I've written quite a bit about the changing values of the workforce and how employers, and communicators, need to pay attention to generational differences as their organizations try to attract new people and retain the ones they've got. And it's clear that Generation Y has unique qualities that set it apart. The incoming generation has a different character. It also has a disproportionate amount of power because of the growing shortage of skilled workers as the Baby Boomers retire in droves.
But I've never really considered how much this new generation of "Millennials" is perceived as a bunch of lazy, selfish, brattish punks who share a mind-boggling sense of entitlement. At a cocktail party last night I met a gentleman -- a Gen X-er -- who actually left a job because part of his responsibilities was to conduct job interviews with Millennial candidates. He was sickened by what he saw as their complete lack of a decent work ethic and their expectation that the employer should be pandering to their every need. When he spoke of them, his disgust was palpable. And I know of at least one CEO who feels the same way.
What an interesting dynamic that's emerging! You've got the generation that's now coming into management roles -- the hardened, cynical Gen X-ers who entered the workforce when there were no jobs and had to bootstrap their way to success -- having to manage a generation whose members have never had to worry about getting a job, don't respect authority and are willing to jump ship and go work for the competition at the drop of a hat.
So what does this mean for communicators? I wonder if these generational differences are going to create an even greater gap between workers and management than exists today. I worry that the Gen-Xers won't be able to easily figure out how to manage Millennials and the work environment in many companies will become even more dysfunctional than it is today.
How will communicators help connect these two insanely disparate generations? Social media might be part of the answer. But can you imagine a Gen-X manager blogging, and having to deal with all the smarmy comments from the Gen-Ys? Social media might help connect people and build online communities, but it could also create lots of problems for management because it gives people such a powerful venue for whining and complaining.
Big organizations removed coffee rooms decades ago to save money and reduce office chatter, which is now relegated to the outdoor smoking areas. But social media creates the world's biggest water cooler.
Traditional corporate communication is all about controlling information. In a Gen-Y world where information (and people) are becoming impossible to control, is there a role for communicators at all?