In the upcoming years more and more students will graduate from university which have never known a world without the internet. This generation –my generation- which is commonly referred to as the ‘Digital Natives’, ‘Millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’ appear to perceive the world from a completely different angle. Since many of them experienced technology from their very early childhood as an integral part of their lives, we apparently approach digital communication, consumption, learning and working very differently.
With an estimated 70 million populous, ‘Generation Y’ represents the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. According to the Harvard Business Review, in developed countries already 50% of the workforce can be labelled Generation Y. Moreover, their workplace attitudes are fundamentally different from earlier generations: Unlike their parents, members of Generation Y have been pampered and nurtured from the cradle with a multitude of hobbies. Millennials aim at independence, self-fulfilment and want to spend their time in meaningful and useful ways. Therefore, they focus on a strong work-life balance and consider flexibility during work and a job that suits their personal interests of paramount importance.
As companies’ competition for available talent is mounting, the needs and attitudes of that target group cannot be ignored. Instead, corporate culture, working environment, recruiting strategy and the scope of tasks have to be adapted to best cope with this challenge and to cater to the computer-savvy students.
Impact on Employers
The frequent use of the internet and in particular social media platforms strongly impacts people’s behaviour and attitudes regarding everyday life and also towards employers. The first challenge will be to get young workers, who have ever-increasing expectations towards their future employers, through the door in the organisation. This requires firms to reconsider their recruitment strategy and to embrace new approaches, such as using social media or through organisation of virtual job fairs. Another issue is the increasing number of young people seeking an entrepreneurial career and who are unwilling to work in a hierarchical environment. The main challenges, however, will be device dependency and cultural clashes within the workforce:
Device and Social Media Dependency
More and more students pay attention to the technological environment of a potential employer. According to “The Next Web”, 40% of the students surveyed visit Facebook at least ten times a day; 38% of them admitted that they check their digital device at least once every 10 minutes. In addition surveys have shown that for many students money is no longer the main driver in the application process. Instead, a recently published study of Cisco revealed that students prioritise social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary when accepting a job offer.
As device dependency leads to distraction and multiplies the rate of mistakes, it is perceived as a major jeopardy to efficiency, customer orientation and thus competitiveness. Policies implemented to reduce the use of social media platforms, however, generally have a detrimental impact on employee satisfaction and might even prompt employees to leave. Furthermore, companies who completely prohibit device and social media flexibility send instant red flags for potential employees.
There are various traits of Millennials likely to lead to cultural clashes with earlier generations and superiors. The widespread notion that “Generation Y’ers” are particularly unrealistic when it comes to their professional careers, is one of them. Their overinflated sense of their skills and abilities leads to unrealistically high expectations for career advancement possibly undermining their credibility and boosting envy among older generations. Moreover, many young professionals face a culture shock from the first day on when they start in offices without instant messaging technology or access to social networks. Being kept away from those daily digital interactions often results in dissatisfaction in the workplace – which is hardly comprehensible for the elder workforce. Furthermore, Generation Yers tend to judge people based on their technological acumen and might thus, lack an appropriate level of respect for workers and particularly managers who lack extensive technology skills.
Resentment can also surface over management style. Generation Yers are used to get constant feedback, recognition and they possess a certain ‘speak-your-mind’ mentality. Subsequently, they might feel lost if communication from superiors is not given on a regular basis and lacks clear statements. Additionally, the traditional and still prevalent command-and-control type of management may cause tensions. Millennials have grown up questioning their parents, teachers, the media – and they are likely to do the same with their superiors.
All in all, culture clashes between different hierarchy levels and generations are not only likely to occur but rather inevitable. Particularly the young professionals’ impression that older employees are dismissive of their abilities and vice versa causes tensions. Nevertheless, these conflicts should be anticipated and addressed to avoid employee dissatisfaction and declining productivity.
It is apparent that a change in corporate culture and communication policies soon needs to be adapted to this change of mentality and communication patterns in order to recruit, motivate, and retain ‘Digital Natives’ more successfully. Companies should think more creatively about ways to enhance their employees’ work-life balance, and allow them to operate entrepreneurially by giving them control over their time and activities and loosen up a little with social media restrictions. If employees are officially not allowed to check their Facebook profiles at the workplace, they will do it with their smartphones anyways, hiding under the table, during the coffee break or in the restroom! The future workplace will thus, almost certainly be freer, more informed and less controlled and companies need to find the right balance between loosening social media restrictions whilst ensuring productivity and few cultural clashes between different generations.
Even though companies are concerned about the security and productivity risks of social media, I believe they need to come to terms with the fact that social network usage is rather a lifestyle for young employees than a mere distraction from work. Many seem to forget that, apart from solely posing new challenges (as each generation has), the skills and capabilities of Millennials will come in handy in various ways. Generation Y has grown up in a digitalised world and relies on it for information exchange and to perform their jobs in a more efficient way. Equipped with a plethora of technical devices Generation Y is plugged in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They live in the fast lane, are accustomed to ever-decreasing product life-cycles, and quickly get used to technology and applications that become obsolete within weeks. They simultaneously communicate via various gadgets and are said to be natural multi-taskers.
These characteristics are the root cause for several stereotypical prejudices. They imply, for instance, that Millennials get bored rather easily with repetitive tasks and are reluctant to perform routine jobs. Maintaining their interest and building up loyalty is therefore regarded as difficult. These traits, however, also indicate that Millennials are flexible, highly adaptable to change, have an innate understanding of a broad array of communication tools, are qualified to decipher the social media landscape and tend to have a steep learning curve.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that generalising an entire generation might neither be accurate nor helpful. There is probably such a vast economic, geographic, and demographic disparity within this group that the generalisation of a whole generation which is employed in numerous industries will lead to a dead end. Nevertheless, analysing these myths and stereotypes on an individual company level will be the first step to determine the best way to attract, grow and retain these valuable members of our future workforce.
Photo by TF28