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.