Does Generation Y's dependence on text-based communication make them poor communicators in the workplace? Human resource practitioners think not, but added the caveat that pure text-based communication can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.
In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Peter Haglund, country manager of Manpower Staffing Services Singapore, said styles of communication are bound to change over generations.
David Yong, manager of recruitment firm JAC Singapore, added that he does not think Gen Y lacks communication skills and that it is only the mode and style of communication that differentiate them from other generations.
Gen Y's preference for communicating via text messages stems from growing up in the digital age.
"With the widespread use of modern and sophisticated electronic gadgets, Gen Y employees are relying more on these devices to communicate with each other," said Yong. "For instance, they prefer to send e-mail messages or text messages instead of communicating with other people over the phone or meeting face-to face at work or at play."
However, relying on gadgets to correspond can affect the effectiveness of communication, he said, especially if no clear or immediate clarification is made verbally.
Haglund agreed, saying that it is "relatively difficult to communicate clearly in writing rather than verbally". He added that this often causes unnecessary confusion and misunderstanding.
However, David Ang, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, pointed out one advantage to Gen Y's reliance on technology. "It is very easy for employers to coordinate with Gen Ys as they like to get text messages and instant social media messages," he said.
Poor communication skills or etiquette problem?
For Gina DeLapa, president of San Diego-based Maestro Consulting Group, Gen Y's perceived lack of communication skill and their obsession with text-based communication are two different issues.
"Employers have been complaining about Gen Y's lack of communication skills for years, even long before ICT (information and communication technologies) became commonplace," she said, adding that she believes the reliance on text communication is more of an etiquette issue.
"When is it okay to text and when is it not? No boss wants to learn by text message that the employee won't be in today. That's just not how it is done," she said.
An employee also creates a distraction when he or she sends a text message during a meeting, she added.
However, text messages can be appropriate in some situations. For example, when running late for a lunch appointment, there is no need to have a phone conversation. Instead a quick text message is preferred, she noted.
She added that Gen Ys also get criticized for being poor communicators when their writing is too informal or filled with colloquialisms such as "wuzzup?" and e-moticons. However, she noted that this is more of an etiquette issue than a communication skill problem.
Communication tips for all
For Gen Ys to improve on their communication skills, DeLapa said they should ask those they work with, especially their bosses, how the latter prefer to communicate as "consideration is a two-way street".
Manpower's Haglund noted that with demographic shifts and the aging population, there will be more than two generations working in the same company at the same time. Therefore, the responsibility of addressing communication challenges lies with all parties, not just Gen Y, he pointed out.
Companies can help to facilitate these communication challenges and put HR strategies in place to address these issues, he added.
JAC's Yong said Gen Ys should strike a balance between using modern gadgets and conventional ways of communicating, such as verbal and face-to-face interaction, as these are "are still the best and most effective in bringing people closer and more personal".
Yong also shared that at JAC, Gen Y employees are educated on the importance of verbal and face-to-face communication in their line of business. Personal customer service is most important for the recruitment industry, he noted.
"Our employees need to communicate effectively with both clients and job seekers alike," he said. "We always encourage our employees to pick up the phone and communicate instead of just relying on e-mail."