Study shows shift in communication tactics

As millennials enter the workforce in record numbers, employers are having to adapt new internal communication strategies to accommodate to the generational shift, according to a study by Baylor researcher Dr. Marlene Neill.

“Millennials have different communication preferences,” said Neill, an assistant professor in the department of journalism, public relations and new media. “They tend to prefer shorter messages sent to the device of their choosing, which definitely represents a shift the internal communicators [use to] share their messages with employees, so there’s definitely a need to make adjustments to meet the expectations of the new millennials entering the workforce.”

The study, published in the Public Relations Society of America’s public relations journal, used data gathered from 32 in-depth interviews with companies and organizations. Neill said a number of successful, reputable companies were studied, including two companies listed on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” seven companies featured among the Fortune 500 and three among the Global 500.

“The companies were very prestigious, then she talked to a very diverse group of people,” said Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez , journalism, public relations and new media associate professor and graduate program director. “She talked to people in HR, but also in finance, sales, marketing, so a broad range of people.”

Neill said she became interested in the subject of internal communication through her dissertation research. She discovered that there was a divide between public relations professionals and people who worked in human resources or marketing about who was responsible for internal communications.

“I had an interest in understanding what role public relations plays in internal communication and how they collaborate with other departments,” Neill said. “As I was looking into the study, I was interested in looking at the trends in this area, and that’s where I found this shift in communication preferences, the importance of the generational shifts that are happening in the workforce, and also the rise of internal social media channels.”

Neill’s study found that millennials typically prefer brief messages that they can access on their preferred device, such as their cell phone, rather than information communicated in a more traditional, longform way.

“I feel like, and I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing necessarily, but we are working on like 20 different platforms at one time,” said Waterloo, Iowa, senior Kate McGuire. “So when things are quick and easy to digest, instead of having to think about it for a really long time or having to read something for a really long time, we’re able to get more done. I think that’s a big thing for our generation. We’re really productive.”

Neill said another one of the primary changes to internal communication as part of the generational shift is increased usage of social media platforms, which allows for more two-way communication between employers and employees.

“There are some new platforms being adopted that can be used internally,” Neill said. “Particularly there are these Internet platforms that have been around for a while that are offering more social components, such as being able to share and comment on content that companies are posting internally.”

Some of the more popular platforms include Sharepoint, Yammer, Jive and Chatter. These social media platforms allow for multifaceted communication and collaboration within companies.

“That’s a little bit different that they’re offering this opportunity for feedback,” Neill said. “So it’s not just about sharing and pushing out information, but also being willing to listen and hear back from employees.”

Moody-Ramirez said Neill’s findings about the growth of social media with the generational shift is important because these trends will continue in the future.

“It’s very timely,” Moody-Ramirez said. “It’s of interest. It’s cutting edge. It’s something that’s of value today but also going forward because we are going to see more of this in the future. Social media is very popular now but it’s going to be even more popular in the future. Also she talks about the combining of different departments, and we are going to see more of that in the future.”

Another finding from Neill’s study was the importance of communicating a company’s values to its employees. Neill said that while there is concern that millennials are less loyal to employers than previous generations and more likely to switch jobs to advance their career, millennials were attracted to employers with strong company values.

“One way employers were trying to increase loyalty was a focus on their core values,” Neill said. “Companies that have strong core values, not just on paper but actually live those out, were finding that millennials are particularly attracted to those kinds of employers.”

Neill found that many of the best employers were those featured on lists of best places to work, such as Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” so checking these lists and speaking with employees who have worked at companies for a long time can be good resources for students trying to find the right fit after graduation.

“I think it’s important for students as they enter the workforce to do some research about the employers to learn about their values and determine what companies they specifically want to work at based on those core values,” Neill said.