Gen Z can’t write emails, says Jodie Foster

The Silence of the Lambs actor says young people don’t know how to write business emails anymore. Does it matter?

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Helena Young
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Hollywood actor, Jodie Foster has bemoaned that young people don’t know how to write business emails anymore, in comments to The Guardian.

Describing younger colleagues as “really annoying” to work with, she called out their poor grammar. “In emails, I’ll tell them ‘this is all grammatically incorrect, did you not check your spelling?’ And they’re like, ‘Why would I do that, isn’t that kind of limiting?'” she explains.

Foster joins other employers and managers who criticise Gen Z for their new ways of working, which are reshaping how businesses communicate.

Are young workers killing corporate culture?

Corporate culture can be challenging for newcomers to adjust to. That’s especially true today, when organisational cultures are being re-defined in an increasingly digitised world.

Trends such as flexible working, which took off at the same time that many Gen Zers first entered the workforce, have led to workplace debates about everything from remote work attire to should employees answer calls outside work hours.

Those who think young people are not following these business rules correctly feel irritated. 16-25 year olds have been labelled the anti-ambition generation, referring to their supposedly entitled views about how much freedom they should have at work, and their belief in pushing back against always on culture.

One area that has garnered particular attention from commenters – now including Jodie Foster – is the topic of corporate speak. Gen Z, who grew up in the internet age, are more used to instant messaging and text speak.

A recent study by Sky found that young people now habitually ignore phone calls, with over half even blanking their parents.

The age group’s struggles to understand and adopt corporate talk could be one reason why young people are now being viewed as rude or entitled. By shunning traditional communication channels, Gen Z employees are getting lost in translation.

Is Slack making us stupid?

The generational language divide has been worsened by the switch to messaging platforms post-COVID. Whereas the majority of business comms were previously done over the phone or by email, many firms now rely on apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and even Whatsapp.

As a result, an emoji-filled, informal way of communication has trickled into UK workplaces.

Traditional salutations or sign-off greetings are being replaced by ‘x’ or even GIFs. Spelling and grammar has gone out the window as online slang and abbreviations take over.

While older channels of communication still exist – and are popular with customers – the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable business language are increasingly blurred.

Informal communication

There are plenty of benefits to a more relaxed communication style. While formal talk can make those who are unfamiliar feel left out, encouraging coworkers and managers to speak to each other more casually can bridge gaps and create a sense of belonging.

Off-the-wall chats, jokes, rumours, gossip, and feedback are all examples of informal communication styles. These help to build rapport between colleagues and enable the expression of emotions, ideas, and personal views – all of which are required for effective problem solving and collaboration.

The advantages are particularly pertinent to Gen Z, who typically populate junior roles and are less familiar with the ins and outs of corporate culture.

Don’t say ‘regards’ to the business email yet

Foster’s complaint that young people can’t write business emails may be fair criticism. But as more businesses embrace an informal communication style, does it really matter?

In a word, yes. If colleagues are using different tones, communication channels, or slang words to work together, this could negatively impact teamwork.

Good employee engagement relies on workers feeling connected, which means it is more important than ever for companies to create inclusive workplaces where everyone feels their preferred communication style is valued and respected.

The key is to strike a balance between formal and informal communication to give employees a chance to familiarise themselves with both.

For example, channels like emails or meetings are usually reserved for legal, contractual, or policy-related content. Informal channels are better for bonding through social messages, collaborating with colleagues, and resolving urgent or simple matters.

Bosses should educate staff on when it is and isn’t appropriate to use formal or informal speech. Encourage them to tailor their speech to the environment, audience, message, and feedback. And, if they ever work with Jodie Foster, tell them to find a spellchecker.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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