Employers must ease way for next generation

In his 1997 book, Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, author Don Tapscott predicted that the children of baby boomers would become enormously influential as the first generation to grow up surrounded by high-tech tools and toys.

Tapscott's latest book, Grown Up Digital, revisits the so-called Net generation -- those born between the late 1970s and early 1990s -- and finds that their unique attitudes and aptitudes are already invading the workplace. The book is due out next year.

Tapscott said his research has found that the Net generation offers unique talents to employers, who will have to adapt hiring and workplace processes to effectively recruit and retain them.

The research included interviews with more than 11,000 of the 80 million members of the Net generation in a US$4 million study.

Tapscott contended that high-profile knocks against the children of baby boomers -- that they are a generation that's uninformed, lazy and looking to move up the corporate ladder without putting in the required blood, sweat and tears -- are wrong.

The group's work habits, he said, are just different from those of their parents, because they have been profoundly influenced by technologies like instant messaging, video games, mobile phones and search engines.

"These kids' brains are actually wired differently," Tapscott said. "Their IQs are up by all the measures we have. This is the smartest generation ever. They are highly motivated and bring a new kind of culture." And some, he noted, are quitting their jobs when they bump up against a traditional corporate culture.

Tapscott said that the research showed that companies must accommodate the new generation's need for speed -- real-time instant messaging conversation is its core communication method. The preference for quick, peer-to-peer interaction can be stifled by a traditional corporate hierarchy and work processes, he said.

The new workforce also wants to take advantage of mobile technology, which provides a freedom that "has become like oxygen" to them, Tapscott said.

The desire for freedom and balance can be exploited for competitive gain, he noted. Companies, for example, could use collaboration technologies in virtual teaming arrangements, allowing Net generation workers to satisfy their need to socialize with peers worldwide.

Based on the research, Tapscott also suggested that companies do the following:

-- Provide a healthy amount of project work that offers cyclical, intensive projects.

-- Set up opportunities for young workers to quickly present their ideas to managers.

-- Encourage informal relationships between managers and workers.

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