Millennials: Full Disclosure or Bust


Edward Snowden, seen here in an interview with The Guardian newspaper, told the newspaper he was the source of a series of leaked documents from the National Security Agency. (The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras)

The headlines are awash with emerging details on a 29-year old whistleblower named Edward Snowden, who disclosed classified secrets in order to expose the “surveillance state” of the U.S. government. In his role as an analyst for the National Security Agency (NSA), Snowden had access to classified material on a government program named PRISM that gave the government nearly unlimited access to every U.S. citizens’ emails and web-browsing activity.

Snowden, a Millennial, was well aware of the risks he was taking in exposing this top-secret NSA program. It is no coincidence that he and the soldier arrested for passing on classified material to Wikileaks’ Bradley Manning (25-years old), are both Millennials. Earlier this year, Aaron Swartz, age 26, committed suicide after felony charges relating to hacking into MIT’s computer system in order to download some academic journals.

Is it just a coincidence they are all Millennials? Not a chance. What do their actions tell us about Millennials in the workplace, and what do employers need to know about managing this new generation?

Here are 3 things employers should know about Millennials in the workplace:

1. Technology is a Millennial’s best friend, and best friends don’t cross you

Navigating the web, finding new apps, downloading new software programs—

Millennials have a kinship with technology that we have not seen in any previous generation. According to a recent survey by Generations consultancy, LifeCourse Associates, 93% of Millennials use social media for personal reasons, compared to 80% of GenXers and 61% of Boomers. As long as technology is Millennials’ best friend, there is an expectation that this friend, or those responsible for the technology, will not double-cross you.

When Sergy Brin and Larry Page started Google (both GenXers), they came up with a company slogan that they still use today: “Don’t Be Evil.” Little did they know, they created an expectation for an entire generation. Millennials trust technology, in part because technology has been an enabling partner with them from an early age—a source of entertainment, a way to stay close with friends and share things with them, even a way to help them with their school work. Their parents, whom they also trust, gave them their first smart phone in order to stay in touch. Technology is not just a lifeline for Millennials, it is their life.

Millennials don’t mind that you may be watching them, but they do mind if you are doing it secretly. Companies should be clear about their privacy laws, and they should be upfront that, yes, they do have the ability to access employees’ emails, but they are, in fact not evil, they only do it for good reasons.

2. Millennials’ Tolerance for Self-Disclosure is very low

When Baby Boomers were young, their biggest fear was oversight from big brother. George Orwell’s 1984 (written in 1949) was the guidebook for civic distrust of large institutions. Protecting privacy, particularly from the subversive forces of a centrally-controlled government or institution resonated with an entire generation. These days, Millennials gladly put cameras in their own room, and post the most intimate details of their daily activities for all to see. Yes, they will share almost anything, but they have an expectation that everyone else is sharing as well. The Millennial quid pro quo is… “I’ll be transparent, but I expect that you will be transparent too”. Yes, even in the case of the U.S. government, large institutions, or their employer. Our recent Millennial Minute on Salary Sharing speaks to new topic of interest or managers and HR directors: Millennials routinely sharing their information on salaries.

So when there is a perception that an institution is being nothing short of 100% transparent, Millennials will often push back. Lesson? Be transparent. Of course this does not go for the U.S intelligence community, but most employers will do good to go out of their way to be as transparent as possible about the decisions they make. Re-evaluate what you disclose to employees, and consider loosening the reins on information that does not entirely compromise your company’s mission. And if there is information that you cannot share, be explicit about why. For Millennials, honesty will trump secrecy all day long.

3. Save the world now, fat paycheck later…maybe

Millennials have very different priorities than their GenX counterparts. When GenXers were graduating from college in the 1980’s and 1990’s, a common route to a career was an MBA or law degree, then onto the highest paying job possible. Millennials are different. Far more college graduates today (and there are more of them) are going into professions in the non-profit world, and those that accept employment at for-profit companies prefer that the company practices long-term sustainable practices that are good for society. A 2011 Deloitte survey found Millennials who participated frequently in company-sponsored volunteer work are far more likely than their non-volunteering peers to rate their corporate culture as positive, to be proud to work for their company, to feel loyal, to recommend their company to a friend, and to be very satisfied with their employer and with the progression of their career.  Millennials are dedicated to corporate social responsibility, and not recognizing this dynamic can lead to Millennial disengagement and may even prompt them to challenge their employer on issues where they disagree.

What’s an employer to do? Employers need a way to scratch that itch that Millennials have. Make sure your social responsibility programs are not just ad-hoc after thoughts, but are integrated into the company’s core strategy and purpose. And allow Millennials to do social responsibility work on company time. This is worth the investment, as they will be much more likely to work longer hours on the project that you need them to do. Not only can you attract and retain  the most talented Millennials, but you will build a bond of trust that will pay big dividends in the future.

BOTTOM LINE: Get to know your Millennials, understand where they are coming from and why they think the way they do. Be sensitive to their hot spots, and start to work toward a more transparent, authentic operating style that clearly explains what your company believes and why they believe it.

– Warren Wright

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