Shocking Study Says Millennials Prefer Meat-World Tete-a-Tetes to Texting

A new study gets inside the heads of millennials at work.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Hark! It is time for more millennial-whispering. The PreparedU Project, a research group started by Bentley University, has unscrolled the results of its latest survey, a trawling of responses from 1,031 American millennials between the ages of 18 and 34. Noting that this demographic will make up almost 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, researchers wanted to peer inside the millennial brain as it bobs around the office atop skinny jeans, bright sneakers, and a Fair Trade USA sweatshirt. How do millennials feel about texting with co-workers? What is their productivity Achilles’ heel? How often do they check their work email after hours?

Legend has it that millennials are wedded to their devices, and that the reason they use so much vocal fry is possibly that their voices are rusty from underuse. (Actually, women adopt the speech pattern known as vocal fry because it implies power and upward mobility—we are conditioned to think low gravelly tones will command more respect in a society that still associates male speech with dominion. So if you don’t like vocal fry, help fight sexism!) In this survey, however, 51 percent of respondents said they preferred talking to their colleagues in person, rather than texting (14 percent), emailing (19 percent), or Gchatting (7 percent). Of course, workplace interactions are often more formal than social ones—not to mention that millennials frequently work with non-millennials for whom texting is less natural. But two Bentley professors had alternate explanations for the result: Ian Cross, who directs the Bentley Center for Marketing Technology, said millennials may seek out in-person chats because they “need more validation than previous generations.” They crave “praise” and “clear direction,” both of which are likelier to emanate from meat-world tete-a-tetes. And Bentley psychology professor Aaron Nurick posited that millennials “yearn for more personal communication and real relationships, in part because these opportunities have become so rare for their generation.”

I am not sure I buy either of those glosses, though perhaps I am in denial about my vanishingly small chances of ever connecting to others in an authentic way. I just think most human people prefer interacting face-to-face when they have the ability to do so. On the other hand, 56 percent of men reported they are happiest speaking to a colleague in person, versus only 48 percent of women, so perhaps some combination of shyness, writing skill, and perfectionism with regard to the communiqué factors in, too.

The survey also discovered that, while 77 percent of respondents believe ardently in flexible office schedules, they’ve picked up some workaholic habits. Almost 90 percent of millennials “regularly” check work email after hours, and 37 percent “always” do. This eternally-on dynamic perhaps owes more to the temptations of mobile technology than to Spartan discipline, the researchers suggest. Why? Because later in the survey, millennials themselves reported that the steepest challenge facing their generation as they embark on their careers is a poor work ethic. (They are not just being modest: 54 percent of corporate recruiters gave recent college grads a “C” on preparedness for their first jobs.)  

Finally, 66 percent of millennials told researchers that employers should limit social media use to make employees more productive, and they are 100 percent correct. Someone give those respondents a trophy.