Gen Y needs a hug

I spend a fair bit of time thinking about how to bridge the communication gap between CEOs in suits and their Gen Y employees, but in this excellent guest post, Sophie Byrne, internal communication at Microsoft Australia raises the point that Gen Ys are not only the leaders of the future, they’re also the next generation of communication professionals.


Gen Y. Can you recall an instance when the term was used in a positive context? Gen Y. Yes, those spoiled, slack, opportunistic, ambitious, self-important spawn of the dope-head Baby Boomers. Children of the age of information. Lovers of all things disposable. And, notably, the next wave of corporate leaders.

When you think of how drastically the way we communicate has changed in the last 20 years, surely the next logical question (for readers of this blog, anyway) would be: how is the next generation of communicators changing? Text messages, instant messenger and, of course, Twitter, have shaped a generation of professionals who are now out in the workplace and crafting our external and internal communications. Scary stuff.

Alright, OK, I think that’s enough scaremongering. It’s worth noting that yours truly is a member of the dreaded Gen Y. Not only that, but I also work in internal communications for a large multi-national software and devices company. That, my fellow word-nerds, qualifies me to report back – hopefully without bias or those sticky Gen Y connotations – on how I think my peeps and I are impacting the art.

I could talk about the crazy-cat way that all of us Gen Y’ers speak, and how the LOL’tastic terms are creeping into the workplace in a totes detrimental way. But the truth is I’m no expert in that way of speaking. I suppose I could Google it, but I’m too busy. No, actually I wanted to talk less about the lexical impact Gen Y is having, and more about the behavioural one.


It’s worth clocking the fact that Gen Y isn’t just having an impact as writers – it’s the impact they’re having as a generation of readers that’s shaping corporate communications just as significantly. Gen Y was born into a constant state of information overload, and the advent of 140-character ‘prose’ has meant our attention span is forever diminished. So as an audience, we have less focus to devote to any message, which in itself is changing the way we communicate.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. We all know it’s far more difficult to be concise than it is to ramble, so by tailoring our messages to suit the needs of a distracted generation, we‘ll surely have to become better communicators, no? It’s practically Darwinian.


The Next Great Generation is an aptly named online magazine which crowd-sources content from 18 to 30 years olds. It’s worth checking out (I like to think the name and other grandiose references on the site are ironic, and I encourage you to do the same).

Anyway there’s an article on the site that talks about smiley faces and their evil twin, the exclamation mark (two despicably Gen Y signatures). But it goes on to explore something deeper. While the subject is specifically women in the workplace, it questions how a lack of confidence impacts the way we communicate. Using crutches like “um”, “like” and “you know”, or feebly challenging a colleague in a meeting by prefacing their comment with “I have a question…”

I am guilty of it, too. Notice how I’ve been swapping in and out of the first and third person in this article? (Gen Y, they’re weird / Yeah we are.) It’s as if I don’t have the confidence to own my voice. Case in point.

Could it be that with the reliance on electronic communication, we’ve lost our confidence as basic communicators? It’s as if, with all the gazillions of messages Gen Y has sent and received since birth, when it comes to official messages or creativity in the workplace, we’ve lost our mojo.


So if I were to leave you with one thing, it would be this: let’s stop criticising our Gen Y colleagues, and nurture them instead. After all, the future of corporate communications is in their hands so without a doubt it’s the best thing for the business.

For shiz, it’s a good laugh to poke fun at the things that make you ROFL, but it’s also counterproductive. By coaching young professionals on the principles of good communications, we might just survive the tide of text lang and Jersey Shore-isms. If you want to see less smiley faces in your company’s communications, for goodness sake give that feedback. It’s for the good of word-kind.

Posted on November 11th, 2011.  0 Comments

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