The question of picking up in the 21st century

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was an article on successful dating strategies in this tech age.

Time to read: 7 mins

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was an article on successful dating strategies in this tech age. While this won’t provide you with an insight to getting the most out of Tinder, it may help explain why Millennials and Gen Z’s may struggle to pick up the phone, and how we should all be cognisant of our preferred communication styles to improve overall communications in the workplace.

Firstly, here's a rough breakdown of the generations.

  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964 - currently 56-74 years old
  • Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1979/80 - currently 40-55 years old
  • Gen Y (Millennials): Born between 1981 and 1994/6 - currently 24-39 years old
    • Gen Y.1 = Born between 1991 and 1995 - currently 25-29 years old
    • Gen Y.2 = Born between 1981 and 1991 - currently 29-39 years old
  • Gen Z: Born between 1997 and 2012/15 - currently 8-23 years old

Millennials are digital natives, and have provided the world with a wealth of technological development that has fundamentally changed the way in which we do business (just look at the benefits these technologies have provided for businesses through the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown).

However, Millennials seem to have a bad reputation when it comes to phone calls and face-to-face meetings. Baby Boomers and Gen-X, particularly those who are employers and managers, are often left frustrated by what appears to be an inability to answer the phone! As a Millennial brought up with Gen X siblings, maybe I can shed a little light on the topic.

If you were born any time before 1985, you probably have fond memories of stretching the phone cord as far as possible just so you could have a conversation in private. Today, your kids may ask you why you ‘hang up’ the phone it makes no sense to them. The classic charades sign for a phone was a closed palm with extended thumb and finger held up to the ear”¦ now if you ask a millennial or Gen Z to mime ‘phone’ you will probably get a finger swipe motion.

In 1999, MSN Messenger took over computers around the world. After dinner there was no point juggling phone calls with friends when we could have multiple instant chat conversations running. And not long after, mobile devices became common place at homes and schools and ‘text speak’ was invented.

Text chat quickly became the normal way of communicating. Millennials/Gen Z became used to communicating information in a way which allowed for a calculated response at a time that suited them. They could draft, redraft, delete, start over, and have their messages peer-reviewed and fact-checked before sending.

That all sounds fantastic, but what has it meant for their thought process when it comes to facing an actual phone call? Older Millennials and Gen Z were raised in the age of the ‘participation certificate’, everyone gets a prize! Being put on the spot over the phone or in a meeting to answer a question can be uncomfortable at best, and panic inducing at worst. Imagine experiencing this in the work environment after years of almost never needing to make a phone call it’s enough to put you off phone calls for life. For anyone raised prior to this text-age, phone etiquette was ingrained, and they quickly learned how to defer from saying something they may regret later. Terms like “I’m not completely sure, I’ll get back to you later” or “let me just double-check that and call you back” became a daily mantra.

Another key difference is our physical and mental ability to dedicate time and the necessary attention to a phone call. When phones were land lines, you would be sitting at your desk in a prepared state to take a call and make notes. When at home, you had to stop what you were doing to physically go to the phone and take the call, thus giving it your full attention. Even when you checked your voicemails, you had to be at the machine, so you were ready with pen and paper in hand, making a list of things to action. Millennials and Gen-Z have grown up in a time of always being available; answering business calls while at the hairdresser, dropping the kids to school, shopping, running, even while climbing a mountain on an island holiday (I can vouch for that one). Our time and attention may be diverted, we aren’t prepared, our heads aren’t cleared; possibly having to rely on memory alone to recall required actions at a later date.

And here’s the nub of the issue: we are in an age where our working population spans two sides of the technology line. We need to invest in professional development on both sides, ensuring our older team members have the skills they need to work confidently in our post-COVID-19 work environment, and teach our emerging leaders the soft skills they may have missed out on. According to the MBIE June 2017 small business study, 55% of New Zealand small business owners are 40-59 (Gen-X or young Baby Boomers), all likely to retire from being business owners in the next 10-20 years, making way for the Millennials and Gen-Z of today to step in to their shoes and run the world.

As the generational makeup of the workforce changes, we will likely find our clients also prefer text-based communication. As business leaders we must get better at embracing new communication styles and find ways to make these more efficient for our businesses. When you acquire a new client ask, “how do you prefer to be contacted?” and, “when do you prefer to be contacted?”. This may resolve some future frustrations.

It’s worth thinking about the next 10-20 years, and how we will accommodate those who want to call or meet in person, or those who want to text or email only. As a Millennial, I can offer some suggestions on how to help your younger generations feel more confident talking over the phone:

  • Provide a room for phone calls away from the team so they can build confidence without worrying about people listening in.
  • Teach them those easy responses like “I’m not completely certain, can I call you back later?”.
  • Explain to them that a client will never be angry that you’ve asked to confirm the facts to ensure they have the right information, rather than answering on the spot.
  • Remind them that any questions the client asks you is because they also don’t know, so not knowing the answer but having the ability to find out still puts you in a better position.
  • Encourage them to send a follow up email to confirm the outcomes of the phone call if they are concerned that they may not have made the message clear

But most importantly, remember that getting frustrated will get you nowhere. This problem doesn’t happen out of laziness or lack of care and drive, it’s simply a consequence of a rapidly changing world which Boomers and Gen-X have built alongside younger generations.

So, should Millennials just pick up the phone? Should they learn to not be so readily available to take calls/texts/zooms until they’re mentally prepared? Should Boomers and Gen X learn to text faster, use messenger to chat with clients? The answer will depend on your clients, your staff, the industry you’re in, regional demographics, how you market your business, and a few other factors. The only certainty is that knowing how and when and why you communicate, and adapting it to suit must be incorporated into every business strategy.

DISCLAIMER No liability is assumed by Baker Tilly Staples Rodway for any losses suffered by any person relying directly or indirectly upon any article within this website. It is recommended that you consult your advisor before acting on this information.

Sign up to our newsletter

Thanks for signing up!

Our website uses cookies to help understand and improve your experience. Please let us know if that’s okay by you.

Cookies help us understand how you use our website, so we can serve up the right information here and in our other marketing.