Millennials have been variously described as enthusiastic, adaptable, entrepreneurial and skilled multitaskers — and as lazy, entitled and unmanageable job hoppers. What seems to have escaped the modern media machine in its zeal to define this influential generation is that they don’t appreciate being shoehorned and typecast. Particularly when it comes to the thing employers have come to count on them for — facilitating technology’s integration into the workplace.
They’re beginning to abhor working in a virtual vacuum.
While millennials, or Gen Y (as they’re also called), may be known as the tech-infused generation, a recent study found that the majority of them crave more in-person collaboration with colleagues and less of what the current workplace paradigm serves up: a culture of emailing, texting and telecommuting.
“Gen-Y workers, whom we have largely pigeonholed as having an insatiable appetite for technology, are expressing both a desire for more human, face-to-face interaction and frustration with information and technology overload,” said Jason Corsello of Cornerstone OnDemand, which released its survey of three generations’ views of workplace technology in November.
Their parents, the boomers and Gen Xers, cheered the dawn of telecommuting after years of two-income, single-parent householding that saw young millennials growing up as latchkey kids or after-school program regulars. Those formative years may give them a sense of the value in not being tethered to a physical workplace, but what they’ve discovered is that mobile computing, Skyping and teleconferencing isn’t the next best thing to being there — and they’re beginning to abhor working in a virtual vacuum.
“Organizations think millennials want to do everything remotely, but the truth is they’re more relational and use technology to enhance their connection with family, friends and colleagues,” says Lynne Lancaster, co-founder of the generational consultancy BridgeWorks and co-author of When Generations Collide.
”They realize you get better critical thinking, problem solving and innovation out of face-time collaboration,” says AmyK Hutchens, CEO of consulting firm AmyK International. ”Inherently, we’re still wired as social animals, and they realize technology is just a tool.”
We might know a faster way to send an email or do XYZ in the tech space, but there is no replacement for a sense of community.
Millennials actually like to work in teams more than their elders, so employers should guard against overemphasizing tech connectedness at the expense of the esprit de corps that face time produces.
“We’re always looking for mentors and the opportunity to learn from others,” says Greg Goldner, 31, co-author of Cultivate Critical Connections about the importance of networking for millennials. “We might know a faster way to send an email or do XYZ in the tech space, but there is no replacement for a sense of community.”
Employers may expect that leaning heavily on millennials’ tech fluency will translate into an even faster workplace with appreciable bottom-line benefits. Young staffers can certainly provide pointers on which tech tools to use, but they’re not interested in replacing all their co-worker interactions with tidy technical shortcuts. According to the Cornerstone study:
- They prefer in-person team work: 60 percent of millennials would prefer to collaborate in person vs. online (34 percent) or via phone or videoconference (6 percent).
- They’re still pro-gadget: 66 percent said they would be willing to use wearable technology to help them do their jobs vs. 34 percent who would not. Surprisingly, 55 percent of boomers and Gen Xers also said they’d be willing to don wearable tech.
- They may be hitting their tech limit: 38 percent said they’ve been subjected to “technology overload” on the job, and 41 percent encountered an “information overload.” That compares with 21 percent and 31 percent, respectively, for boomers and Gen Xers.
Some of the millennials’ technology and information overload is self-created, Lancaster says. “Millennials keep tabs on a multiplicity of sources, from personal and work email to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. They’re putting a lot of pressure on themselves to not fall behind and get left out, not just in their personal life but also for their work life. It’s overwhelming.”
Ultimately, Lancaster says, ”They want access to bosses, to be mentored and coached, and for bosses to show an interest. When they get ignored, they start to ask ’Why am I here?’”
Why you should care
Employers worldwide are rushing to remake their workplaces for young, tech-savvy workers. But they may lose out if they overcompensate and play to stereotypes about Gen Y.