NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Step aside, millennials. Gen Edge is about to enter your workplace in a big way.

Just as we were figuring out millennials—born from 1980 to 1995—Gen Edgers are turning 22 and many more are joining the workforce. The good news is, co-ops have a lot to offer members of the younger generations, said Phil Gwoke of Bridgeworks, a consulting firm that studies generational differences.

"Co-ops offer benefits as well, or better, than most organizations," Gwoke told a Feb. 27 breakout session at the 2018 NRECA Annual Meeting, showing data busting the myth that younger people aren't as concerned with benefits and compensation as their older-generation colleagues.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Gen Edge is interested in innovation, experiences and understanding the why behind the products they consume and the work they do, and co-ops do all of that exceptionally well, Gwoke said.

To help us understand this new generation—and to attract and retain them as employees—it's important to understand the societal experiences in their formative years, particularly when it comes to communication, he continued.

For Baby Boomers, the main communication method was the rotary phone. Gen Xers had pagers. Millennials had cellphones. And Gen Edgers have iMessage, where using periods as punctuation implies anger and emojis reign supreme.

"A new level of unwritten rules and etiquette is forming" based on instant messaging, which all Gen Edgers grew up with, Gwoke said. "What's evolving is this new way of interpreting emotion that none of us grew up with."

Gen Edge is the product of Baby Boomer individualism, Gen X independence and millennial cooperation, Gwoke continued. The influence of each generation's experience informed the broad personality of the next.

"Gen Edge is a culmination of all those other generations, with a few twists," he said.

Influencing Gen Edge are the effects of the Great Recession. Their Gen X parents lost jobs and maybe homes. So unlike older millennials, who are more optimistic and more concerned with work-life balance, Gen Edgers are concerned with steady paychecks and sound benefits.

"Gen Edge is driven to succeed," Gwoke said. And when it comes to hiring Gen Edgers, the good news is "they have realistic expectations."

Gwoke recommended embracing Gen Edge's YouTube culture to help them help themselves in the workplace. Eighty percent of teens use YouTube as a source for advice, research or to understand their homework, he said, so building up a stock of short how-to videos will help them learn their jobs.

But at the end of the day, people still need to know how to talk to one another, and Gen Edge needs some help there.

"Share with Gen Edgers the benefits of communication," Gwoke said. "Technology has changed the way people communicate, but that doesn't mean traditional methods have lost their value. It just means they haven't been effectively coached to use them."

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