In the September issue, The Granite Tower (GT) identified and analyzed several traits that characterize and distinguish Generation Y. Such an investigation gives us a vantage point in gaining insight into other issues concerning Generation Y in the workplace. The issue that got our attention this month was communication.
In the last issue, one Generation X interviewee pointed out the importance and necessity of communication in minimizing conflict with the generation that is so novel and different minded. To borrow his words, communication is crucial in “breaking down the wall” between generations. However, minimizing conflicts is just one of a thread of reasons why companies should care about good communication.
▲ Provided by Aon Hewitt's Best Employers 2.0 Korea 2011 (BEK)
“Communication between senior executives, one’s superiors and co-workers has to do closely with key drivers, such as corporate culture and leadership that affect employee engagement,” says Aon Hewitt Korea’s chief executive officer (CEO) Kris Park. Aon Hewitt’s “Best Employers 2.0 Korea 2011” (BEK) also had many questionnaires that asked about communication in the company; how openly senior executives communicate, what middle managers’ feedbacks are like, and if co-workers respect one another. “The influence communication has—both quantity and quality-wise—on employee engagement is truly tremendous. Companies selected as ‘best employers’ boast their open, honest, and straightforward style of communication, which we understand to have earned them good results in the study,” says Park.
One of the categories that BEK 2011 defined as engagement drivers is “people,” which concerns employees’ perceptions of senior executives, immediate managers, and co-workers as well as the level of appreciation for people as a valuable asset. To score high in this category, good communication between workers of various positions is what matters and what differentiated “the Best” employers from “the Rest.”
A closer look into employees’ responses in BEK 2011 reveals that more than half of employees, regardless of job status, position, gender, age, considered “people/ HR practices” to be their number one engagement driver.
Effective communication can be said to take place when all employees, regardless of position, exchange work-related thoughts and ideas as well as personal-level thoughts, feelings, and small talk, thereby enhancing their engagement level and ultimately aligning their goals to that of the company. As utopian as it sounds, many companies acknowledge the importance of communication and have implemented new methods of communication to reach and interact with the generation that has newly entered. Before diagnosing the efficacy of communication in today’s workplace— whether the walls are actually being broken down—those new communication tools deserve closer and separate inspection.
What It Is Like
How is communication taking place in the workplace? In the big picture, there are three agents involved; senior executives, middle managers, and employees. So far, the majority of Generation Y still belong to the third agent, the employee. In ot her words, Generation Y experiences mainly two types of communication; one with the senior executives and the other with middle managers.
Communication with senior executives was not easily thought of in the past. Their typical image in the workplace was as an inaccessible figure, especially to new employees. However, this has slowly changed as the importance of communication has become obvious to many. “Our CEO regularly send e-mails to all employees wishing a happy New Year or asking that we look after our health during the change of seasons,” says Park Chang Soo (51, Bundang), who works at Cheil Communications. Indeed, mails and e-mails from CEOs have come to be frequently seen in the mailboxes and inboxes of employees. As the Social Networking Service (SNS) became widely used, CEOs also joined the flow and made themselves available to employees of all positions. Even more direct ways of communicating with employees include visiting their offices and starting casual talks with them. Samsung’s affiliates are well-known for CEOs asking employees out for lunches or dinners every now and then.
Then there is the communication with middle managers—namely Generation Y employees’ immediate superiors. Clubs that have become widespread nowadays in the workplace also play a revitalizing role to employees not only in relieving work stress but also in facilitating communication with others in the company. Lee Hyoungrae (40, Namyangju), who works at Samsung Securities, is a member of the company band. “I practice and play band music with young employees with who I have as big an age difference as 20 years,” says Lee. Club activities give a chance for employees to build intimacy with other seniors and new employees with whom they currently or will potentially work.
Intranet community boards also enhance communication within a company. “The bulletin board was introduced several years ago to take communication to the next level, a much faster one, and it really made some visible progress,” explains Park. Once, a new employee in their company uploaded a post complaining that some of their chairs were broken. It was one of some numerous posts that would swamp the bulletin board one day and be forgotten the next. However, Human Resources (HR) team managers were serious in what they were doing with the newly implemented communication method. “The next day, they changed all the chairs in that office room,” says Park.
Communication involves the open exchange of thoughts regarding not only official matters—work—but also intimate ones. Though the two subject matters are clearly different, it is not surprising to see the exchange of one facilitating the exchange of the other. Be it a lunch with the CEO or activities in clubs, informal talks between workers of different positions lay the groundwork for effective communication regarding work, which ultimately brings about high employee engagement level.
Generation Y and Communication at Workplaces
As indicated in GT’s September issue on the characteristics of Generation Y, this fledging generation highly values individuality and exhibits a strong sense of self. Often they express their opinions boldly and actively, sometimes resulting in miscommunication and conflicts with colleagues and superiors. In order to minimize these problems, effective communication within corporations is more than needed, especially for Generation Y.
▲ Provided by Socyberty.com
Kim Hak-Beom, the CEO Company K Partners Limited, observes, “When repeatedly assigned simple tasks in the process of learning the corporate culture, for example, the new recruits would express their discontent more honestly than previous generations. This distinctive trait of Generation Y tends to mislead the existing members of the firm to deem the new employees as impatient.” To minimize misunderstanding on Generation Y by other members, CEO Kim suggests communication, “Instead of ordering employees to accomplish something, it is better to fully explain the need and importance of the work first and designate clear goals that will induce members to cooperate by themselves.”
Han Dhongho, the technical director of Neowiz Internet Corp., also stresses the importance of communication, especially for Generation Y; “Generation Y has the tendency to execute the work by their own judgment, rather than striving to persuade their superiors or expressing their opinions through discussion or conversations. Sometimes, this results in conflicts among workers or errors in the process of work, since not enough of the know-how of experienced employees are reflected in the work.” The significance of communication is patently shown in the list of companies that were chosen as the Best in BEK 2011. Professor Song Young Soo (Educational Technology, Hanyang University), who has been one of the panel members in the research, adds, “All the firms chosen as the Best in BEK 2011 commonly exhibit the following qualities: strong CEO leadership, great business results, strategic HR management, and smooth communication between CEO and employees.”
Young companies, whose history is rather short and whose members are much younger than those of average major companies, exhibit a more horizontal communication system. In the case of Bennigans, a family restaurant company, the management stratum is on average about 40 years old, and the communication system of the company is rather “flexible and quick,” according to CEO Kim Hak-Beom. Even though the company is not small, with a 1000 members, the whole company is divided into mere three strata—employees, team managers, and board members. “Anything suggested regarding work, including that applying to new recruits, is instantly reported to the board, and the proposals would receive instant feedback. Through this corporate culture, any employees are free to suggest what is necessary for work.” Besides this organizational structure, Bennigans also holds periodical athletic meetings and workshops to encourage interaction between the employees and the management team, and it supports club activities as well for smoother communication between different departments, in which about 40 percent of the employees participate in.
For Neowiz Internet Corp., a company that heavily relies on employees’ ideas and creativity, horizontal communication is all the more important. Han comments, “All the projects and meetings stress animated debates and freedom of expression. Our company’s services and products, all start from one person’s small idea. We use temporal group organizations based on projects or tasks,” another catalyst for better communication.
The Desirable Communication Generation Y Wants
When asked which form of communication system in corporations is desirable for Generation Y, Kwon So Yeon, a new employee at Korean Air, replies, “A working environment in which employees can freely exchange diverse ideas. Many companies hold several campaigns and events for the purpose of communication, but I think it is still far from perfect.” She tells GT about an interview with the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook that she had previously read, which illustrates Facebook’s free corporate culture that allows a new employee to pinpoint the wrong points from the COO’s statements in public. “Even though many firms in Korea are heading in a positive direction, communication between employees and the management stratum should be livelier for companies’ development.” CEO Kim adds, “Generation Y desires continuously conversing with leaders. Since they are more familiar with communicating online and on mobile, Generation Y wants to communicate in a more open and cooperative relationship.” Regarding the use of SNS, Kwon comments, “My company is actively utilizing SNS, including Facebook and Twitter recently, but it is limited to communication between the management team and the customers. I hope SNS can be used between employees and the management stratum, which will bring even more active bilateral communication.”
Communication has become a crucial component in managing a company and one of the most significant criteria an employee would consider in the job market. Companies that use communication effectively will not only dominate the current market, but also take control of the future.
Case Study A Passage to the Super-Best in Korea
▲ Lee Hyoungrae, Deputy General Manager of the Employee Relations Team.
Photographed by Park Jin Yung
An old maxim teaches us that we must not expect too much on our first attempt, but it was definitely not the case for Samsung Securities. In 2011, this Korean-based securities firm achieved what was much greater than they expected—Top 20 Best Employers in APEC (Asia-Pacific) as well as Top 10 Best Employers in Korea.
Aon Hewitt’s research is more focused on management strategies, organizational operation, CEO leadership, and HR systems than welfare. Based on this, Lee Hyoungrae (40, Namyangju), deputy general manager of the Employee Relations Team of Samsung Securities, claims, “Our CEO’s strong will and adequate strategies are well supported by our company’s robust HR system designed to effectively manage over 3,000 employees, which were main factors in our extraordinary achievements of 2011.”
HR in the Samsung Group is handled by two divisions—one is the Human Resources Team and the other is the Employee Relations Team. While the former is in charge of HR strategies and recruitment, the latter covers labor-management relations, organizational culture, welfare, and social corporate contributions. That of Samsung Securities is no exception, but it is obviously distinguished from that of other affiliates as well. “The biggest difference is that we pursue a lot freer environment,” explains Lee.
As Samsung Securities is a huge network of many highly educated specialists, a strict hierarchy is less preferred, which affects its reward system. “Employees are fairly repaid by their performances regardless of whether they are under a lifetime employment contract,” says Lee. Moreover, the company endeavors to realize gender equality. “We do not give advantages to male employees for having served in the military. Besides, female ones could be on maternal leave without worrying that they might lag behind, for it is recognized as a part of service with the company,” comments Lee. Thanks to these policies, women account for 43 percent of employees, with two out of 35 seats on executive board occupied by females.
Another noticeable feature is that its management is based on two-way communication. Regarding this, Lee suggests some interesting points about rapidly changing culture toward more open interaction with the influx of Generation Y. “Younger generations born in the 1980s tend to be more concerned with communications. This somehow motivates the company to get more communication-oriented,” states Lee. For instance, the CEO often has a lunch with or sends text messages to employees. Consequently, in the first half of 2012, 140 thousand text messages were sent in total.
One of the most eye-catching facts is that workers are able to enjoy a wide range of club activities from wine tasting to band, and the number of activities has reached 24. This program is devoted to not only consolidating unity, but facilitating originality. “Ability to create new ideas is a key to the incessant growth of the knowledge-based industry. Club activities are particularly good for Generation Y’ers, some of whom are trapped in a rigid perspective seemingly for having been fed up with harsh competition,” explains Lee.
On top of those aforementioned, the welfare of Samsung Securities is the crème de la crème. As soon as new recruits are hired, they are immediately required to fulfill a six-month education program. Employees can fully enjoy the benefits Samsung Group offers, such as free tickets to Caribbean Bay, Samsung Card mileage, and support of tuition fees. “Each affiliate selectively adapts the group’s welfare guideline following its own conditions. In the case of Samsung Securities, the level of medical service is relatively high; not only does the company register for collective insurance, but it supports the individual share of expenses up to 10 million won for every three year,” says Lee. Besides these, they can be counseled by a professional counselor to soothe stress or seek advice about their personal lives free of charge. Lastly, the company runs a task force (TF) to help retirees find a new position or start their own businesses.
It is said that there are no more jobs for life. Nevertheless, people are still longing for a workplace where they can put their energies without any regrets; and Samsung Securities might be one of the optimum choices.
Professor Song Young Soo (Educational Technology, Hanyang University)
“Competitors ultimately chosen as Best Employers in 2011 turned out to be equipped with four common strong points as follows: CEO’s powerful leadership, excellent business outcome, strategic HR management, and fluid communications between employers and employees. In detail, CEOs in those companies seemed to succeed in imbuing their employees with clear visions, while pursuing smooth interactions with them. On top of this, they have yielded extraordinary profits. This definitely proves the basic assumption of BEK that high engagement of employees can lead to a company’s success.”