Yesterday, waiting for my lunch appointment to arrive, I watched a young man behind the counter texting to a friend between customers. My first reaction was dismay. Shortly after, I realized it is his generation who will be teaching our generation about customer relationships. A little scary? Maybe.
It only seems scary because we’re used to an older generation assuming the mentor role in work environments. Traditionally, it’s the high-seniority professionals showing the younger, less experienced mentees the ropes.
However, if you’re of the Baby Boom Generation, you’ve probably noticed a reverse mentoring trend happening in the workplace. It’s essentially Gen Y (also known as Millennials) mentoring the well-established, more experienced workforce, as opposed to the other way around. The trend is most noticeable in professional fields where technology is an integral part of the work environment.
What Gen Y is telling us
Although no one seems to agree exactly where Gen Y starts and stops (late 1970s – late 1990s), it is a fact that it is the largest generation (approximately 80 million) to hit the American market since the Baby Boomers.
Gen Y are digital natives, meaning digital technology already existed when they were born. They can easily multi-task between searching the Internet, listening to music on their MP3, texting on their mobile phone, while TV is playing in the background.
Growing up amid a high-speed bombardment of information has produced a generation with short attention spans, no doubt. But, it has also produced a sharp generation who understand how to effectively market themselves and products using social networks.
Why Boomers should listen
Because of the emerging influence of Gen Y, it’s important we understand how they’re different in order to monetize marketing strategies in a Web 2.0 environment. When marketing to them, remember that:
- Mobile phones are like an extension of their arm
- They don’t care about ads, but what their friends think
- Television is background noise; Internet TV is better
- Social media networks equal relationship building
- They expect work tools to mirror Web tools
- They value work-life balance; flex-time, an ability to work from anywhere in a “fun” work environment; a need to “buy in” to an idea (aka “Generation Why?”)
An environment where everyone wins
If we can embrace the concept of reverse mentoring, and recognize the positive changes Gen Y brings to business, everyone can benefit. Boomers can learn from Gen Y’s ability to adapt quickly to changing work environments, and at how easily they give and receive feedback. Having grown up during the Enron era, they are skeptical about concepts such as company loyalty, and appear to have an almost built in expectation of company layoffs.