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Grow your Digital Natives by Engaging Generation Y

Grow your Digital Natives by Engaging Generation Y

By: Joris Merks-Benjaminsen, author of Think and Grow Digital: What the Net Generation Needs to Know to Survive and Thrive in Any Organization (McGraw-Hill, 2014)

If you’re an employer, it’s likely that you’ve employed or plan to recruit Millennial talent for your business.

Why am I so certain of this? Because almost all companies are in some process of digital change that can only be fueled by attracting talented Millennials.

The pressure to change comes from three digital trends that impact almost all companies: the democratization of information, digital connectivity and an increase in computing power.

In my work, I speak to CEO’s of the biggest brands and find that almost all of them are conscious of these trends and want their companies to grow digital. Without digital natives, their companies will be unlikely to grow along with the ever-changing digital landscape, resulting in increased competition.

Unfortunately, many existing company structures are not anywhere close to a “natural” habitat that’s suitable for Millennials. Hence many businesses risk filtering talented Millennials out of their companies faster than they can hire them.

The Millennials you need most are the ones that don’t just come to work because they are paid, but instead want to make the biggest possible positive difference in the companies they work for. However, these are also the ones bumping into the toughest walls of resistance and they are the ones that have the best opportunities of finding a better job somewhere else where they can make a bigger difference. 

In my book, Think and Grow Digital, I provide a peek through the eyes of Millennials, to give employers a better understanding of the issues Gen Y youngsters face when first entering companies that do not have the same Millennial mindset and that may not understand it.

Below are some common mismatches between the Millennial mindset and a more traditional nine-to-five office culture. Companies that fail to address these mismatches will have a more difficult time recruiting and retaining Millennial talent, and getting their companies future ready.

1. Why Work Nine to Five, Monday Through Friday?
The most obvious mismatch between office culture and the Millennial life-style is nine-to-five work life.

For Millennials, the Internet is always on. They tend to check their e-mail and Facebook first thing in the morning and again before they go to bed. Because the Internet is embedded in almost everything that Millennials do, they have developed a very flexible lifestyle, and they work whenever an idea emerges — whether it is at ten o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday or nine at night on a Saturday.

The downside to that is that it can sometimes be hard for Millennials to know when to switch off work mode. However, those who know how to find that switch at the right moments are likely to be happiest and most productive when they are given the right amount of freedom.

Nine to five is a limiting grid. It’s limiting for Millennials because it means that they can’t arrange their lives in the way that works best for them. It’s limiting for companies because the inspiration to do something great does not always come between nine and five, so companies lose out on great work and great ideas if they force their employees to work nine to five.

2. Why Work from an Office?
Like the nine-to-five limitation, the office as an obligatory work location does not make sense to Gen Y. With e-mail, mobile phones, and video-conferencing always available, this generation does not feel the need to go to the same office every day. Why waste time commuting if you can do almost all aspects of your work at home? 

The office is still useful, but only as a physical meeting place, a place for conversations and watercooler chats, and a place for coming together every now and then. When going to the office is an obligation, gen Y finds it more limiting than valuable.

3. Why Burden Yourself with Knowledge?
For older generations, having extensive knowledge about a variety of topics and being able to display that knowledge is often an important aspect of building credibility. In an office culture, that credibility can help you get colleagues to listen to your ideas. Hence, spending part of your time displaying the things you know and telling knowledgeable stories during lunch, meetings, or watercooler moments can pay off.

Such stories typically display your latest information about, for instance, the news or politics. Gen Y is different. Since information has always been available to these people at a keystroke, they don’t see the need to build a huge database of knowledge in their heads. They know where and how to get information instantly when they need it. When older generations spend time proving their worth and knowledge, Gen Y sometimes views this as pontification or just a waste of time.

4. Why Have Regular Weekly Group Meetings?
Many companies have weekly meetings where teams come together to prepare for the upcoming week or recap the work done in the past week. These meetings are often repetitive and feel more like a routine than a real necessity.

Members of Gen Y do not tend to come together in fixed groups at fixed times the way some teams used to. They tailor their meetings to their individual needs at each moment. Because their friends have always been just a click away, Millennials have unknowingly acquired the skills to connect to whomever they need at any time. They don’t have fixed teams or groups — such a structure can even feel like a waste of time to them.

If people need to come together for a project, digital thinkers will know where to find the right people at the right time and bring them together in a conference room, through a chat, by phone, or in a videoconference.

5. Why Is Some Information Limited to Some People?
In traditional companies, there tends to be a secretive wall around senior managers’ discussions. Junior employees typically learn about important topics only after decisions have been made and are irreversible. This makes many young professionals feel disconnected from the company, since they have grown up with so much transparency.

The Internet democratized information, and so Millennials feel that everyone has an equal right to information. They need to understand the challenges and opportunities of the companies they work for, and they want to understand how and why those senior to them define strategies to face those issues.

If senior managers take more time to share their thoughts and plans at an early stage, they can expect a much more dedicated attitude from young professionals. At the same time, a lack of such sharing leads to a critical attitude and questioning of company policy.

From Think and Grow Digital: What the Net Generation Needs to Know to Survive and Thrive in Any Organization by Joris Merks-Benjaminsen, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Copyright 2014. 

Author Bio:
Joris Merks-Benjaminsen
worked in several media, advertising and research businesses before he joined Google in 2010. He serves as Head of Digital Transformation, helping top companies embed digital thinking in their strategies. His fresh thinking won him prizes for Dialogue Marketer of the Year for 2012 and Best Marketing Literature of the Year for 2013. Joris was also nominated for Company Researcher of the Year and Cross Media Man of the Year for 2013.