Opinion – A changing Internet changes corporate America. Generation-Y professionals, a name typically referring to young employees between the ages 22 and 28, are bringing the work environment to a completely different level. Often mocked and criticized for their inability to stay still in their job and being looked down at for their confidence, which is often construed as cockiness, they also deliver a completely new and fresh perspective to a work environment as far as technology and innovation is concerned. Though it might not always seem like it, Gen-Y employees should be paid attention to for their bright, innovative concepts and ideas. Even not-so-Gen-Y companies like Intel have noticed that trend and recommend others to change.
We had an opportunity to chat with Intel representatives about the business impact of Gen-Y and their habits to frequently use social networking tools. If you are part of Gen-Y (what a terrible term, by the way) and you work in a large corporate structure with many hierarchy levels, then the actual results may not be surprising, but the reaction of those companies in fact may surprise you – in one way or the other.
Intel recently conducted a study in which it discovered that even though companies are fearful that Gen-Y employees pose a great threat with their technological advanced minds and ideals, companies are beginning have developed an “if you can’t beat them join them mentality” allowing their professionals the opportunity to engage in social networking for work purposes. Some companies may be ahead of others in this process, but it seems that even the biggest and perhaps most technologically advanced companies are struggling what this trend means and there seems to be a limited engagement to accommodate and even exploit this new trend so many of us are living with on a daily basis now.
Of course, we are talking about social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter or Digg. Companies might limit access to certain websites and virtual worlds in which their employees are allowed to venture into. Workers might be able to utilize Facebook, but not Meebo, or the site access could be tailored to what a company finds is suitable for the task at hand. Intel, for example, tries to limit access by employee education and setting guidelines. Access rules are stricter within firewalls than outside.
It is interesting to note that Intel in fact pays attention to social networking in the way it does. During our conversation with company representatives, it became clear that if the company could reverse that trend, it probably would. But changing social networking is like “changing the weather”, which is rather impossible. Instead, Intel decided to changed “the coats”. The company knows that it will have to deal with people engaging in social networking rather sooner than later and is researching how it can limit the negative impact and potential threats, while taking advantage of a business opportunity that did not exist before and is not entirely clear at this time.
According to the survey results, Gen-Yers make up about 21 – 40% of the workforce in an average corporation, and while about 80% of those corporation believe they impact their business in a positive way, 24% believe they are a security concern for the company. In fact, IT professionals were more than twice as likely to say that Gen-Y employees cause more problems than other employees. When it came to the use of social networking, 61% of companies believe such applications are a security threat and IT concern: Facebook topped that list, followed by web portals such as Google and Yahoo and chat applications. In comparison, companies listed YouTube as the 10th most critical IT concern, while Microsoft Windows followed at #11, viruses and worms at #12 and pornography at #13.
Changing user behavior is changing company policies. To answer the social networking trend, the survey showed that most corporations currently respond with enabling email access om smartphones, they allow non IT-owned PCs to connect to a corporate network and they relax rules around employee participation in external sites. However, when listening to Intel, I was wondering whether these companies react appropriately, quickly enough and if the understanding for this trend is really there.
I don’t think that simply joining in the Gen-Y trends, and allowing “specific” virtual tools to be utilized is enough. I say this since I am part of this generation and see change practically on a daily basis. Here are my thoughts. Feel free to chime in at the end of this article.
It is common knowledge that if you allow access to social networking sites you will lose worker productivity. There is, in my opinion, absolutely no way around this. However, I do believe there is a way in which you can reduce the lost time by employees. Rather than adopting the “if you can’t beat them, join them mentality”, I believe that companies should adopt an all or nothing mentality for Gen-Y professionals, and everyone else in the office.
Companies will have to embrace the knowledge and capability that comes with Gen-Y employees. Some individuals know Twitter inside and out, some are comfortable within the confines of Tumblr, some prefer to mingle and socialize on Ning. As an employer what you want to do is get the most out of every social networking venue possible. Allow your employees to dabble in whatever sites they know, giving your company ultimate exposure. Just ensure that their time spent on these sites is for work only.
I believe the Intel study provided results that are obvious. Of course employers feel threatened by the knowledge and capabilities of those in the Gen-Y group of professionals. It is common knowledge that seasoned employees want do adopt change, but they are nervous at the same time and don’t catch on as quickly. What the study is missing is how to apply this knowledge and embrace the Gen-Y professional.
The need for continuous development
As a “Gen-Yer” myself, I have spent my entire life growing with the Internet. My time spent on the Internet forces me to not only learn useful and interesting information, but to also engage in conversation and socialize with a wide range of individuals on a daily basis. Because of this, I’m constantly “networking” and developing further skills I currently possess, and learning new things as I go along. For me, developing and growing is necessary. I am not alone in this. Generation-Y professionals must be challenged, and must be allowed to dabble in new things, and test out their own work theories.
When you make the decision to embrace the capabilities of Gen-Yers by allowing them to mingle via the web, and speak on behalf of your company you are catering to their need for something greater. You motivate them and you give them a responsibility. You are giving them a voice and an opportunity to do more than just push paperwork.
The face of business is changing. Businesses must become more technologically advanced. They must begin to pay attention to all communication tools that are available. Currently we’re in a boom of Web 2.0 products, but just as the Internet has grown and changed, this technology won’t be around forever. Utilize the adaptability of Gen-Yers. Change is ingrained in me; it is all I’ve known since I began utilizing the Internet.
Given the chance to grow with technology in the workplace, Gen-Yers can do nothing more than thrive.
Read on the next page: Gen Y seeks a family, not just a company; The business case
Generation-Y seeks a family, not just a company
My age group no longer looks for something to simply fill the hours between 9 and 5. With technology changing, careers are becoming more exciting. A job, for many, is like a second home, another life, an extension of themselves. Gen-Yers want to learn, they want to be a part of a community that strengthens them. They want to be friends with their coworkers and learn lessons from their managers and bosses. Give them some space; allow them to grow in to their own.
Companies with Generation-Y employees must be open minded; they must begin to see that the employee needs a little leeway and space to get their work done. Generation-Yers are independent; they are used to solving problems and working at their own pace. It’s just the way they have grown up. Embracing this in the workplace will allow them to succeed and improve a company’s bottom line.
Generation-Y employees have grown up in an environment where they are encouraged to ask questions and work to get everything it is that they want. With e-mail, and other virtual methods of communication available in the workplace Generation-Yers have very few reservations about asking, learning, and growing through their job. We’ve been taught to take advice from our managers, and bosses seeking them out as mentors. There are endless possibilities in networking and individuals are now finding it possible to reach out to others in the profession for advice and ideas.
Generation-Yers work to grow and develop within their company and career.
Putting it all out there
One of the most important talents of Generation-Y individuals that companies need to learn to take advantage of is their fearlessness and comfort level when it comes to the Internet and its capabilities.
Because I’ve grown up on the Internet utilizing tools such as blogs, Facebook, Myspace and other sites I am used to sharing my life, my photos, my ideas, and my thoughts with friends. Even though I don’t want to turn my personal blog into a professional area, I do know that the most important connections in life come when you are willing to expose a little more of yourself. As life documentation via the web is becoming more possible, it seems to breed a better employee. Employees now consider each move they make in their lives. They try not to make mistakes in life, and they realize that it is impossible to erase your Internet past.
Generation-Y professionals tend to be excellent multitaskers. For the most part many can text, talk on the phone, shoot out an e-mail and work on their instant messenger without even thinking twice. Individuals in this generation can’t imagine not being able to communicate utilizing IM or a social network, however they can always complete the task at hand, and can typically take on more than one at a time with no problem.
Employers can embrace this, as they have knowledge of their employee from a simple Google search. This however is also an area where employers need to keep an open mind and make sure and judge employees or potential employees on what they can bring to the table in their position.
The business case
For most business owners and managers this trend may be overwhelming, but there is no other solution for them to understand what that trend means for their business. Given the reach of social networking, this trend has become a reality and it is unlikely that anyone will be able to turn back time.
While social networking will cause lots of headaches for employers, it is critical for them to research services and pick out those that make business sense. Guidelines are necessary and may be a first step, but a limited use of tools may not work to tap the entire potential social networking offers. There is a huge community out there and those who will be able to reach it are likely to benefit.
To me, this is an all-or-nothing game, not a limited effort.