Gen Y and the Future of the Workplace: Recapping Our Discussion With Forrester Clients

Followers of my posts on this blog have seen a consistent theme: what does the influx of young workers mean for the present and future business world? Yesterday afternoon my colleagues Clarie Schooley and Heidi Shey joined me in hosting 82 Forrester clients for an open and frank discussion on this topic. The conversation, which included participants across the age spectrum, was spirited and landed on a few broad concepts:

· Gen Y isn’t disloyal – the reality of business has made everyone a free agent. Technology – social computing – in conjunction with cultural adjustments – open collaboration – is seen as the key to recruiting and retention. But the consensus we saw in the chat was because companies no longer incent their employees to hang around for 30 years (re: pension plans) and freely cut jobs in economic downturns, Gen Yers (and all employees) have been instilled with an "every man for himself" mentality. And in this vein, they are willing to jump ship if it’s best for them and their professional development.

· Gen Y isn’t opposed to tedious work – they just want it to connect to their development. Because the world is full of free agents, everyone is looking for resume builders. The onerous tasks that make a business run don’t necessarily make the same impression on hiring managers as more creative or entreprenurial pursuits. The consensus seems to be to provide outlets to allow employees grow so that they don’t feel that their daily grind is only in service of the corporate bottom line.  

· Gen Y isn’t iconoclastic – they just want to demonstrate their worth. One participant pointed out that the Gen Yers in his business use technology to create new business processes while the older groups use it to improve existing processes. This inclination isn’t necessarily to summarily reject the way business has been done – it’s to show that they can get something done quicker, providing the company new IP. And, undoubtedly, this is a great resume item. But in the broader business context, not being wedded to 50 years of tradition allows for innovative thinking – something the corporate world talks about a great deal.

With this in hand, the question now turns to the technology vendors: where do you fit in a world whose employees look like this? I’ve put thoughts forward in the past for collaboration vendors in reports like “Getting People-Centric Collaboration Tools Right.” At a deeper level, though, there is an adjustment period that business is going through. Beyond the workforce getting younger, globalization and economics are roiling firms. Technology can only ease this transition so much – the rest has to come from real cultural and business process changes within businesses. Can vendors help here? Yes! But only if they’re willing to structure their professional services arm or pursue partnerships to provide their clients with this type of education and assistance. Your thoughts?

 

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

Comments

re: Gen Y and the Future of the Workplace: Recapping Our Discus

Nice recap! I also remember one participant on the call asking about regional differences -- if these Gen Y issues are mainly a US-centric concern, or if they apply worldwide. Claire chimed in to say that it has mostly been US-centric, but is also now growing in other parts of the world (e.g., Germany). I'm curious to see what those outside of the US think about the concepts above, and what they've seen in their companies.