Younger Workers Push Digital Norms

By Marla Rosner , San Francisco Examiner.com, October 27th, 2010 5:31 pm PT

Digital Natives are those born after 1980 according to John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, authors of “Born Digital; Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” http://borndigitalbook.com/about.php. For all practical purposes they have no memory of a time before Internet access. It’s not surprising then that the seamless integration of gadgets and social networks into their lives would extend into the workplace. However there are some curve balls for the techno savvy college graduates who take their first jobs…as well as for their employers.

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 notes that “…what flies at the college level, peer to peer, is dramatically different than peer to peer communication expectations in the workforce.” Abbreviations and acronyms in business emails for example are not well received by older co-workers, let alone customers.

Digital Natives seem to prevail in some areas however. Though it may grate on some boomer and Gen-X employees, in order to assure retention many employers have surrendered to Digital Natives’ habits. Regular workday diversions including hopping on and off social media for a quick check-in with friends has become the new norm in many work environments.

The slowed economy however has prompted a new self-restraint among recent college grads who land jobs compared to grads entering the workplace prior to the recession. According to Mr. Wilbur, college grads who have been job hunting for 12-18 months enter the workplace so grateful for a job that, as a group, they appear to show more deference to corporate policies that discourage engaging in personal digital activities at work. This can manifest as fewer furtive attempts to text during meetings and more commitment to stay off Facebook during work hours. Does he think the trend will last? Wilbur thinks it’s not sustainable; over time, those habits are bound to return because they are so deeply engrained.

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