As Millennials pour into the workforce, HR executives and business leaders are struggling to adapt their management strategies. Glued to their smartphones and practically wired to social media, Gen Y, sometimes known as “generation we”, has gained an unfair reputation for being distracted, unproductive, and self-absorbed. But rather than viewing their immersion in social technology as a negative, I would argue that business leaders need to view the social web as a guide to bringing the best out of young employees.
According to a study by UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Millennials will make up 46% of the U.S. workforce by 2020. However, a recentstudy by Bentley University found that 68% of corporate recruiters say that it’s difficult for their organization to manage them. Businesses that fail to address this problem will be at significant disadvantage when it comes to recruiting Millennials and cultivating their potential. Thanks to websites like Glassdoor, potential recruits will know if your company is failing in this area.
To more effectively manage Millennials, we must look to social media for insights on what they value, how they operate, and what will motivate them in a work environment. In a profound way, the dominant technology of an era shapes how kids, teenagers and young adults view their world. It’s easy to scorn Gen Y when we look at their obsession with technology from the outside, but when look at the world from their perspective, we’ll gain some the keys to improving their communication, collaboration, and productivity.
Here are five lessons from social media that HR and business leaders can use to bring out the best in Millennials.
1. Millennials Like Efficiency
Millennials have grown up in a world where technology is continually making conversations and tasks faster. This is why they abhor things like “catch-up” meetings—they’re used to catching up on Facebook or getting concise updates on Twitter anywhere and anytime.
The idea of emailing back-and-forth, booking a conference room, sending Outlook invites, going to a conference room, and then having an hour talk doesn’t make sense to Gen Y. They would rather post their latest marketing report to a common wall. They would rather collaboratively edit a Google Doc instead of email around a Word document. And they would definitely prefer to instant message their manager rather than walk down the hall.
Provide Millennials with technology that matches the immediacy of social media, and they will become more communicative and collaborative.
2. Millennials Turn to Collective Knowledge
When 22 year olds want to know something, they Google it. If the answer they need is in Wikipedia, a marketing blog, or a YouTube video, perfect. They don’t want to bother their supervisor or someone else for the answer.
However, businesses have a tendency to silo information with one person. Susan is the invoicing guru, Bob is the expert on business intelligence reports, and unless you ask one of them, it’s almost impossible to learn about invoicing or reporting. This cramps the Millennials’ learning style, which seems highly independent but is actually quite social. After all, Wikipedia, YouTube, and blogs are ongoing dialogues fueled by billions of people.
To help Gen Y learn your business quickly, you need your experts to begin sharing their knowledge digitally. A company wiki or similar repository will not only engage younger workers but also minimize the risk of losing knowledge when employees leave the company. A collective knowledge reservoir will improve with time as people create, correct and improve entries.
3. Millennials Respond to Games and Crowdsourcing
Gen Y grew up on console video games and then transitioned to smartphones. With popular games like “Halo,” Millennial kids learned to work towards a goal and collaborate. Now, they might challenge their buddies in “Words with Friends” and compare “Candy Crush” scores.
They are also more likely to write a detailed Yelp review to help strangers and their favorite local businesses.When a Millennial wants to find the best sushi restaurant in the neighborhood, she’ll look on Yelp because she trusts these random reviews even if they are written by strangers. When she’s comparing headphones, she’ll look at Amazon ratings and reviews. All this information on Yelp, Amazon, and other sites is crowdsourced from users.
In the workplace, you can use technology to build a similar symbiosis between competition and collaboration. For instance, you can divide a sales department into teams and crank up the stakes with a web-based leaderboard. Many companies now use this type of “gamification” to encourage higher performance and teamwork in a fun, approachable way.
Similarly, you can leverage Generation We’s instincts by allowing them to tap their co-workers for ideas. Today, companies post big data challenges, graphic design projects, marketing campaigns, or open source software and watch as people compete or collaborate to get better results. If your marketing Millennials use a company social tool to request the best slogan for a new product (maybe with a prize incentive), their peers from many different departments will chip in.
4. Millennials Want Community, Not Divides
Millennials frequently complain about isolation and divisions in the workplace. They dream of being “part of something” and “making an impact,” but in the workplace they’re turned off by the rivalry between marketing and sales. Or, they’re sick of being that “developer guy” who’s cordoned off from the rest of the company.
Your Millennials are especially put off by culture that ignores community because they feel part of multiple global communities and can’t see why people stuck in the same office can’t just work together. Ever heard of couch surfing? It’s a social media site that lets you discover strangers around the world and request to sleep on their couches. A lot of Millennials are quite comfortable with it. It’s an incredible example of how easily Millennials overcome geographical, cultural, and personal barriers using social technology.
It’s a mistake to think that mobile phones and Facebook are making Gen Y antisocial. Indeed, by using social technology within your business, you can actually help foster the community and camaraderie Millennials seek.
5. Millennials Do Better Without Hierarchy
Everyone has experiences in life where they are really passionate about an idea, but a parent, teacher, coach, or supervisor squashes it. In many cases, we’re certain we had a great idea, but our superior wanted to exercise authority and power.
The social web has taught Millennials that hierarchy is just a construct. They see how anyone can start a blog, create a meme, post a YouTube video, and then earn notoriety. In the social web, they see great ideas rise on their merits, and they see awful ideas fall. Millennials enjoy contributing to this open conversation.
That is why the business world’s chain of command tends to demotivate Millennials. They’re used to voicing their opinion in social venues where it would count no more or less than their supervisors. They want to discuss business challenges with their supervisors like peers, not underlings.
To get the best out of Millennials, managers must develop a social media culture — where new recruits feel like their voice is valued. Companies that want innovative thinking should create online social spaces where Millennials can raise their ideas and stand for them.
Rather than confining Millennials within the structure of traditional business, HR and business leaders must be willing to adapt. Social technology has bred a generation that values the efficiency of technology and seeks knowledge from digital communities rather than individual experts. They respond to the imaginary scores and awards that make digital gaming so addictive, and they are just as quick to drop competition and help their peers by writing reviews.
Millennials want to be part of businesses that value community, just like the digital communities where they discover and get to know people. And finally, Millennials are more than ready to burn the corporate ladder and voice their ideas in organizations that put the quality of thinking over the age and title of the thinker.
To successfully manage the Millennial workforce, we have to acknowledge the values that emerge from lives built on social technology. Business leaders must drop the idea that they are dealing with narcissistic mobile addicts. To help Millennials achieve their highest potential, the business world must introduce the practices and technologies through which Millennials thrive.
Originally published Jun 5, 2014 3:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017