What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Recently, I was on a call where a senior executive wondered whether or not kids entering the workforce in the next 5 years can write complete sentences now that everyone texts. For me, this is another example in an old story: fear (and some loathing) of Gen Y’s entrance into the workplace.  And frankly, as a 20-something, I think a lot of it is unfounded.

At no time is this fear more clear than when the conversation turns to approaches and technologies related to collaboration and Web 2.0 – areas that I cover for vendor strategy professionals. At this point I think I’ve heard it all. “Gen Y is bringing in unsecure consumer technology!” “We have to adopt wikis and social networks to recruit college graduates!” “Email is dead because the kids don’t use it!” Being a good sport about this, I’ve tried to shrug it off as the typical complaining one generation does about its kids. But the longer I cover this space, the more I believe this isn’t going away for two reasons:

1)   We talk about Gen Y like they’re aliens. I’ve read enough reports now about the “digital natives” that I’m kind of scared: they use different types of technology; their brains are wired differently thanks to multi-tasking; they’re self-absorbed and demand their ideas be implemented. If I were a business leader and I kept opening up analyst reports and magazine articles to find these descriptions of the people I have to hire, I’d be planning defensive strategies as well.

2)   Vendors play on these fears to sell product. It’s a smart strategy: you’re worried about recruiting Gen Yers or you want to keep them for looking outside the firewall for collaboration tools, buy my stuff because it’s what the kids want. Of course this completely misses the cultural issues – re: non-collaborative environment, lack of innovation – that no blogs, wikis, or social networks could ever fix alone.

I think a lot of the hand-wringing associated with Gen Y assumes that my generation isn’t as pragmatic as its predecessors. A kid who spent four years earning a finance degree is not going to turn down a job on Wall Street because they won’t allow her to use Facebook at work. What being a digital native actually means is that businesses have a group of people who can use the newer productivity and collaboration technologies to generate ideas and get work done in more efficiently.

That said, I turn the floor over to you. What does Gen Y mean for business? How can vendors address the issues associated with “digital natives” in business? Let’s have a conversation.

 

TJ (http://twitter.com/tjkeitt)

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Comments

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Very intersting post TJ. Perhaps we just use Generation Y as a proxy for the technology changes we see all around us -- but which generation Y is using most actively and creatively. The social and political changes of the 1960s were not driven only by college students - but college students are a symbol of that important time period. Maybe technology is so important to this decade that we can't help but see it reflected in the activities of young people -- and that leads to over-stated generalizations about their importance. After all, my mother-in-law blogs and uses facebook more than I do!

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Today I said to bunch of internal communicators that like anything some people can handle change better than others. Gen X and Gen Y and Gen V may be a nice little label for some but it is pretty useless most of the time when it comes to social media.It is communication and that is all. If anything the latest additions flatten the playing field for the generations.Yes I would be incredibly surprised if a graduate turned down a job because the company doesn't allow them to Twitter. The reason to look at such tools is that it may well be good for your business.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Good post TJ! Quick thought:We're at the point now when Gen Yers aren't just kids about to graduate from college --- they're 30 years old with careers and influential positions. These social tools will become more and more ubiquitous at the office as Gen Y becomes more and more entrenched in the workplace. Just like email augmented the phone, the tools of digital natives will slowly gain credibility and enhance collaboration as their use outside of the workplace becomes more commonplace.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Very interesting post, TJ. As a Gen Y guy who is fairly fluent in social media, I definitely see the value that tools like Twitter bring to my life and my work -- however, they certainly don't define me. E-mail is certainly not dead to me, and I make great use of "archaic" tools like Word and Powerpoint. Most importantly, I actually do welcome face-to-face conversation with others, and even (gasp!) prefer it. Businesses that use Gen Y'ers skills advantageously, while making sure that a reasonable framework exists, are sure to prosper in the fast-paced 21st Century. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go speak with a colleague -- and I'll certainly be using more than 140 characters...

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

TJI don't recognise your scenario. I'm the Chairman of a tech reseach business in the UK. I happen to be 62. We have the whole range of age groups working for us as analysts.I've found the use of Web 2.0 technologies and social networking in particular is MUCH higher in the mid to older age groups. Indeed the report yesterday from Ofcom demonstrated this.The demographics for use of LinkedIn and Twitter are especially relevant - showing that your generation are relatively low users!It could get worse if that wonderful memo from the 15 year old 'intern' at Goldmann Sachs last week is anything to go by!So maybe talk of 'digital native' to apply to you is as irrelevant as 'old fogy' as applied to me!

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Richard makes some very good points about low usage of Twitter by Gen Y. I've noticed a big difference between how a 20 year-old and a 28 year-old approach SM. The older 20-somethings seem pretty entrenched in Facebook, but some of the younger ones are already being turned off by the number of geezers (i.e., Boomers)on there. Twitter isn't attracting them either. I don't know yet what channels they'll prefer. I just know they'll be pretty adept at using technology, and suspect they'll tend to lock in to some favorites fairly early.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Neat points. I think with a lot of these social networking sites and collaboration tools, it's also all a moving target where people are jumping from one medium to another as their needs and life stage change (and what they're getting out of using these sites and tools changes!). What was popular and useful in college doesn't necessarily stay popular and useful to the user once they enter the workforce. The people/friends/peers they interact with on a daily basis are using something else or there's just less time to be constantly updating or using those tools. That's probably where the company culture and openness to social media comes in. Gen Y will be able to embrace and make use of whatever social technology they encounter so long as they find that it fits their needs and their time/effort put into it is reciprocated.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Interesting post, TJ. However, my experience working with Gen Y interns has proved vast differences. Some are very digitally savvy, and others not at all. GenYs all do "text," and I think this contributes to more concise, to the point communications, not necessarily a negative. However, GenYs are not prone to returning phone calls or voicemails.I was recruiting interns recently to assist with a Master Proposal and PowerPoint presentation for selling Web and social media services. Although these were marketing and PR interns I was looking to hire, they were not familiar with the business strategy behind the social media tools. So, you must remember, just because someone may know the "tools", they are not necessarily "savvy." I believe you need the compliment of senior leadership for strategy. Note to senior executives looking to collaborate with GenY--just don't leave a voicemail!

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

TJ I too have heard the negative talk about Gen Y. Makes me a bit angry too (and I'm not from that generation).With every generation there will be whiners, lazy kids, and attitude. I don't think this generation has a lock on that or is any more so. If fact as a parent of college age kids and an owner of a marketing agency I find Gen Y to be smart, engaged, and very hard workers.I also remember when email hit the business world. That was going to ruin business, stop people from face-to-face communications, and make the phone obsolete. Not to mention create a workforce that was rude and YELLED because email was less personal. Didn't happen.With all technology there is a period of settling down. With the Internet and social media, however, we're in Internet time and things are changing faster than ever before. Some people (both young and older) harness it in positive ways and others experience negative affects.You can't blame technology because kids are texting at the dinner table. As parents we still have control (ok we like to think we do), but we can teach our kids to back away from the device.This is one of the first times in history that the younger generation knows significantly more about something than the older gen. That may make many older people uncomfortable. On top of that, it's human nature to avoid or dismiss what we don't understand.There are many businesses who welcome new technology, and many older gen folks who embrace it as well as the Gen Yers who live it. Bottom line, there's a lot we can teach each other. It doesn't have to be my way or yours. Both the business world and the Gen Y crowd can learn from each other - they just have to be open to it.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Hi all,This seems to be shaping up into a great conversation. In reading the comments section, I think there is a bit of a consensus forming: Gen Y isn't as bad as a lot of research makes us out to be. In fact, like every other generation, we're made up of a spectrum of people with varying degrees of ability using the technology of the day.What I found interesting were the comments from Richard (pointing to the now infamous Morgan Stanley memo and the Ofcom report about declining UK youth particpation in social networks) and Blair (about kids not picking up Twitter). I'm not sure if what they note are indicative of the death of social technology or just the under 20 set preparing the ground for the next big thing - perhaps virtual worlds considering the popularity of Club Penguin and Habbo. And while I think this is a bummer for marketers hoping to reach those kids by tweeting about discounts on sneakers and having them become "fans" of their product on Facebook, I think it has little workforce meaning.That's because I'm not sure that I completely agree that Gen Y is being out Web 2.0'd (so to speak) at work by the older generation; I'd bet the 20-somethings in your salesforce have extensive Facebook friendlists consisting of both actual friends and clients who they are getting close to while neglecting to update their My Sites page on SharePoint. And in this regard, I see a larger, cross-generational issue about perceptions of utility of social tools at work. I mean really, does anyone actually read the corporate blog? And if people are finding limited (or no) value in these business-grade tools, is it a tool design issue or problems inherent with trying to translate an idea of openness (the power of a vast network) to something that is by necessity closed (i.e. behind the firewall). But I digress.I think, overall, that there is an opportunity for business. While not all Gen Y may be tech savvy (h/t blogbrevity), they did come of age in a digital world. So, I think that while many may not understand the business thinking that goes into the wiki, they are familiar with the technology. And I think that is something for business -- and vendors -- to harness, not demonize.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Over here in the "old world", I'd say that there's rather lack of awareness of Gen Y. What I advocate is that Enterprise Apps need to adapt to the requirements of the emerging new workforce generation - or else they would be discarded/replaced. And indeed, there's an increasing number of vendors who got the message and are investing in such adaptation and evolution.

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Love the conversation. I am a small business owner who currently has more than 30 full-time Gen Y employees. While this group of young professionals does bring an entirely new set of challenges when it comes to professional management, they also bring some incredible benefits.I do not believe in restricting access to social networking tools. In fact, I think that with some basic guidelines and goal setting, businesses can benefit from Gen Y using these channels. From WOM recruiting, to internal brand ambassadors, social channels give everyone a megaphone - it's senior management's role to provide guidance on how that megaphone should be used in a business setting.I will be making regular updates to my Working With Gen Y blog if interested: http://WorkingWithGenY.wordpress.com

re: What Does Gen Y In The Workforce Really Mean?

Thanks for checking in on this post. I have recently completed a report on what, if anything, Gen Yers mean to collaboration in the workplace. I'll be posting some of my conclusions to this blog in the coming days. I encourage you to stop by and take a look. Additionally, I'd invite you to follow me on Twitter -- a tool I have not been religious in using before, but amd attempting to do better.TJ (http://twitter.com/tjkeitt)