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Millennials at Work: What Makes Them Tick?

Questions About the Ethics of Millennials’ Social Media Practices

The Millennial generation is the largest segment of the workforce (40%) with 75.4 million individuals expected by 2020. Millennials are motivated by different factors than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Employers need to understand how to motivate Millennials because they bring a different perspective than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, and they expect a different experience than their predecessors. Understanding what makes them tick helps to attract the best and the brightest.

Critics claim Millennials are entitled, impatient, uncaring, and results oriented. They seem to be self-absorbed and not willing to put the interests of others ahead of their own self-interest. Some critics question their commitment to a work ethic; they are less likely to act on the belief they owe their employers 100% effort, especially when they feel mistreated or under-valued.

Millennials are driven to work hard when allowed to shape their workplace environment. Surveys of Millennials at work highlight what they value in the workplace.

  • Opportunity for growth and development.

  • Developing leadership skills.

  • Mentoring and feedback on a regular basis.

  • Opportunity to work remotely and telecommute.

  • Collaborative work environment.

  • Using technology and digital communication to enhance networking and socialization.

  • Work-life integration.

  • Concern for their workplace and social media reputations.

  • Respect for personal and family values gains their loyalty and trust.

  • Dedication to a cause (i.e., environmentalism); serving a greater good.

The growing reliance on social networking by the Millennial generation raises concerns about the ethics of their online practices. Surveys show they think about risks before posting online and consider how their employers would react to their postings. But, they do admit to discussing company information online: 60% would comment on their personal sites about their company if it was in the news; 53% share information about work projects once a week or more; greater than one-third say they often comment, on their personal sites, about managers, co-workers, and even clients. The survey concludes that nothing is secret anymore and, unlike Las Vegas, management should assume that what happens at work does not stay at work and may become publicly known.

Social networkers are unusually vulnerable to risks because they witness more misconduct and experience more retaliation when they report it than their work colleagues. A majority (56%) of active social networkers who reported misdeeds experienced retaliation compared to fewer than one in five (18%) of other employee groups. The higher level of retaliation can be fueled by negative comments about their experiences and comments on social networks.

Can an employer fire a worker for inappropriate comments on social media? The best source for advice is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that receives employee complaints about firings and discipline resulting from their social media use. The U.S. Constitution does not apply to private employers, so employees cannot claim the right of freedom of speech. But all private employers must respect their workers right to “protected concerted activity” – in other words, the right to talk among themselves about their horrible working conditions. This right is not limited to union workers; it applies for all private employers.

A few years ago, the NLRB brought a complaint against a company for firing an employee who had complained about her bosses on Facebook. The comments included criticisms regarding the lack of health insurance, sick days, vacation days, unsafe vehicles and discouraging employees to unionize. The NLRB ordered the employer to reinstate the employee to his old job with back pay.

Employers that expect Millennials to suspend their social networking practices once they enter the workplace are naïve. They should not expect it to happen any more than an employer had a right to expect Baby Boomers to not telephone a co-worker and complain about working conditions.

What can employers do to lessen the potential negative effects of social networking and inappropriate comments on social network sites? One step is to develop policies on proper uses of social media in the workplace. In companies with social networking policies, 88 percent consider their employer’s reaction before making work-related posts, compared to 76 percent in companies without such policies. The key is to establish a culture that accepts the fact that Millennials are and will continue to be active social networkers and not try to stop them from doing so.

Millennials need to be consistently challenged and provided the opportunity to grow and develop through their workplace experiences. The more employers incorporate social media into the workplace, the quicker they will attract and retain the best and brightest Millennials. Outdated notions that all social networking is bad misses the point that the use of social media in the workplace is a growing, not a declining trend. Today, companies can report their financial results online. Some companies use social media to check the background of those being interviewed. Still others monitor the practices and statements of workers about the company on social media. The key is to create broad-based standards for ethical behavior on digital forums, social networking sites, and using technology.

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