Earlier this year 5,000 parents of employees came to the Google campus for "take your parents to work day," which is one of the top events of the year, says Todd Carlisle, director of staffing at Google. It's a way to appeal to the whims of a Millennial workforce.
If "take your parents to work day" sounds strange to you, then it's a good bet you are a member of an older generation, say, Gen X or Baby Boomers. It's an even better bet that you'll be dealing with more and more Millennials as their ranks continue to grow in the workplace. So you better get a handle on who they are.
Millennials (also called Gen Y and Digital Natives), born between 1981 and 2000, are already 84.5 million strong, outnumbering even the Baby Boomers, according to 2010 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2025, Millennials will comprise nearly 75 percent of the world's workforce.
In Silicon Valley, tech companies are fighting for them. Cisco, for instance, will hire 2,000 Millennials this year. The average age of an employee at Twitter is 30. Companies are throwing all sorts of perks at them, from foosball tables to free food. The latest is free house cleaning service.
This week at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco, executives from Cisco, Google and Twitter sat on a panel to discuss the future of the workplace, specifically Millennials.
Aside from the quirky "take your parents to work day," Millennials are mostly like everyone else, they said. Millennials worry about a secure paycheck as the country emerges from tough economic times. They're eager to take on challenges, learn from others and grow their careers. And, like everyone else, the top reason for leaving a job is a bad relationship with a manager.
When it comes to the use of technology in the workplace, however, differences between Millennials and older generations bubble to the surface. "Gen X is tech savvy, while Gen Y is tech dependent," says Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the collaboration technology group at Cisco.
Millennials, for instance, will often check out YouTube videos to educate themselves. They'll participate in social networks and group sites, while searching for answers to work problems. Gen-X-ers, on the other hand, understand the technology but tend to be a little more guarded about putting information out there.
Another big difference among the generations is how they communicate at work, Adam Noble, CIO at GAF Materials told me last fall. Baby Boomers rely on the telephone, Gen X is all about email, and Millennials prefer social networking, instant messaging and even video chat. Making inferences about Millennials, though, is tricky business.
Consider the case of privacy. Millennials grew up in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, where posting personal information (including photos and video) has become common. Facebook's headline-grabbing privacy issues haven't really slowed down the sharing of personal information, either.
It seems Millennials are not as concerned about privacy as, say, Baby Boomers and Gen-X-ers who grew up in the age of conspiracies and the Cold War.
But a recent MobileIron survey of 3,000 workers across the United States, United Kingdom and Germany paints a different picture: Employees over 55 were far more comfortable than 18 to 24 year olds with their company seeing their personal data.
Could it be Millennials trust Facebook more than their employer? That sounds as wacky as take your dog, um, parents to work day.
[ The Lighter Side: Millennials in the Workplace Training Video (Humor) ]
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at email@example.com