There was a very strange news story this past
week that, in my mind, highlights the difference between generations and how
we're all going to need to learn how to work better with each other.
What happened is that a young man of 23 years old got an offer letter for a job
working at a newspaper. He was so happy about it that he decided to talk about it
on his Tumblr blog.
While he did that, he decided to print the contents of the letter, including the
logo of the newspaper.
The part that's not clear is if he told the people he was going to do it before he
did it, or told them after he did it. In any case they knew about it, went to look at
it, and rescinded
the job offer, saying that he used their intellectual property without permission
and that he wasn't supposed to quote from the letter.
It caused an interesting stir in further conversations on Twitter and I got into a
discussion with a few people on the subject, most of whom were much younger than I
am. Everyone who was within 7-10 years of this young man felt the company was
totally wrong and that they missed out on a great employee who not only was looking
forward to working with them but had given them some free publicity, which they thought
was a very valuable thing.
The few people my age that piped in pretty much believed as I did, that as flattering
as the entire thing might have seemed, it's something we would have never thought
about doing back in the day, and thus it's something we wouldn't think about doing
now. Even though it all looked fairly harmless and innocuous, in our minds it
crossed a line that never should have been breached.
There's definitely a difference in the workplace between younger workers and older
workers, mainly because there's a difference between generations in life. The
20-somethings of today are a lot freer with their personal information and images.
They have no qualms about putting pictures on their Facebook pages or being tracked
by things like Four Square. They see these things as part of their life and they
want to share it with their friends.
I think back to how I grew up as a baby boomer. We were warned that the Communists
were trying to infiltrate our country and that we had to protect ourselves against
the Red Menace. Amongst ourselves we worried that the FBI was always watching us
and taping everything we did. Our names and phone numbers were in the phone book
but unless you lived in the area you had to go through a lot of trouble to find
your way around almost anywhere. You didn't have the same worries about people
getting your social security numbers and other personal information, and of course
since there was no internet we didn't have to worry about embarrassing pictures of
us showing up anywhere except in the newspaper if we were arrested.
But we also knew the rules when we went to work for someone. We never shared any
information we got from the company with anyone outside of the company. We were
told to never tell anyone else how much money we made. We were told not to embarrass
the company in any way or that we'd lose our jobs. We knew our limits, and we
followed them. It never occurred to most of us to tell others almost anything about
the company; truthfully, most of the time we knew very little of what was going on anyway.
These days we know almost everything. That makes a lot of us baby boomers reluctant
to share our information. Our generation, and the one after us, by the numbers don't
really trust the internet all that much. We don't shop in the same numbers, we don't
surf in the same numbers, and we don't do research in the same numbers as younger
people do. We do seem to have taken over Facebook, as the fastest growing demographic
is woman over the age of 55, and the average age for Twitter participants is in the
30's. But we still keep our information close to the vest; we've opened up but we're
still hesitant to share too much.
If you're going to lead in today's world, whether you're younger or older, you
have to be able to modify some of your beliefs and actions based on the diversity
of the people working for you. There are always some rules and regulations that
won't allow for changes. Instead of not allowing people to talk on the phone all
day you might have to restrict their texting access to a degree if you want to get
things done. It might be harder keeping your employees off social media sites during
the day; for that matter it might be hard staying away from it yourself.
I've always believed in a policy of making sure employees stay informed about
everything that goes on within a business. I've also always known when it's
time to let people know what needs to stay within the building and what doesn't
matter if it gets out. With the change in how people can gain access and how
people can deliver information however, it's now critical that companies start
thinking about these things and come up with policies on how to protect their
intellectual property. People don't have to take files out of the office anymore;
they can snap a picture in a heartbeat and you or anyone else would never know.
I believe most incidences of company information breach aren't intentional,
which is why policies not only should be developed, but should be reinforced
as often as possible so everyone knows what's at stake. I will caution against
trying to cover all bases and trying to be too stringent. Do that and people
will wonder what you're trying to hide, and then nothing will be private.
Welcome to the 21st Century.