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Embracing Gen Y’s Technical Savvy in the Workplace

By Melissa J. Anderson

In a recent post on the New York Times’ Career Couch Blog, Eilene Zimmerman contended with her readers’ questions and complaints about working with millennials.

“As an older worker, you sometimes find it frustrating to work with and manage people who are in their 20s. Is it you or is it them?” asked one reader.

Zimmerman pointed out that an “us versus them” attitude isn’t going to help anyone be productive in the workplace. After all, many Gen Y employees may have valuable skills or talents that older generations are overlooking. She wrote, “Managers and co-workers will benefit if they recognize the strengths that are inherent in generational differences have valuable skills or talents that older generations are overlooking.”

In fact, generational conflict isn’t exactly something new. As David Card explained in the recent GigaOm report “Millennials in the enterprise: strategies for supporting the new digital workforce,” companies would be wise to embrace generational differences. He wrote:

“Many businesses have missed out or failed at handling big generational changes. Think of Sony compared to Apple in consumer electronics, or Blockbuster and Netflix: The shift from Boomers to Generation X, then to Millennials, has changed the competitive landscape by enabling brands that catered to the new generations.”

According to a recent Pew report on Millennials revealed that they the first “always connected” generation. It says:

“For them, these innovations provide more than a bottomless source of information and entertainment, and more than a new ecosystem for their social lives. They also are a badge of generational identity. Many Millennials say their use of modern technology is what distinguishes them from other generations.”

Millennials are leading the charge as the workplace becomes more connected and automated with every new technological advance.

Self Sufficiency

According to the GigaOm study, one feature distinguishing the Gen Y employee is his or her desire for self sufficiency. For example, the report says, they are more likely to try to fix an IT issue themselves before phoning the help desk. The report explains:

“Although 39 percent of Millennials turn first to company support upon encountering a problem, 61 percent look elsewhere first. A quarter said they sought help from colleagues or friends and another 24 percent tries to figure out a solution via a search engine such as Google.”

The generation is more interested in learning to solve their own problems rather than wait for someone else to fix them. Card writes, “This is not because they are oblivious or dismissive of company procedures, but because they strive to be self-sufficient and are increasingly comfortable with search and social channels.”

Companies that want to attract and retain high performing millennials should capitalize on this drive for self-sufficiency by implementing technological solutions that empower users internally. For example, Card also suggested that implementing a company social network might be useful for a generation that has been raised on the concept sharing solutions and ideas.

Erasing Work/Life Boundaries

Besides self-sufficiency, Gen Y’s enthusiasm for technology can teach companies how to better manage work/life expectations.

Zimmerman wrote, “research has shown that for Generation Y, work is less likely to be the most important part of their lives, whereas for older workers, life often revolves around work. Younger workers tend to value leisure time and strive for a balance between their work and personal lives.”

She implies that seeking work/life balance means that Millennials are less interested in work than older generations. But GigaOm’s research shows that that’s not the whole story.

In fact, the study showed that they are utilizing technology to improve productivity, working when and where they need to so they can achieve their work/life goals. It says:

“Perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, many Millennials fully embrace today’s work/life mash-up. Half of Millennials we surveyed said they work after hours on a weekly basis. One fifth of them do so almost every day. When working after hours, more than half are working from their own computers and devices, or a mix of their own and work-provided ones.”

Millennials are using the technology available them to get work done when and where they need to. Rather than playing into a battle between generations, companies should embrace this ethos and increase their workforce output by making it easy for everyone to work flexibly.

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