Couldn’t be happier right now. It turns out I had it all wrong. I am, officially, a Millennial – Gen Y. I’d always assumed I was X, but apparently Y started in 1980 so, as a baby of ’81, I’m a good year or so in the catchment area. I don’t even need to interview someone about Millenniall-y issues. I can probe myself.

You see that’s just the kind of childishness we Millennials can get away with. We’re young and carefree, my buds and me. (We still say ‘bud’, right?)

Thing is, in crafting these expert Y-insights I realise that, much like the haircuts of the day, my 1981 version is a completely different kettle of crimp to the 1991 Millennial. Now that I’ve been assigned the question of what internal communications will engage the Millennial generation, the answer almost seems slightly redundant.

What engages me isn’t necessarily inspiring stuff for someone 10 years my junior. But by 2020, we as a group will make up half the entire workforce, and three-quarters by 2025 (those figures are doing the rounds right now; they’re actually from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, but you get the picture).

The generational shift

Generation X wants to appease Y, when it should be engaging and collaborating together. In researching all this, I’ve seen frequently the Gen X execs of the corporate world worry about a looming generational shift. Put simply, as Gen Y slowly usurps Gen X in roles of leadership, it is Gen Y’s ways of working, socialising and generally being that become more prevalent. Which seems to be being taken as a threat rather than a progression.

By 2020, we as a group will make up half the entire workforce, and three quarters by 2025

In posing the question of how one engages Millennials at work, companies want specific solutions. Do the youth respond to Snapchat? Do they have conversations on Facebook more? Do they tend to ignore or read company email? Are infographics more effective than animated gifs? We’re looking for a one-size-fits-all scenario that just doesn’t exist.

If it’s a generational shift that’s looming then it’s a generational consideration that needs to govern how we approach employee engagement for Millennials. It’s not a channel strategy, but a complete content strategy, and content strategies (as is our mantra) are marathons, not sprints.

The favoured social media channel or frequency of email alerts doesn’t necessarily matter; that can all be found out using a simple employee survey. What needs to change is the message, and what matters to the message is need – fundamental need – which isn’t just a company-wide consideration; it permeates the national, nay global, corporate infrastructure. It’s a complete change in core messaging that embraces the coming shift, rather than finding a patch that tries to appease the youth. Which is never going to happen.

As Gen Y slowly usurps Gen X in roles of leadership, it is Gen Y’s ways of working, socialising and generally being that become more prevalent

Forget delivery; focus on the message

Need drives engagement. Show that you can address my need, and you have my attention. In the case of internal communications and employee engagement for Millennials, my everyday is wildly different to the next guy’s, so what’s the point in trying to find a technology that we will both wholeheartedly use (nigh on impossible) that won’t be utterly obsolete by this time next year (more than likely). Ask not what do these two obviously different individuals have in common, but the values shared by an entire generation.

More training, better development

For example, the recently published Millennial Mindset Study of 1,200 employed Millennials by US organisation Mindflash found that the most concerning thing about the modern workplace is the lack training and development support. 21% of those surveyed said the interpersonal communication was the number one skill they wanted training in. Indeed, one major bugbear of those surveyed was the misconception that because of all this technology we’re surrounded by, we don’t know how to communicate. In fact the opposite is true.

That tells you that Millennials don’t want to be talked at, they understand the communication barrier and want to take it upon themselves to do something about it. They want to bridging those gaps, not shy away from them, so give them opportunities to do so.

On a broader scale, nearly half of the survey said they would be more loyal to their employers given more employee perks. It doesn’t specify what those perks are, but another 26% said they wanted their employer to “invest in my career by training me.” They want to succeed, and they want to lead; your messaging is about giving them the tools to do it.

Jagged little lifestyle

Another point raised recently by employee engagement author and host of the Employee Engagement Network David Zinger was a notion of the modern technological world giving rise to the (often involuntary) 24-hour worker; the feeling that we always need to be ‘on’. Zinger comments that this results in a jagged work/life balance, and leaders who are flawed, projects with little time, constantly fluctuating energy levels, and high degrees of uncertainty about your career. This will only intensify, so rather than try and create a utopia, accept this is the case and work your employee engagement strategy around this ideal of everybody being on a completely different wavelength. Purport a work hard/play hard, and ultimately flexible company culture that based on continuous improvement. Indeed a survey by the Intelligence Group revealed that 88% of Millennials want better-supported work/life ‘integration’ – note, not balance.

It’s not a channel strategy, but a complete content strategy

Work with me here

The Intelligence Group survey also reveals 79% of those surveyed would like a boss that also acts as a mentor, and 88% want a collaborative culture in the workplace, not a competitive one.

The mindful Millennial

The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2015 of 7,800 of the leaders of tomorrow, from 29 countries, recently revealed that 75% of Millennials questioned believed that businesses were focused on their own agendas rather than helping the wider society. Our generational shift is in our core values towards things like sustainability and equality. Information will be shared about employers whether good or bad (ahem, Amazon), so internal communication on these matters has to be genuine – give them something to share and be proud of.

What needs to change is the message, and what matters to the message is need

Engaging the Millennial generation means not paying lip service to the latest fads or technologies. You’re not going to get them with a hashtag so don’t even bother trying. Engagement is fundamentally based on their needs of the future, and our core values continue to shift dramatically – from 1980 to 1990, from 1990 to 2000, and forward to today. The generational shift is exactly that, a groundswell that must be fundamentally accepted before it can fundamentally drive a company forward.

We’re talking about our Generation. Y? Because we’ve gotta. Which is a reference only a handful of Gen Y-ers will get.