Gen Yers only read the subject line of an email. That is, if they read an email at all.

I heard this from Jason Dorsey the Gen Y Guy®. Jason is not only the guru of all things Gen Y; he is also a brilliant and delightful entertainer. He didn’t provide data, so maybe his declaration was part hyperbole.

But I want to know: Is this true? Are employers aware? What are they doing about it?

As an anthropologist and parent of two Gen Yers, I know that generational perspectives – like all cultural perspectives – shape the way we communicate. As a communicator, I know that uncovering listeners’ perspectives is a critical step in designing messages that meet them where they are. 

Jason spoke at the Communication Leadership Exchange annual conference, and he certainly gave me a new perspective on how to design better communication for better results.

He opened by asking us (almost all Baby Boomers) to think of the jobs we got paid to do before we went away to college. From babysitting to pumping gas to cutting lawns to waitressing, we all had plenty of work experiences as kids.

Then he told us that most Gen Yers (now in their 20s to mid 30s) enter the workforce never having held those kinds of jobs. From completing an assigned task to showing up on time, many simply don’t know there are fundamental rules they’re expected to follow!

He also reminded us that Gen Yers are the kids who got trophies for everything – including a last place finish. They begin their careers never having connected the dots between effort, ability, results and rewards.  

These are just two of many insights Jason shared. (Check out The Center for Generational Kinetics for more.) Still, they underscore the need for better communication at work.

Here’s my take: Don’t assume people know what you think they should know. Find out. If people aren’t doing what is required, tell them what is required. Be explicit. Role modeling isn’t enough. Explain why – that’s how we connect the dots. Give lots of feedback. Make it part of an ongoing conversation.

As for reading only the subject line of an email… maybe that’s not so bad. According to the Information Overload Research Group, the rest of the workforce is only reading the first paragraph. 

A clear subject line just might be the start of mindful communication!