Friday, April 16, 2010

5 simple rules for understanding millenials...

I recently had a conversation the other day with an HR professional who had read my recent blog post on social networking and the benefits it can provide HR. While she agreed in principal that it can have an impact, she relayed a story of how misuse can damage personal and or professional reputations. She relayed the story we have all heard of a CEO who tried to "connect" with the employees by taking down the stodgy business suit "year book" photo that was his profile picture and replaced it with the picture of him camping in jeans and a t-shirt holding a PBR (I still don't understand the hipster resurgence of this swill, but I digress) in one hand and a fishing pole in the other. She then went on to say how this attempt to connect backfired and ended up hurting his personal and professional reputation in the company. She agreed that while HR should not be trolling the Internet for "gotcha" pictures of employees, it is a fact that people forget how conspicuous you really are on the Internet and how by default we make assumptions about people, companies and places as a result of what we see. The old "first impression" argument for controlling social networks from the HR perspective. Now I think many or most of us will all agree that this is a very valid argument. However her remarks got me thinking; What if this view doesn't apply to the "Millenials"? How then does a company make rules and govern people who have a fundamental disagreement with the rationalization of the rules?

My argument is that Millenials, which apparently I am one of according to the date range, have grown up with a level of connectivity which no other previous generation can imagine. As a result, the old norms for communication have been overrun by hundreds if not thousands of one off exceptions to the rules. For example, think about the old protocols such as the 8am-10pm phone call policy. You know, the protocol that says you should only call someone at home between those hours, and that any calls outside that time had better be the result of a life threatening emergency or death. Now imagine that a text comes in at 11pm from a friend, or an e-mail from a colleague in Europe comes in at 5am where you are but 10 or 11am where he is. All of a sudden the old rules don't apply because the phone never rang, and now an exception has been created. As Facebook, Twitter, and other social media and social networks progress we will reach a point where no practical rule exists, because there are hundreds of exceptions. Right now I will argue that the exceptions are the only rules Millenials know. How can that not be the case when nowadays parents and kids text each other to coordinate times, dates, events, pick-ups, drop-offs, etc?

However as an older Millenial, I know the old rules. I am used to literally being told stories of my parents party antics. Of having to call friends when I got home to tell them about what ridiculous thing happened while I was on vacation. In essence, I was told and would share the same stupid, job jeopardizing, PBR drinking stories, but the technology of the day provided an appropriate filter since I could only connect to people one at a time. Current technology provides no such limits and most younger Millenials don't expect it to nor do they care that it doesn't, because it never has. Thanks to standard technology I can now take a video of my friend/coworker doing something that isn't exactly legal, tag him in it, and post it to the wall of a friend who would laugh same as me if only they were there. All that can be done in the exact instant it is happening, aka real time. For the most part my friend/coworker won't care, nor will the mutual friend who received the post, and nor will I as the person who posted it. However if our corporate HR finds it or perhaps someone trying to hire me or either one of my friends sees the video then we are cooked. If, for arguments sake, we were employed then HR would call us in, explain to us that we were wrong, that we damaged our reputations, damaged the company and likely punish us for doing what is normal and natural for us to do. Going further this reaction from HR towards us results in animosity, a feeling of being disconnected, ostracized, a little embarrassed sure, but mostly we would get frustrated because we didn't do anything wrong. Or maybe we know we did "wrong" but we didn't do anything we haven't been allowed to do since we were old enough to be left on our own by our parents.

And that's just it... most of today's policy makers who I will argue mostly come from the Baby Boomer generation, didn't have the technological capability to instantly shatter their whole careers. Let face it the lord knows if they did have the ability they probably would have. So in an effort to find the middle ground I offer up some social networking advice for Millenials and those tasked with setting policy for them.

1) As a policy maker, don't assume Millenials know better. As I show above in many instances they know right from wrong in terms of legal and illegal, but not as it relates to damaging their personal and professional careers. The rules, filters and limits of even just a decade ago no longer apply.

2)As a Millenial, think about what or what you don't want people to know about you before you post anything. Most Millenials won't fall for a Phishing scam, where most non-Millenials will. Why? Because Millenials have been online since birth, they know better than to provide instant access to their bank accounts, social security number etc, but they don't always know that the funny photos of them playing "Edward 40-hands" over the weekend can be just as damaging.

3) As a policy maker, think about the possible exceptions to the rules before you make them. As I recently expressed to someone, most policy is made under the idea that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but it forgets that ducks and swans inhabit the lake too.

4) As a Millenial, no matter if you are a goose, swan, or duck, when you first get into the water (job market) take a cue from nature and swim behind the mother (your boss), it is for your protection. Or in other words fall in line, at least at first, because you may not be fully aware of the dangers that exist.

5) Finally whether you are a policy maker or a work force Millenial try to understand where the other person is coming from. Generation gaps are no different than any other demographic marker, you should handle it like you would handle any other "diversity" issue... with respect.


  1. Asaad, Interesting post! On this topic you might be interested to see this video post "Jack in the box" by Vineet Nayar where he asks if the organisations are ready for Gen Y?


  2. John,

    Thanks for the link. I will check it out. Look for something "new" on the idea of Millenials in the work force... coming this week.