The first is simple oversharing. I wrote before how narrating your work is a very smart strategy because it lets you be helpful to others, and also increases the chances that they can help you. But narrating your every opinion, emotion, lunch, happy hour, hangover, etc. on your company‘s emergent social software platforms is just narcissistic clutter.
One of the knocks against Generation Y is that they’ve been encouraged to believe that everything they say and think is interesting, and should be aired and shared. This is simply not true for anyone, no matter what reality TV producers would have us believe. Periodically sharing bits of personal information is valuable because it humanizes you, lets others know what kind of person you are, and facilitates socialization and trust-building. But oversharing in the workplace just makes you annoying and immature.
The second not-so-smart practice of a digital native is to act as if all employees are equals, and equally interested in airing the truth.
Most if not all of the digital communities where Gen Y has spent time are highly egalitarian. They’re indifferent to pre-existing hierarchies and credentials, and sometimes even hostile to them. And these communities seem to Millennials to work really well; Wikipedia gives them good information on any topic under the sun, Intrade prediction markets tell them who’s going to win elections, Twitter lets them know what’s going on in the world better and faster than any other source, their Facebook friends answer their questions for them, and so on.
All this can make a strong case to Gen Yers that hierarchy and credentialism are passé as concepts, or should be. So when they show up after graduation at their first employer, some of them start acting this way.
They assume that their contributions and opinions will be as sought after and valued as anyone else’s. They feel free to voice their thoughts on topics both related and unrelated to their job descriptions. In short, they implicitly follow the explicit philosophy of most Web 2.0 communities, which is “we’re all equals here.”
This is a really bad idea, for two main reasons. First, it ignores the fact that the newest workers might not be the most knowledgeable on the company’s core topics, and that they’d be better served at the start of their careers by listening and learning, rather than broadcasting what they already (think they) know.
Second, many people in the organization’s existing hierarchy are kind of fond of it. They’re fond, in fact, of the entire notion of hierarchy, and of the related idea that employees should respect their places within it. These people don’t really desire more egalitarianism.
A more unpleasant truth about organizational life is that some people also don’t really desire more truth or accuracy. They’re in charge of a project that’s not going well, a product that has no real chance of succeeding in the marketplace, a group that lives in fear of them, and so on. More accuracy about their situations would be good for the enterprise as a whole but bad for their careers, so they’ll do what they can do keep the truth from coming to light. And as any veteran of real-world organizations can tell you, there are a lot of ways to silence or marginalize truth-tellers.
In light of the above, I’ve got two pieces of advice for Gen Y as it enters the workforce. I’ll convey them using the words of much wiser men.
First, Voltaire on digital oversharing: “The secret of being a bore is to say everything.” A good ground rule, I believe, is to primarily use an enterprise’s 2.0 platforms to share information that passes a simple test: would a coworker I’ve never met find this professionally interesting?
Second, Goethe on the difference between how people in companies should act, and how they actually do: “a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.” The advice here for new Gen Y workers is to understand the political and organizational lay of the land before engaging in egalitarian online interactions and fearless truth telling. You may well decide that you’ll take the consequences, but you should first be aware of what the consequences are. Confusion here is not likely to go unpunished.
What other causes for concern have you noticed among the digital natives as they enter the workforce? And what advice do you have for them?