I remember attending a week long national conference for young people when I was about twenty. I had spent all my life living in one city, associating mainly with friends from school whilst developing a few other friends through sport and church – friends I would only communicate with at sport and at church. I recall coming home from that conference and being struck by the fact that I now, for the first time in my life, had friends, not just in my home town, but all over New Zealand. My world had suddenly grown!
Of course a “first” experience such as this at twenty seems foreign to Generation Y. Their world is already big – far bigger than mine was at twenty. While their parents may have had a pen pal, they are the first generation to have a large number of “friends”, many of whom they have never met and may never meet, and with whom they can communicate with 24/7.
This networked world they live in influences their priorities. Relationships are hugely important to them. Significantly, they tend to work to live, rather than live to work and when they are at work, workplace relationships with both colleagues and their supervisor are key factors in job satisfaction and the decision of whether or not to stay with a company or to look for employment elsewhere.
The importance of relationships to them and the opportunity presented by technology to be continually networked to their friends, creates tensions in the workplace. While we might expect them to be fully present in the “real” world and leave the “virtual” world until later, their distinction between these two worlds is not nearly as clear as it is for those who have not grown up with mobile phones, texting and social media. Telling them to ignore the stream of messages is a little like telling someone from my generation to sit in a room with their friends and not talk to them.
While they major on relationships, Generation Y are not always as adept in communicating in the “real” world as in the virtual world—although it must be added, they are not quick to differentiate between the two. For ease, they prefer quick communication via texting or social/digital media than calling on the phone or talking face to face.
However, it must be added that their experience in a 24/7 relational world has some advantages for the employer. By being constantly informed via social media of what their friends are doing, thinking and liking, Generation Y can be an asset to a business in suggesting how to brand and market itself to their generation.