Bridging the soft skill gaps

10.22.18

It’s no surprise that Millennials are making their mark in the workplace – after all, the oldest Millennials are nearly 40. And given Gen Edgers are starting to graduate college, they’ll soon make their presence felt in the working world as well. What does this influx of new generations mean for your practice? For hiring managers (often Boomers or Xers), the challenges are more varied than you might expect. For instance, while employers would not expect a recruit to walk in with all product details memorized, or with expertise in various investment models, most managers do expect everyone who walks in the door to have base-level competencies.

However, much to the chagrin of leaders, this expectation isn’t always the case. Many employers state recent college graduates lack necessary soft skills including interpersonal communication, critical thinking and organization.1 While they may be lacking in these skills, they excel at collaboration and adapting to new technologies. Despite the fact that younger generations are calling for the implementation of fresh and modern technologies to capitalize on the skills they bring to the table, they battle with the distractions they produce.2 So, what’s a leader to do? Here are some soft skills gaps you are likely to encounter with the newest of new hires and ways to set them up for success.

Gap 1: Email and text etiquette

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This one may surprise some people. Because Millennials and Gen Edgers are accustomed to emailing and texting as part of their everyday lives, there’s an expectation that they have excellent electronic communication manners. Since texting has been a part of their communication, it can create a sense of unconscious informality. And since both texts and emails are forms of written every day communication, the casualness in texting shifts easily into email communication (where it is even less appropriate by common professional standards).

How to fill the gap:

Make your communication standards explicit. It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how far a little effort will go. Consider something as simple as adding a short “written communication” section to your new hire handbook. Include examples of acceptable interoffice communication along with samples of client-facing communication. A short list of words or phrases (including acronyms) to avoid could also come in handy. Adopting standards likely won’t be a challenge for these younger generations; they need to understand your expectations. Bonus tip: as long as you’re adding a “written communications” section to your handbook, be sure to include guidelines on how to follow-up with clients both face-to-face and over the phone. A recent survey found 65% of Millennials don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone face-to-face, and 80% prefer conversing digitally to either in-person or phone conversations,4 which can lead to a host of problems, including appearing impolite to coworkers or clients if calls are returned with texts.

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Gap 2: Perceived lack of organization and focus

As a manager, when you look around the office and see members of younger generations with a social media window open, notice them checking their phones or see emails coming in at all hours of the night, you may start to think that Millennials and Gen Edgers lack any semblance of organization and focus. After all, don’t all these distractions inhibit the ability to keep track of deadlines and consistently meet expectations? Not necessarily. It’s important to note that Millennials and Edgers have always lived in a connected world. Switching between different tasks and dividing their attention across a broad set of stimuli comes naturally to them. Also, because they value work/life integration, it’s not uncommon for them to start a document on an office computer, pull it up on their phone for some extra work while commuting and wrap it up in the evening at home. To them, it’s not disorganization; it’s a different kind of organization.5

How to fill the gap:
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Making your expectations known early goes a long way toward preventing intergenerational clashes. In some cases, the quick and easy multitasking that the next generation of advisors display will be what you’re looking for. So try not to stress about what may seem like distracted behavior. However, in other situations, a more focused approach may be required. If you’re looking for associates who can focus on a single task for an extended period, be sure to communicate this in your job description and discuss it during the interview process.

Gap 3: Conflict resolution

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On the surface, conflict resolution might not seem like a generational characteristic. After all, lots of people struggle with this in the workplace and for many reasons. Cultural factors, gender conditioning and communication styles all play a role. However, Millennials and Gen Edgers seem more likely to perceive any face-to-face workplace interaction which involves disagreement as “conflict.” Deborah Mueller, CEO of consulting firm HR Acuity, notes that younger people in the workforce tend to display “a dependence upon technology which has resulted in a lack of in-person communication” as well as “a high desire for harmony.” She sees this resulting in “an entire group of people who many believe are extremely conflict-averse.”7

How to fill the gap:

It’s likely that working on conflict resolution skills would benefit all your associates, not just the younger ones. Consider bringing in an expert who specializes in these issues for a lunch and learn or for a more formal team building event. In addition, rather than waiting for formal year-end reviews, incorporate smaller, informal feedback sessions throughout the week. If the lines of communication are open more frequently, receiving constructive feedback is bound to become less intimidating. Finally, creating a culture in which disagreement is normalized and where there are frequent opportunities for open discussions will go a long way toward helping members of all generations feel both heard and respected. Consider quarterly meetings to encourage group discussions instead of relying on top-down communication. And most importantly, model the behavior you would like to see when discussing tough topics.

We are entering into an exciting time: one in which there could potentially be five different generations working side-by-side in the workforce. Each generation brings a unique set of skills, experiences and (of course) challenges. Keeping the lines of communication open and demonstrating an ability to consider the strengths that might be hiding inside any perceived challenges or weaknesses will go a long way toward getting the most out of your team.

1Alton, L. (2016, Dec. 22). Millennials Are Struggling To Get Jobs - Here’s Why, And What To Do About It. Retrieved from Forbes.

2Lockley, S. (2016, Oct. 12). 5 Ways to Be a Better Employer for Millennials and Generation Z. Retrieved from Staffbase Blog.

3Charles Schwab. (2017, November). Independent Advisor Outlook Study Wave 22.

4Molloy, S. (2017, July 4). We’ve Raised Generation Hopeless - Millennials Who Lack Basic Life and Workplace Skills. And It’s a Big Issue. Retrieved from NewsComAu.

5Patel, D. (2017, Sept. 22). 8 Ways Generation Z Will Differ From Millennials In The Workplace. Retrieved from Forbes.

6RingCentral. (2018). How Do Workers Handled App Overload?

7Muller, D. (2017, Sept. 25). “Are Millennials More Conflict-Averse than Other Generations?” Retrieved from HR Acuity.

This information is prepared in part by an unrelated independent third party, BridgeWorks, and is provided for informational purposes only. Ivy Distributors, Inc., believes the information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.