluated to some degree by what you communicate and how you communicate. Email for now is the dominant form of communication in businesses and other organizations. With humility, allow me to suggest a few guidelines for your younger generation to be most effective in this mode of communication. And it wouldn’t hurt for your older peers to follow along as well.

•Respond promptly to email. Many of you see texting as a form of instantaneous communication and email as something you can get to in a day or two or three. Business leaders expect responses within 24 hours or sooner. When email was first created for businesses, the inbox had limited capacity by design. It was to be emptied each day. That’s a rule I follow with few exceptions. Use your email folders for emails you may need to keep beyond a day.

•Make your email a reasonable length. I have requested briefer emails from some of the Builder generation in my organization. These older workers, including some Boomers with a proclivity toward formality, have a tendency to write with a bit of verbosity. It is not necessary, I tell them, to begin an email with “I am writing to you today to tell you . . .” Your generation, however, has a tendency toward brevity to the extreme. Write in complete sentences. Don’t use acronyms as you do in texting. Some of us older guys may take several minutes to discern what you mean by “ROTFL.”

•Put something in the subject line. An empty subject line indicates laziness and an unimportant topic.

•Make certain you use good grammar. Some young workers can be passed over for opportunities because they write so poorly. The most common errors I notice are capitalization errors, both in the Millennial generation and in older workers.

•Do not forward jokes or other non-business email. Others will perceive that you have too much time on your hands.

•Use the “cc” for multiple recipients sparingly. Some leaders will delete emails quickly if they have a long list of recipients.

•Similarly, use the “reply all” button sparingly. Most leaders do not want to know how every recipient responds to an email. It is too time consuming.

•Make certain your email has a signature with contact information. That will reduce other emails requesting that information.

•Be extremely careful in writing critical or angry emails. Most of us have a tendency to put things in writing we would never say face to face. Remember, anything we write electronically is permanent: emails, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Think twice before hitting “send.” Your words may backfire on you later.

•Remember that company emails are not private. Always assume that other eyes can have access to your emails if needed.
For the Millennials and the Rest of Us

Forgive me for offering a set of guidelines that look like another list of legalistic rules. I have seen too many of your generation, however, run into problems when they use email inappropriately. These guidelines were written for you younger adults, but they certainly apply to the rest of us.

Forms of communication change, and the pace of change is accelerating. Your generation will likely usher in new forms, and you can write the guidelines for the rest of us.

I welcome any comments from readers about email in the workplace. Feel free to challenge some of my guidelines or to add some of your own.

It could get interesting.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.