Managing Digital Natives’ Technical Savvy

Written by Marla Rosner, San Francisco, November 23, 2010

Digital Natives, otherwise known as Millennials or Gen Y, are those who have grown up in the digital age. For them there was no time before the Internet. Their ease with most things digital can be a joy for employers who rely on techno-savvy workers. Or not.

Digital Natives bring a different type of “connectedness” to the workplace according to Mr. Lawrence Knorr, faculty at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania and Director of Information Systems at Giant Food Stores. Knorr’s observations from his 27 year career are that “Where earlier generations focused on local communities and next-door neighbors, Digital Natives have ‘friends’ from around the globe in addition to their high school and college friends. While mostly superficial, these far-reaching digital relationships do bring people together from great distances to exchange ideas about fashion, art, music, politics, religion and other trends.” They have a comfort level in collaborating across cultures, a clear asset of today’s global corporations.

Ironically, employee mastery of these same technology systems  including broadly the Internet and specifically social media,  can also be liabilities for companies when Millennials ignore restraints firms try to impose.  Attorney Jason Schinn works with employers to address many of the classic technology issues that emerge when Millennials cross the line.

Schinn notes for example, “New grads and tech savvy hires often know of a software solution that would be perfect for a problem. But in the company setting, downloading or installing such software poses several risks for employers such as an unstable or untested product, the software not actually being owned by the user, or the installation exceeds the license agreement.”

In addition Shinn says,  “Many grads are accustomed to storing everything on a thumb-drive and transferring it between stations. With company information easily dispersed from servers, laptops, PCs, and transferred to home PCs, it is common for security issues arise.”

Issues can also arise when an employee changes jobs. “Employee mobility creates a lot of issues with respect to company data wrongfully leaving with an employee,” according to Shinn. “Often times an employee will download information (maybe a project he/she worked on, code, etc.) and take it with them to the next employer. This creates major issues for the former employer, the new employer, and the individual.”

Social media blunders are becoming standard fare. The classic ones are employees griping about their employer on Facebook. Whether or not this occurs during work hours or on personal time, to the extent that a Facebook friend may be a client or co-worker, such comments can lead to at best reputation damage for the company or its managers and at worst, lost clients.

Many companies now provide new employees with electronic resource policies as well as social media policies. Mark Wilbur, is President and CEO of The Employer’s Group which has a working relationship with both the San Francisco and Oakland Chambers of Commerce, supporting their members in the area of human resources. Mr. Wilbur points out that it is difficult to police a policy that says you can’t post on social media. He encourages employers to execute these policies with a balanced hand. Ignoring the policy breeches of a star employee while disciplining another employee for the same behavior works against the employer since it is perceived as favoritism by employees and can be a liability from a legal standpoint should such a case go to court.

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