So ingrained is technology in the lives of Millennials that if companies don’t embrace new tech tools they may be at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring and retaining Generation Y workers, current research shows.
It’s important, experts say, because “in the next five to 10 years Gen Y will completely dominate the workforce the way that Baby Boomers once did,” said Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive officer of CompTIA, a nonprofit association for IT professionals.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80 million Millennials were born between 1976 and 2001. By 2014, they will make up 36 percent of the U.S. workforce, and by 2020 nearly half of all U.S. workers (46 percent) will be Millennials, Gen Y expert and author Amy Lynch wrote in a 2008 report.
CompTIA’s recent study, based on a May 2013 online survey of 700 U.S. respondents who work in an office environment with some form of technology, revealed that 67 percent of Millennials judge their employers by their technological knowledge.
“Generation Y has been raised in technology, and they consider their aptitude for tech as a value that they bring to the table when seeking a job,” Thibodeaux said, adding that “an employer’s tech-savvy-ness is very high on their checklist on whether to take a job or not.”
That includes embracing social media.
“The workplace can't survive without embracing new technologies,” said Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), in an e-mail interview. “If you want to communicate with Millennials, then you have to adopt the tech tools they are currently using. You need to understand instant messaging, Skype, Google Hangouts and social networks if you want to hire and manage this important demographic,” said Schawbel, a founding partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.
“Millennials won't work for a company that bans access to social networks and doesn't give them the freedom to use the mobile devices they want,” he said. “The workplace needs these tools to fuel collaboration, which increases productivity and results.”
He’s not alone in that assertion.
In January 2013, Gagen MacDonald Researcher Scott Healy wrote that “within those companies that successfully use internal social media tools (Yammer, Chatter, etc.), employees are:
60 percent more likely to give their employer the benefit of the doubt during a crisis.
67 percent more likely to support government policies that their company supports.
39 percent more likely to recommend their company’s products and services to friends and family members.”
Roughly half of CompTIA’s survey respondents described their employer as either “cutting edge” or in the “upper tier” in their use of technology, while 42 percent put their companies somewhere in the middle of the tech-adoption curve.
“Factors like these may require employers to adapt to Gen Y’s expectations,” Thibodeaux remarked.
Implications for HR
If middle-school and college students are finding their textbooks online, using Google docs as part of their homework assignments, and talking to their teachers through Skype and instant messaging, how does a workplace cope if it ignores the latest tools in technology—especially HR technology?
“It doesn’t,” said Damon Lovett, vice chair of the board of directors for the International Human Resource Information Management Association (IHRIM), and a former member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Technology and HR Management special expertise panel.
“Granted, changing technology once or twice a year doesn’t make financial sense for any organization. However, if [for example an] organization has not evaluated their HR-service delivery model and maybe more importantly the technology footprint they are currently using to deliver those services, they will be doing the organization a major disservice,” he said.
“This is as much a service-delivery problem as it is a technology issue,” he added. For example, “People of all ages and demographics are used to receiving instant feedback on social media outside the company’s firewall—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.—but companies are still evaluating their human capital annually. Some of that is due to the complexity that HR has saddled the organization with over the years and is merely compounded by inept and disconnected best-of-breed applications.”
Samantha Austin, PHR, a benefits manager at Dow Lohnes PLLC, a law firm in Washington, D.C., believes that “companies should be open to the suggestion of trying new tech tools.” Decision-makers should educate themselves, go to conferences and talk with people in their social networks about the latest trends. “Get on Twitter. Get on Facebook. See what’s out there ... even doing a simple survey to ask employees ‘What would make your job better or more efficient?’ and seeing what the responses are” can help.
“I think this in part is dependent on the industry,” said Matthew Stollak, Ph.D., SPHR, associate professor of business administration at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. “If I am a dry cleaner in Boise, Idaho, the technology hasn’t changed much from 20 years ago, and I most likely can continue on and not worry about the latest tools. However, if I am in a more disruptive business, such as books, failure to recognize such changes can potentially be a death knell to the business. Borders, for example, was slow to react to the creation of e-books and quickly fell behind to Amazon and Barnes & Noble.”
Experts said employers can adapt to the Millennials’ technological expectations by realizing the ways in which they communicate.
“Many younger workers prefer to communicate using technology, rather than face to face or over the phone,” Stollak pointed out.
“More online collaboration is to be expected. Similarly, given the 24/7 nature of work, expect to communicate with Millennials all hours of the day and even into the wee hours of the night, if possible. Strategies involving mobile will also be crucial.”
Work/life balance is a consideration, as well.
Millennials “will likely be dedicated to the organization initially and willing to put in the time and energy to be successful in the position, but they also expect the organization to reciprocate with learning and development opportunities,” he said. “As a result, many organizations may feel conflicted about committing dollars to training [or updating technology] out of concern that these employees will take that knowledge gained elsewhere. At the same time, without committing resources to improvement, those employees are even more likely to leave.”
Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM and the author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013). Visit Goodreads through Oct. 1 for a chance to win a free copy.