Millennials at Work: Gen Ys as Digital Natives

The infamous traits of the Millennial generation have been studied, discussed and debated far and wide: they’re always connected, they’re ambitious, they’re approval-oriented and more. In this series of blog posts, “Millennials at Work,” I’m diving into each of these stereotypes and discussing how they impact this generation and those of us who work with them.

One of the most obvious associations people make with Gen Y is that they are “digital natives.”  They grew up with technology attached, clicking a mouse before reading a book, taking computer classes in grade school and now expressing much of their lives on social media.  How is this togetherness with technology playing out for them in the workplace?

A digital native thinks about communication differently.

Posting, tweeting, Instragramming – these are tools Gen Y uses to communicate with their VIPs.  Texting Mom & Dad or taking a photo to share a moment with friends has almost always been a part of their lives.  So, when they enter the workplace, those same channels of communication are not just a preferred method of getting in touch; they are a natural part of making a connection with someone.

For managers and coworkers who have not experienced technology as second nature, this can be a challenge to grasp.  But, what if this hyper-connectivity and communication could be a good thing?  Creating and hosting an internal social network is one way to bring this comfortably into the workplace.  Imagine that an employee is having difficulty breaking through a tough task and just can’t seem to figure out what to do next.  Rather than emailing one or two known people individually and hoping they may have an answer, the employee could post the question to the internal social network and get answers from anyone in the organization.  Turning this communication style into an asset can be an opportunity for all of us to work faster and smarter.

A digital native looks for feedback regularly. 

With instant communication built into their lives, not to mention the ongoing popularity of video games, digital natives are accustomed to getting feedback “wherever and whenever.”  From getting “likes” on a Facebook post to group text conversations, Gen Y is naturally able to crowdsource and find out what others are thinking.  This is in stark contrast to something like a traditional performance review or appraisal, often times completed at year-end or at specific, timed intervals.

To keep a Gen Y happy and productive, giving feedback on a regular basis is critical.  Feedback does not have to come in the form of a full performance review, but rather occasional, intentional conversations meant to elaborate on accomplishments and improvements.  These feedback sessions could even come from peers or members of other teams.  If you find yourself overwhelmed by a Gen Y’s desire for feedback, keep in mind that this is not a matter of being “needy.”  It’s a normal part of Millennials’ way of interacting with the world.

A digital native can think creatively about new technology.

Of course, if technology is ever-present, it makes sense that Gen Ys might be the best equipped to conceive of or manage a new software, social, or mobile idea.  Having spent a great deal of time with those concepts personally, Gen Ys may naturally have a mind for what works, what doesn’t and why.

A great example of Gen Y using technology adaptively in the workplace comes in an article in USA Today this past month that discussed the generations of employees at Quicken Loans.  Gen Y employees at this organization helped bring to life an app that helps everyone locate meeting rooms in the office building and a separate app that helps people track where the company shuttle buses are.  If there’s a generation that can help organizations think about and use technology differently, it’s Gen Y.

What are ways you see the “digital native” mindset of Gen Y is transforming the workplace?

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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