Orienting Digital Natives at Work

Written by Marla Rosner, San Francisco Examiner.com, November 14, 2010

First there’s the challenge for new college grads to even find a job in this tough economy. Once the lucky ones do, there are some adaptation challenges for them as well as for their employers. These Digital Natives, so called because they’ve grown up in the age of the Internet, digital gadgets and cell phones, are ahead of the game compared to generations that have preceded them in terms of techno-savvy. However some important skills they need in the business environment have become diluted if not decimated altogether in the course of their digital immersion.

Their propensity to rely on texting, transferring text acronyms to email and defaulting to digital communication in most situations means a bit of a learning curve is in store once they land a job in the corporate world. Though many a college grad has written a term paper, they do not instinctively use this more formal writing style in inter-office communication or with clients. Many employers complain that the young workers have never acquired writing skills adequate to create the most basic business letter.

Also, because recent college grads come from an environment dealing primarily with their peers, they tend to bring those behavioral norms with them to the workplace. A recent Northern California Human Resources Association chapter meeting discussion surrounded typical communication gaffes: taking cell phone calls while with a customer, texting during meetings, poor grammar in letter writing and a lack of savvy having to do with both company and personal reputation management.

Prepared employers know that new college grads will need some coaching as they start work in the business environment. Jessica Moore, a native of Fremont, California is now a seasoned 26 year-old with a few years of business employment under her belt. Ms. Moore recalls that at her first job as an event coordinator at a law firm, her employers worked very closely with her to fine tune her business communication. An “A” student and graduate of Carleton College in Minneapolis she realizes in retrospect that she really hadn’t understood what was expected of her in the area of business communication until her bosses spelled it out for her.

Following are six tips for employers striving to effectively transition Digital Natives into the workplace:

1. Verbally review the company’s Electronic Resource and Social Media Policies with new employees. The assumption that the new employee will carefully read and understand these wordy and sometimes complex policies is a mistake.

2. Managers should set the expectation that they will be closely monitoring written communication to help ensure the new young worker will transition successfully.

3. Provide new employees with sample business letters when delegating letter writing assignments.

4. Explain that face-to-face meetings and phone calls play an important role in business communication; careful thought should be given to whether email, phone or face-to-face meetings are appropriate given the situation.

5. Caution new grads to avoid acronyms normally used in texting when communicating with co-workers and clients.

6. Read all letters and communications from new grads and provide specific feedback until the new hire is on track.

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