Millennial Question: Why Does Gen X Love Email?

Millennial Question: Why Does Gen X Love Email?“You’ve got mail!” Ah, the days when the ding of a new message was exciting rather than annoying. With all the apps and productivity tools designed to help us manage our email and all the effort many devote to achieving “Inbox Zero,” it’s hard for millennials — and many others — to believe that Gen Xers used to adore email. And our dirty little secret is that many of us still do.

Of course, not every Gen Xer feels this way, but millennials working for Gen X bosses like me might be perplexed: Why does email persist, with all the other productivity and communication tools like Slack and Basecamp available these days?

3 Reasons Gen Xers Love Email

That’s a totally reasonable question, so let me explain the three reasons we Gen Xers just can’t break up with email.

  • It was our new thing — like Snapchat or texting today. Gen Xers were just starting our work lives when email launched. I remember in my first job at a nonprofit, I had to unplug my landline phone to plug in my router to check my email — yes, on dial up.  Think about it: Email was so important that we would take our entire phone system offline to use it! (Or maybe that was just me. And my boss didn’t exactly know I did that…)
  • It offers cover.  Much of today’s communication is designed to be transitional in nature. But Gen Xers love that email gives us a record so we can say, “See! I did ask you to do this!” Back in the day, really old school bosses would, in fact, print out their emails. Most Gen Xers are too tech savvy for that, but our archives are probably hogging up a chunk of the cloud. We can’t help it; the permanent nature of email makes us feel safe.
  • It makes us feel accomplished. We were the generation of self-sufficiency — latchkey kids, who would come home, pop a Hot Pocket in the microwave and flip on the Atari for a few hours until mom or dad got home. Sure we’ve evolved and can text with the best, but something about sitting down at our desks and sending a bunch of emails makes us feel productive.

4 Tips for Writing Effective Emails

If you find yourself with a boss or client (Gen X or otherwise) who’s into email, it’s crucial to master this still-popular professional communication form. Consider these tips for writing effective emails.

  • Prioritize professionalism. It might seem like a casual medium to you, but in reality every email you send is a brick in the building of your professional reputation. Whatever you write is contributing to your “permanent record” — what your boss thinks of you, what his or her boss thinks of you, and what your clients and other professional contacts think of you. It absolutely can have bearing on your future prospects.
  • Make it safe for any eyes. Remember any email might be forwarded or the recipient might include someone else on the CC chain. Even if you’re only sending an email to your boss, he or she might forward it up the ranks. And we all know the potential danger of “reply all” by now, don’t we?
  • Follow the leader. While emojis are certainly swimming into the mainstream, you still don’t want to be the first to bust out a thumbs up. Always err on the side of professionalism and follow your correspondent’s lead. Or, to be safe, avoid emoji and emoticons entirely in professional communications.
  • Meaningful subject lines matter. Your Gen X boss will be eternally grateful if you remember that one topic = one email. Don’t try to stuff too much information into one email or change topics mid-message. Keeping topics separated and adding a descriptive subject line to each email makes it easier to keep information straight.

The bottom line is always to communicate with someone the way that person wants to be communicated with – whether that’s by phone, in person, via text or over email. Even if another person’s preferred method is not yours, following his or her lead ensures you will get your point across effectively and make a good impression in the process.

Gen Xers: Do you still love your email? Let everyone know why in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is a New York Times best-selling author and a nationally recognized millennial expert who helps employers recruit, train, manage and market to the millennial generation. Her speeches and training sessions inspire multigenerational collaboration and foster lasting organizational success. Contact Lindsey to learn how she can help your organization understand and connect with millennials.

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9 Responses

  1. I love e-mail. I admit it. I can read it immediately or ignore it for days. I can open it, then decide to archive it, or get back to it later. I can write what I’m thinking and then delete the whole thing if it does not sound right. E-mail is what prevents me from having to talk to people and serves as a reminder of the thousands of things I have to do.

  2. Hi Kathy! Great post, loved the content! As an undergraduate student, checking and responding to emails has taken a lot of my time. While I appreciate how efficient it can be, I was wondering if you had any tips for email efficiency?

    1. @Kevin – Great question, thanks. There are a few strategies I find valuable. Everyone has different preferences, so try playing around with a few of these to see if any of them work for you:

      1. Only check email at set times of day. When you “batch” emails, you tend to process the faster and not fall victim to the constant trickle.
      2. Commit to emptying your inbox every day. This is a tough one, but some people are very disciplined about “inbox zero” and never let their inbox get out of control.
      3. Commit to writing much shorter emails. Challenge yourself to reply in as few words as possible (as long as you are still professional). Often we go on and on when it’s not necessary.

      Hope those tips are helpful and I invite other readers to share theirs!

      – Lindsey

  3. Great article for those people who think Email is too old!

    We are, (Gen X-ers) in fact, in love with email and everything you said is true. It was our “thing” and all our processes we have developed a professional career on are based on how we use it to communicate and document.

    Great note on encouraging use of whatever your recipient wants as well… I still have someo clients I handwrite letters to (WHAT???) because that is what they are most comfortable with.

  4. Lindsey – After seeing you at NACE, I will forever follow you!!! I am cracking up at this post because as a Gen X-er, I adore email and despise our IT department for forcing me to delete after a certain amount of time. It is a track record, a CYA file and a task list all in one. I’ve never seen an explanation of why I love it summed up so eloquently.

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