More or Less Hooked: Generation Y"s Communication in the Workplace

The following guest post brings the Gen Y perspective from American University student, summer intern, and guest blogger Jacob "Jake" Palmer. Look to this space for continuing commentary about the changing face of employees and the challenges of generations sharing the workplace.

Unsure of which outlet I should plug the lawnmower's extension cord into, I decided to consult my mom, who was working upstairs. Rather than go back inside and ask her, a process that would have extended my chore, I pulled out my cell phone and called her. Her surprised reaction to my call, when I was just 20 feet away, made me aware of how comfortably reliant I was on technology for communication.

My generation, Generation Y, roughly consists of those born between the late 70s and the early 90s. Volumes have been written about Gen Y's entrance into the workplace: about our desire to wear flip-flops to work and to receive constant praise from our employers. I've been skeptical about some of these claims (I haven't worn flip-flops to work since I was a babysitter in high school), but one claim that does seem to hold true almost universally points to my generation's desire for working flexibility. According to an article in USA Today, many Gen Y workers rate work/life balance as more important than career opportunities.  This trend seems to extend across generations, as more and more businesses allow employees to work at home.

Translating Across Generations

But what does this mean for communication in the workplace? Employees working at home, coupled with Gen Y's technology dependence, make for conversations dominated by emails, texting, and other forms of impersonal communication. These methods have their obvious benefits in multitasking (I know from my collegiate experience that it's possible to text, email, and eat pizza all at the same time). That said, electronic communication can't truly replace the effectiveness of face-to-face conversations.

I once walked in on two friends sitting across the room from each other "talking" through Facebook chat. Immediately I pointed out the absurdity of using the Internet to communicate when separated by only 10 feet; they muttered something about multitasking, listening to their private music while reading articles, and then pushed their computers away and looked up. The room instantly became warmer and more animated. There's an intimacy that comes from face-to-face conversations that a chat's frowny and winky faces, flimsily constructed from semi-colons and parentheses, can scarcely convey.

Transcending the Cubicle

However convenient it may seem, emailing will always be hopelessly shallow when compared to talking face-to-face. Believe me, like most of my generation I'd rather work from home. I just think that in the same breath we use to advocate for communication through technology, we must also consider the need for face-to-face communication. Intimacy is what turns an office into a business community.

Face-to-face communication is necessary in life outside of business, too. It's what makes our relationships human instead of merely words on a page. So, after writing this, I've decided that the next time I need to ask my mom where to put an extension cord, I'll forego the convenience of a phone call and walk upstairs to ask her.