Know your audience: Teaching with relevance to the millenial generation
Dr. Blair Browning
Dr. Blair Browning
During the past decade, there have been designed cuts to company budgets in every way imaginable. As a result of every industry engaging in a collective “tightening of their belts,” companies have pursued lean and efficient practices in an effort to both cut costs and ease their bloated budgets. A time is nearing where many employees from the Boomer generation will be retiring and their replacements will primarily be from the millennial generation. Though one can find various parameters of what makes up the millennial generation, this paper will recognize it as those who were born between 1982 and 2004 (Hoover, 2009).
In order to provide relevant material to students, particularly those in business, corporate, or organizational communication-related courses, it is imperative to highlight current trends in the marketplace and to offer insight through existing popular, anecdotal, and empirical research. Audience analysis is nothing new to communication faculty. An awareness of students’ status as being a part of the millennial generation informs instructors that they had better be relevant or their students will find something else to fill the class time (i.e. checking Twitter on their iPhone). Focusing on current job trends and how they affect future employment prospects is certainly a relevant discussion topic for business and professional communication students. It is also incredibly pertinent to the current life status of students, as they are rapidly approaching employment searches.
Millennials have been raised in an era where the proliferation of high-tech devices are the norm, and the ubiquitous usage of multiple devices and/or platforms is something at which nearly all of them are adept. This technological currency these students possess and will bring to their future employers has enabled companies to allow a dramatic increase in the usage of a certain type of distributed work: telework.
Telework and the Millennials
A useful dialogue to facilitate with one’s students would be to discuss the use of telework and how they feel about working for a company, but simultaneously be somewhat isolated in that their office is not a central location with other employees. Telework has been studied through empirical research for the past two and a half decades (e.g. Ramsower, 1983). Yet, the old form of telework was quite a bit more cumbersome as a “home office” used to require many different machines and technologies that were quite costly. Now, these are readily available and with the emergence of Smart Phones, such as the iPhone, business can be conducted with ease from nearly any location.
At times, telework has been used synonymously with telecommuting, but recently these terms have been more rigidly defined to clarify the various work arrangements that now exist. For example, “Telecommute refers to individuals who either periodically or regularly perform work for one’s employer at home or another remote location.” In a rather large distinction, “telework entails performing all of one’s work either at home or another remote location, either for an employer or through self-employment” (WorldatWork, p. 4, 2009). Regardless of how it is defined, the number of people who are working in some form at an alternative location than a centralized corporate office has significantly grown. In fact, Gajendran and Harrison (2007) put the number at 45 million Americans who telecommuted in 2006 and noted that the sustained rise in its popularity would make one come to the conclusion that both employers and employees see mutual benefit.
Certainly, telework has some distinct advantages and disadvantages, and prompting students to provide feedback on these characteristics should spark some active discussion. For example, telework is definitely cost-effective – an essential in the current economic climate – but how so, specifically? Encouraging students to examine the topic from both an organizational and an individual vantage point would be beneficial as cost-cutting could range from office space to electricity bills for employers and from fuel costs to commute times for employees. For these and other reasons, it illuminates why Gajendran and Harrison (2007) note that telework has become a “widespread practice” (p. 1524).
Considering the increased usage of telework coupled with the entry of millennials into the workforce, what implications could this have on organizational life and organizational culture? Millennials have been saddled with harsh descriptions such as “overly self-confident and self-absorbed” (Myers and Sadaghiani, 2010, p. 225), but also lauded with praises for being community-oriented team players (Howe and Strauss, 2000). Thus, there is uncertainty with regard to how the influx of millennials will impact the workforce. Kice (2010) posited that they “might be less willing to voice their ideas individually because they see themselves as part of a group.” Telework would naturally alleviate some of this fear of millennials self-marginalizing themselves by not voicing their opinions, but how does that square with their being “self-absorbed?” Injecting these tensions into class discussion is an excellent way to promote discussion.
Edwards (2010) stated “millennial college students are virtually connected with others. These students have lived in a technologically connected world in which they utilize a range of digital devices to maintain communication with others.” However, while students from the millennial generation are accustomed to working together using innovative technologies (Howe and Strauss, 2007), they will no longer be in college classrooms filled with peers who are equally competent with technology.
Debatin, et al. (2009) stated “Pervasive technology often leads to unintended consequences” (p. 83), and this rings true for millennials who may in fact be ostracized rather than embraced as a result of their technological skills and other employees feeling threatened. That outcome could certainly be an extreme, but highlighting class themes and concepts through the lens of millennials who more than likely make up their entire class is a beneficial one. For example, perhaps a company is undergoing a new strategic planning process that will necessitate input from its employees. The “new” workforce may include employees ranging from millennials who are relatively new hires to individuals who have been with the company for years. While organizations have always been fluid in that employees are constantly entering and leaving, the millennial generation has some unique features that could have a positive or negative impact. Millennials could offer fresh insights and technological abilities in forming a new strategic planning process. On the other hand, they may encounter difficulty working cooperatively with more experienced employees, especially if these millennials have been working exclusively as teleworkers.
What are some of the challenges that are derived from distributed work such as telework? Are there new changes and/or tensions as a result of hiring millennials? Facilitating a discussion on these and other topics by considering one’s audience helps provide a relevant anchor for students with regard to the material. While differentiating telework and telecommuting, and defining unintended consequences are all appropriate for a lecture in an organizational communication class to a group of millennial students, I believe these interesting concepts could still fall flat. While catering specifically to the millennial generation may be dismissed by some, I think it is merely the age-old concept of audience analysis. Moreover, something that encourages instructors to repeatedly seek new ways to drive home material in a more coherent and practical manner with real-world examples can only be a good thing. An instructor should be equipped with discussion questions in order to ensure a thought-provoking class. Such a class will encourage students to glean pertinent information about communication concepts and theories all while being engaged in a topic that resonates long after the class ends.
Debatin, B., Lovejoy, J.P., Horn, A., & Hughes, B.N. (2009). Facebook and online privacy: Attitudes, behaviors and unintended consequences. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15, 83-108.
Edwards, J. (2010). Reaching Millennial Students: Strategies for Using Twitter in High School and College Communication Classrooms. Texas Speech Communication Journal Online, August.
Gajendran, R.S., & Harrison, D.A. (2007). The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting: Meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1524-1541.
Hoover, E. (2009, October 11). The millennial muddle. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved March 3, 2011 from: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Millennial-Muddle-How-/48772/.
Howe. N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2007). Millennials go to college (2nd ed.). Great Falls, VA: LifeCourse Associates.
Kice, B. (2010). Humorous commercials, millennial students, and the classroom. Texas Speech Communication Journal Online, August.
Myers, K.K., & Sadaghiani, K. (2010). Millennials in the workplace: A communication perspective on millennials’ organizational relationships and performance. Journal of Business Psychology, 25, 225-238.
Ramsower, R. M. (1983). Telecommuting: An investigation of some organizational and behavioral effects of working at home. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
WorldatWork, (2009). Telework trendlines for2009. Retrieved March, 4, 2011 from: http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/news/Trendlines_2009.pdf