Gen Y Behavior Creates New Work Culture

Communication gaps between the generations in the workplace is not a new phenomenon but now there are new data points to illustrate how Generation Y may be changing the professional work culture dramatically.
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Communication gaps between the generations in the workplace is not a new phenomenon but now there are new data points to illustrate how Generation Y may be changing the professional work culture dramatically. Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner of Millennial Branding LLC, partnered with -- a data and analytics company -- to research how Generation Y (18-to-29-year-olds) is using Facebook to define their personal lives while often disregarding their professional identity.

Millennial Mayhem
The study shows that Facebook-savvy Gen Y-ers spend an average of just over 2 years at their first job and tend to job hop multiple times in their careers. While 80% of Gen-Y list at least one school entry on their Facebook profiles, only 36% list a job entry. They define themselves by their colleges instead of their workplaces but they have an average of 16 co-workers each as friends on Facebook.

The rub comes when employers and co-workers have access and insight into their personal lives via Facebook, which can create for an awkward workplace setting, and according to Dan Schawbel, "... can even result in a termination."

Some companies are clamping down on social media time at work and limit or prohibit access to these sites during work hours. Facebook reports that individuals spend an average of 20 minutes a day on the site and 57% of people talk to each other more online than they do in-person. No matter how technology savvy the workplace becomes, in-person, verbal communication with good old fashioned eye contact is still extremely important for every generation in the world-of-work.

Balance for Rookies
With 800 million users reported on Facebook in 2012 it's clear that Gen Y is networking but they are not building professional relationships as much as personal connections. This group of emerging professionals is also very clear about their professional values. Many state very clearly that work/life balance is the most sought after criteria in their job search.

I find this fascinating since many of them have not yet really worked in full-time jobs. But as a generation, they are shying away from the corporate culture that requires mega hours and laser beam ambition to thrive in a very demanding work environment. Millennial Branding reports:

"Only 7% of Gen-Y works for a Fortune 500 company because startups are dominating the workforce for this demographic in today's economy. If large corporations want to remain competitive, they need to aggressively recruit Gen-Y workers. Gen-Y will form 75% of the workforce by 2025 and are actively shaping corporate culture and expectations. Big corporations can't afford to be left behind."

The Age of Entrepreneurs
Gen Y is also full of budding entrepreneurs and the study shows that "Owner" is the fifth most popular job title because they are an entrepreneurial generation. Even though most of their companies won't succeed, they are demonstrating an unprecedented entrepreneurial spirit. Schawbel believes that companies need to allow Gen-Yers to operate entrepreneurially within the corporation by giving them control over their time, activities, and budgets as much as possible.

Schawbel is a Gen Y member himself and it's clear that the existing workplace culture must expand to accommodate Gen Y if we are to sustain a workforce into and beyond 2025. The succession plan for the next generation means that Gen Y must work in established companies in addition to new organizations for the economy to grow and for commerce to prosper.

Paradigm Shift
While I'm sure every generation since the beginning of time has complained about the behaviors of the young guns who enter the career ranks as rookies, it's clear that a cultural shift must occur in order to groom Gen Y (and beyond) to sustain the workforce in the future.

I see a shift happening in a variety of sectors that are accommodating part-time, flex-time, and tele-commuting options for their employees. Gen Y has helped us all remember that quality of life is important if we are to be successful as professionals and healthy as individuals.

Large law firms, for example, have begun to add staff attorneys or contract attorneys into their employment menu for lawyers who don't want to work on the traditional partner track. The legal industry is exploring this off-track model to retain great talent and give more flexible opportunities to those who don't value the prestige or earning potential of the high level partner-track positions. It all boils down to professional values.

Working in an engaging environment, with limited hours and a salary cap, is very desirable for some attorneys who prioritize work/life integration over the mega salary and goal of partnership. This new model is giving attorneys and firms more options than they have had in the past and allows them to recruit a diverse talent pool that fits their needs more precisely. This concept is beginning gain traction in other career fields as well.

The New Normal of Work Culture
The Gen Y population may seem cavalier to some with their social media obsession and their desire to have more control over their time, activities, and work culture -- even as rookies. While some seasoned professionals might say that these newbies need to earn their wings and the perks that go along with time and experience in the workplace, I think we can learn from the multi generational wisdom and meet them half way.

I am encouraged that work/life integration is something employers are finally addressing since burn out, stress related illness, and toxic work environments continue to cause serious problems in the workforce. Perhaps Gen Y's request for this "balance" up front will generate a paradigm shift and help to restructure the workforce since balanced, healthy people perform better on the job.

However, I believe strongly that all generations, and especially Gen Y which is so technology proficient, must still strengthen their professional competencies in written and verbal communication, active listening, empathy, resilience, and self awareness. Whether you are an entrepreneur, working in a Fortune 500 company, or a non-profit organization -- these skills are a deal breaker and imperative for professional success.

So the next time you are on Facebook, thank Gen Y for influencing change in the workplace that someday all generations may enjoy. And by the way, it's not just Gen Y that spends 20+ minutes a day on Facebook! Feel free to like me on Facebook for more career & professional development wisdom.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name ( She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm EST

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