New Study: Gen Y Not So Crazy for Social Media at Work

Last Updated Jan 24, 2011 12:42 PM EST

The image of the 20-something employee perpetually plugged in to some gadget and hungry for 24-hour connectedness is popular in the business world (and here on BNET). But Gen Y's love affair with social media may have its limits -- limits that employers ignore at their peril.

Consultancy Decode, which specializes in issues surrounding young people, recently surveyed more than 4,500 social media users between the ages of 18-34 in the U.S., U.K. and Canada for a report on social media at work to be released tomorrow. What they found may surprise the biggest boosters of social media's place in the business world, particularly when it comes to recruiting.

Despite this generation's reputation as tech savvy and media hungry, large majorities told researchers they did NOT want their employer to allow social media at work. Just 37 percent of men agree employers should allow access to social media at work. Twenty six percent of women (perhaps more familiar with the abuse of online profiles by unsavory strangers) said the same. Only 33 percent of both genders said they are open to recruiters finding them through social media.

In an interview, Robert Barnard, CEO of Decode, claimed the findings are a wake-up call to employers:

Because everyone thinks that Gen Y's only about technology, there's an assumption among employers that it's all about social media -- we'll recruit them that way; we'll interact with them that way; it'll be all social media all the time at work. This research is telling people to hold back a little bit and make sure that's what Gen Y really wants. We're saying that there might be some hesitancy towards that sort of all out interaction through social media at work.

There are a lot of people who make assumptions about young people and just forget to ask if that's really what they want. They assume, for instance, that young people want to change jobs all the time when we find time and time again that, if you ask young people, they actually want to find a good job and stick to it. Perception versus reality can be quite different.

Barnard also thinks the findings have implications for Gen Y themselves, and suggests they weigh the pros and cons of professional social media communication carefully, and become more active in setting boundaries.
If there's 20 percent unemployment among young people, they need to use every single avenue at their disposal to help them find jobs. If they do shut down some lines of communication that could hurt them. But I think there has to be mutual respect between employers and younger candidates. If Gen Y uses social media to get a job, that doesn't mean they want people to look in on it all the time when they're at work.

If Gen Y wants to separate work from the rest of their lives, then they'll have to work a little harder to do that. I think sending a signal that they want to do that is the first step -- even as part of their employment contracts. As young people become more and more sophisticated about using social media they're also able to set up different profiles and different ways they can show their digital resume to people. But if they shut down some lines of communication then they may not get access to some jobs.

The complete report will be available on the Decode website tomorrow. Do you the results surprise you? And do you think the desire to keep personal and professional social media worlds separate is confined to the young, or are older people keen to keep home and career from mixing online as well?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user lucianvenutian, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.