Who says millennials are going to create anarchy in your office? Shelley Portet – herself one of these terrifying creatures – sets the record straight about young people, technology and the workplace.
A bit like He Who Must Not Be Named – that’s a Harry Potter reference by the way for you oldies – young workers born after 1985 are apparently now so terrifying to employers they are given the ominous title The Millennials.
Fears of what will happen when these young people enter the workforce – so tech-savvy that they will bring anarchy where there was corporate order – have spread through the business world. How will they be managed? How will they be recruited? How will they be controlled? Who will save us from them?
As a millennial myself, I view these horror stories with surprise and some amusement. I had thought my generation was to be known as the doomed generation, to be ever in debt and unemployed. Now I find we are set to change the face of the corporate world forever.
While there are many ways in which my generation brings with it a new attitude to technology, much of what is written about the future workforce is at best misguided.
Let me put the record straight and lay some of these millennial myths to rest, speaking for all millennials everywhere – or at least the ones I know.
Millennial Myth 1: Millennials will bring a wave of IT anarchy
The myth: millennial workers will bypass corporate policy and use applications and devices that fit their expectations of IT. Cue scenes of chaos in the office and redundant IT support departments forced to live rough.
The reality: a recent Gartner report shows that many people in enterprise are already bringing technology from the home into the office. As most millennials are not in work yet, we must assume that IT anarchy is not a phenomenon restricted to the post-1985ers.
Millennial Myth 2: Millennials are experts in social networking
The myth: knowledge of social networking seems to be the millennials’ greatest asset. Businesses know social networks are a powerful force and are important to ‘young people’. But many businesses appear unsure how it all works. Millennials – who have grown up on social networking – must therefore hold the key.
The reality: I apologise if I am doing anyone out of a job here, but really, we just…
…use it for socialising and wasting time.
LinkedIn and Twitter are great for business networking and sharing information, but few millennials open an account for either until they enter the working world. Twitter isn’t for teenagers, or at least not the ones I know. The assumption that all millennials are somehow in-built with specialist knowledge of marketing on social networks is, I’m afraid to say, untrue.
Millennial Myth 3: Millennials want to use Facebook for work
The myth: millennials will only engage in work if it comes in a Facebook format and are unable to hold a conversation in the real world without saying LOL or LMAO.
The reality: yes, we may love Facebook and know our OMGs from our BTWs, but we don’t expect, or want to use it for work. Despite the apparent fears of many baby boomers, individuals born after 1985 are still able to communicate without a keyboard or touchscreen.
In fact during job searches many of my fellow graduates have discarded job adverts that offer remote working because they want to work in an office where they can get face-to-face interaction.
Also, I think most millennials would like some differentiation between their work life and social life. The last thing 20-somethings want is to allow their work colleagues to see pictures of their drunken weekend antics. Although this is not to say millennials won’t want to access their Facebook accounts at work.
Facebook provides a great audience for advertising and marketing, but the idea that it should be integrated into every aspect of working life is misplaced.
Millennial Myth 4: Millennials won’t accept traditional corporate hierarchies
The myth: millennials won’t do as they’re told since they think they know everything about everything just because they once read it somewhere on the internet.
The reality: we’re actually pretty desperate for a job and will do anything we can to get into any kind of hierarchy. The willingness of so many graduates to work for free these days shows that millennials understand the concept of starting at the bottom.
The caricatures of millennials as disloyal, disobedient, and demanding probably stem from the authors’ experiences of their teenage children. Teenagers will always be all those things: touchscreens and instant technology have not created that particular monster.
But the stroppy, tech-savvy youth of today will grow up. They will be…
…used to technology in a way their predecessors won’t have been, but essentially young people entering the workforce will respect their managers as much or as little as they always have done. Did you agree with everything your boss said the day you joined the organisation?
Millennial Myth 5: Millennials cannot think
The myth: technology is dumbing down the millennials, and that they are, in fact, the dumbest generation.
The reality: contrary to Mark Bauerlein’s argument in The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, in my experience there are plenty of intelligent millennials.
Intelligence is recognised by baby boomers as the ability to store and recite facts. We have Google. It would be a foolish waste of time for us to learn facts, so don’t despair if your recruits appear ignorant.
Google has not made us stupid but has enabled us to devote our time and energy to developing other skills such as multitasking, creative thinking and collaboration.
And I feel I have just proved my own point by Googling ‘what are millennials good at’ to help me write that.
Sure, our grammar may be terrible, but blame the national curriculum not our love of technology.
And now for some millennial facts. Having trashed those millennial myths let me now tell you what is unique about the millennial workforce and how your company needs to change to make the most of them.
Millennial Fact 1: We prefer to figure out technology – no instruction manuals for us, thank you very much
Please don’t sit us down for a PowerPoint lecture on how to use Microsoft Office. Even if you can find something new to tell us about software we’ve been using since we were old enough to prod a keyboard, chances are we’ll have slipped into the sleeping-with-eyes-open mode we perfected at university and will miss it entirely.
Actually, please don’t lecture us about IT systems full stop. Many of my fellow graduates have relayed horror stories of having to endure whole weeks of induction workshops where they are forced to sit through hours of ‘and to access the server…’ without taking any information in.
As Don Tapscott so eloquently puts it…
…in his book Grown Up Digital, for my generation, “technology is like the air” – telling us how to use it seems pointless.
Instead of wasting our time and yours, allow us to do what we naturally do with any technology: learn by using. Give us a day, perhaps two, to learn the peculiarities of your IT systems by trial and error. Have someone on hand to answer our questions and you will find your staff better acquainted with your systems than after a whole month of inductions.
Also, you won’t risk killing off the enthusiasm of your new recruits on day one.
Millennial Fact 2: Multitasking comes as second nature
When we watch TV, we usually have our laptop open to update our Facebook status, airing our views on the latest X-Factor hopefuls while also texting our friends on our mobiles. We are concentrating on all three things at the same time and we can’t see why that would be strange.
In other words, don’t worry if your young recruits have five internet tabs open, with Hotmail, Facebook and YouTube being three of those as I do now – work email and silicon.com are the other two, if you’re interested.
There are all sorts of frightening statistics telling employers how much productivity is being lost to Facebook – just search ‘Facebook’ and ‘productivity’ for a colourful sample. But do employers worry about productivity lost due to staring out the window? Probably not, but only because there aren’t any easy-to-find statistics on this particular form of distraction.
I find listening to music via YouTube and checking my Facebook and Hotmail accounts every now and then keeps my mind active. Millennials are used to constant stimulation from a variety of media sources. It keeps us happy and, more importantly from a work perspective, it keeps us alert.
A final thought: the threat of the millennials is the new millennium bug – a lot of hype and worry over nothing. Technology will change the way people work, but this change is already happening and is not restricted to the millennial demographic of your workforce. So enough with the horror stories.