Social Media in Business: Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce


With the burst of technology, social media, and personal branding, it is an interesting experience to be out in a workforce that consists of four different and distinct generations of employees working together. Technology, social media, and personal branding are very important to some and relatively unimportant to others. Your success in ‘playing well with others’ at work comes down to education, understanding, and adjusting your style within this multi-generational workforce.

Social Media Within the Generations

Gen Y (born 1981-1994) is clearly the most influential age group when it comes to social media, technology, and personal branding. They grew up on the computer, are heavy users, and are the most innovative generation in this respect.

Gen X (1965-1980) have more responsibilities with families and kids and did not grow up online but they adapted quickly. This generation is also very active in social media and is growing by leaps and bounds on many social networking sites.

The Baby Boomers (1946-1964) is one of the fastest growing generations in terms of the growth in users over the past several years. However, Baby Boomers are moderate users and spend considerably less time on social media sites and tend to use fewer of them. However, there is a large age span in this generation which makes a big difference. Younger boomers are definitely more active users than their older counterparts.

The Traditional or Silent Generation (1925-1946) is the smallest generation of people using social media sites, as their primary use of the internet is for email and product/information research.

Most People Are On Board, Right?

Where things get tricky in the workforce is when you have to adapt your style towards those in the older generations who simply do not use (nor generally care to learn) anything about social media. They likely don’t even know what personal branding is, at least from the internet perspective. They might think of social media sites as huge time wasters.

I know of many people like this in the workforce and if you work for one of them, you can try to educate but ultimately may have to adjust. There are many generational differences but it is important to point out some things to take note of when working with/for someone like this -where more “traditional” approaches will help your personal brand at work.

What Does it Mean to be “Traditional”?

  • Recognize that in-person communications and phone calls are preferable over emails to these people. This is a big one and can be a difficult adjustment. If you want to impress, try to get more face time rather than sending emails.
  • How and where we want to do our work is different across the generations. Selling your boss on using different technologies (webinars, webcasts,smartphones,etc) or different work schedules (telecommuting) might be difficult. Educate! But in the end, you may have to settle with their way.
  • Twitter has given us the ability to condense our thoughts into 140 characters or less. How do we do it?  We often use letters and numbers to replace words. Do not do this in company email communications – even if just communicating with a coworker. You never know when it may be forwarded to someone who will consider that means of communication to be very unprofessional.
  • It is offensive to many non-users if you “check your phone” often. Many people bring their phones into meetings, put them in front of them and turn them off. The mere presence of your phone is actually disturbing to some people and if it is, checking it is far worse! And if it rings? Watch out! If you know this will bother someone, your best bet is to put your phone away during communications with this person. If you are a job candidate and are in an interview, don’t even think about having your phone on!
  • Job candidates, take this tip to heart: do not email a cover letter with a link at the bottom and state, “See my LinkedIn profile for my resume.”  I have actually seen many people do this, and I promise you that many people want to see a resume with a cover letter and LinkedIn cannot replace a real resume no matter how much information you have in your profile!

My advice to those who find themselves working with or reporting to a person who does not participate in (or care about) the use of social media or technology is to respect their place with it and understand that this simply is not part of who they are. Adapt accordingly but educate them as much as you can.

Some non-users will take to it if they just understand it better. Help them! Non-users may also be the same people who are not branding their business online either. Educating using dollars and cents and how it can help the business’ bottom line is the key to winning them over. I have seen people change their attitudes. It can be done, just be very respectful along the way!  Remember that these people may be avoiding social media not because they don’t think it’s useful, but because they don’t know where to start with it, or how to make it work for them.  If you’re a good teacher, it shouldn’t be a tough sell!

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Jessica Simko is a seasoned senior level Human Resources professional with over 15 years of experience in all facets of Human Resources Management.  She is a Freelance Writer and  Entrepreneur specializing in career/ life coaching and social media. Striving to help people connect their passions with their jobs and life, she offers great career, personal branding, and life tips on her new blog, Work and Life Solutions.  Feel free to connect with her on:

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3 Comments

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  1. 1
    Asaad Faquir

    Jessica,

    Nice post. I posted similar on my blog, however mine was geared towards HR setting policy in a workplace environment when the Gen Y/Millennials are “on board” with social media and the older generation still has their doubts about its functionality and use. I also wrote a post about how HR should stop policing social media and start mining it.

    In any event I like the standard set of rules for being traditional you use here. Although I think you are a bit tied to the “old ways” being the right ways. Sometimes they aren't and hell or high water they should change and Gen Y/Millennials should push it. But I recognize your points are general guidlines and hard and fast rules.

    Cheers!

  2. 2
    Jessica Simko

    Thanks for your comment! I really don't think the old ways are the right ways, my general point was simply that if you work for someone who is not on board, educate them. But in the end, you really have to do what the boss wants because well, he/she is the boss!

  3. 3
    Jessica Simko

    Thanks for your comment! I really don't think the old ways are the right ways, my general point was simply that if you work for someone who is not on board, educate them. But in the end, you really have to do what the boss wants because well, he/she is the boss!

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