Generation Y in the Workplace: Digital Natives' Tech Needs Are Changing Companies Forever

Digital natives enter the workforce demanding the technology they've grown up with. To stay competitive and recruit top Generation Y talent, companies better meet those demands.

By Heather Havenstein
Wed, September 17, 2008

Computerworld — Like most generations before it, Generation Y -- those born roughly between 1982 and 2002 -- has been stereotyped based on a cultural change identified with its era. In this case, the group is bound by a hunger to use the latest technologies to communicate.

These digital natives -- also known as Millennials -- are natural multitaskers, often simultaneously texting on a mobile device and instant messaging on a PC without ever removing even one iPod ear bud. Many of this generation can't conceive of communicating without an IM system or social network.

As Generation Y starts graduating from college and entering the work force, they are bringing with them a slew of technology demands to IT organizations of potential employers. In fact, in many cases members of the new generation are researching the technology portfolios of potential employers before agreeing to sit down for a job interview.

Because the generation's demands are vastly different from earlier groups, many companies are struggling to find ways to satisfy them.

Those that don't, say  some experts who have studied Generation Y, may find themselves struggling to hire and keep the most talented young workers.

Ron Alsop, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal newspaper and author of "The Trophy Kids Grow Up," said that many recent entrants into the workforce face a culture shock from Day One. Alsop's book, due out next month, looks at how the new generation is already shaking up the workplace.

The first Millennials are often landing in offices without instant messaging technology or access to social networks, Alsop noted. Such non-technology corporate cultures that avoid new technologies due to security concerns or budgetary issues are sending up instant red flags for new workers, he added.

"Companies really need to loosen up a bit and not play Big Brother too much by worrying about blocking certain social networking Web sites," Alsop said. "Companies have to realize that they need to meet Millennials half way."

Some forward thinking large companies are making moves that make them look technology savvy, he noted.

For example, a group of recent MBA graduates hired by Johnson & Johnson successfully lobbied the New Brunswick, N.J. -based consumer products company to create an internal social network, according to an advance copy of Alsop's book. The social network has grown to include virtual classrooms for training and a career counseling center.

The company is now looking to broaden the network beyond its MBAs, Alsop wrote.

Meanwhile, Alsop added in an interview that Capital One Financial Corp. in McLean, Va., is creating internal discussion boards and its own version of Wikipedia in an effort to improve worker collaboration. And New York City-based Ernst & Young LLP has developed a guide to help managers interpret IM shorthand..

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