Gen Y tech tools may not translate to the real world


College graduates who have spent the last several years with consumer-based email such as Gmail, instant messaging, Facebook and smart phones to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues might be in for a rude awakening when they take jobs in the workforce. Not only will the technology their companies provide Gen Y workers with potentially outdated technologies than what they've used in the consumer market, they might be banned from using them in favor of dull and sometimes less efficient corporate technology. Experts say the problem could cause a rift between management and these Gen Y workerbees. Worse, it could hamper productivity as they butt heads over how best to utilize such technologies.

Twenty-somethings' insistence on having whatever technology best suits stems from psychological reinforcement, says Professor Tom Fauls, associate professor of advertising at Boston University's College of Communication. He says that the younger generations have grown up with more positive reinforcement in schools compared to the older generations so they have a "rude awakening" when they get to the workplace. For about six months, there is a "tremendous learning curve when they first get on the job," he says.

Jason Fang, a recent graduate of Bentley University with a degree in corporate finance and accounting, says that he used to plan out his homework schedule, including the amount of time each task would take, yet realizes that the workplace has a different set of rules for finishing projects.

Fang says that during college he spent between 3 minutes and 8 hours on a variety of online sites per week.

Online Activity of Senior's Last Semester

son Fang's Spring 2008 Semester at Bentley University

Website NameVisits Per WeekTime Spent Per VisitDistracting? 25 8 hrs Yes 7 1 hr No (Bentley site) 5 2 hrs No 5 5 mins No 2 20 mins No 1 10 mins No 2 4 hrs Yes 7 1 hr Yes 1 1 min No 2 20 mins No 6 2 hrs Yes 1 3 mins No

According to Jonathan Yarmis, vice president of Disruptive Technologies at AMR Research, "The younger demographic have not only embraced [social networks] but in many ways have grown up with them," he points out.

Yarmis, who has a high-school-aged-son says that there is a big difference between the way that he and his son work; his son can use multiple mediums and applications at once, while he must focus solely on one to be productive.

Fang, who recently started a job at Grant Thornton says, "The thing about homework is that it doesn't matter if you do it early, it just matters if you have it done on time. Conversely, most bosses prefer you to complete work assignments ASAP, which puts pressure to get them done without taking any breaks. And really it all depends on who your boss is."

According to Fauls, who teaches an interactive marketing communications course, companies within each industry vary when offering employees communication-related technology at the workplace. Fauls says that he hasn't heard any complaints of zero or limited access to social networking sites at their new positions.

This could be due to the fact that less than 15 percent of large enterprises block Facebook with a firewall, as Yarmis points out. Yet users are savvy, and companies that do block such sites lose out on new recruits from the younger demographic.

"Why would a recent grad want to work for an awesome company who blocks such sites when they can work for an equally awesome company that doesn't?" Yarmis asks.

Yarmis says that there are three main growth spurts taking place within communication technology right now-an increased trend of social networking, the continued evolution of the mobile world and a growth in cloud computing--which all affect the working world.

Due to an eroding structured work day, is it really a big deal for employees to spend time doing non-work activities during "normal" business hours?

Fauls, who's in contact with many recent college alums, says that with more services and hardware now available, e-mail access outside of the office is pretty common. Additionally, the younger generation has Blackberrys or other forms of smartphones for both personal and work usage. Tech offerings such as these allow for a less structured work day, resulting in a tradeoff between work time and personal time. Many employers allow employees to alter their work hours to fit in personal appointments and so on, and therefore expect them to be more "on call" outside of traditional business hours.

However, he adds, though many companies are being more lenient with work schedules, there are always those people that avoid work no matter what technologies are available.

Fang, who's new to the workforce, feels that companies need to block explicit websites that could hurt their networks, but shouldn't turn off all non-work related websites.

"I would be fine if my work blocked Facebook, because there are plenty of other sites to keep me distracted. However, I'm not that easily distracted that if I had a deadline approaching I would blow it off to look at the Red Sox highlights," Fang points out.

"Some people are very easily distracted and that will always keep them from moving ahead in life. If bosses want to keep their employees from surfing the web, they should give them deadlines. Personally I think having websites available at work helps keep employees awake during the day. Instead of working 8 straight hours, they can spend 5 minutes every hour checking the score of the game and that helps wake them up," Fang suggests, adding that a little downtime during the work day isn't usually frowned upon if it doesn't take away from general productivity.

Yet the online world is affecting more than just workplace communication and our multitasking abilities. It's also managed to infiltrate the way we speak. Fauls considers himself lucky to be on the inside cusp of the changing language due to working with students fulltime. In recent months he's noticed "tweets", "microblogging", and the switch from "sms" to "mms" being used in everyday speak. Using new terms such as these is "fun and shows you're hip," Fauls points out.

Fang, a 2008 college graduate, and Fauls, who's been a professor for more than eight years, agree that older generations aren't as familiar with social networking sites as their younger counterparts. Fang suggests that older generations most likely don't understand the benefit of such platforms because they're more unfamiliar with most of the technology, unlike the younger generations. "As technology grows the ease of communication increases, which frightens those who are used to old fashioned methods," Fang says.

Fauls agrees, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if older generations spent just as much time reading medical blogs and other healthcare sites, though these are less social.

Tammy Erickson, president of nGenera Innovation Network, who assists companies with understanding and using technology trends to improve how they do business, says, "The idea of being disengaged from work and using technology as a way to relieve boredom cuts across all ages. Older workers may shop online, send e-mails to friends or surf the web; younger workers may text, IM or update Facebook pages-but the impact is the same."

Fauls adds that around graduation time he receives a lot of invites from college students adding LinkedIn as they "graduate" from sites like Facebook.

Though recent grads want to keep in touch with old friends or check the scores of a game, just like more seasoned employees might, it's up to each individual to decide how much time can be dedicated to non-work related activity while still remaining productive.

Right now many companies are beginning to realize that allowing employee access to sites such as Facebook doesn't result in all negative consequences. Yarmis explains that "Facebook for the enterprise" is a convenient umbrella that refers to employing social networking sites in general and relates to first figuring out how to use them as a recruiting tool, and then how to improve upon it.

Erickson points out that recruiting on Facebook is one way in which companies are using the technology to their advantage. "The trend is most evident in highly competitive recruiting arenas, such as professional accounting," Erickson says.

Social networking sites are just platforms, Yarmis adds, and it is up to each company to figure out how they want to treat them.

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