What scares managers about younger workers?

Use of social networking separates young and older workers, but the divide can be crossed, panelists say

What scares Lt. Col. Charlotte Herring, chief of the information technology division of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, most about young agency employees?

It's "the fact that every time I walk by their cubicle they’re on their personal Facebook account,” she said . It bothers her “not because I think they are putting up stuff that’s inappropriate or classified or shouldn’t be out there. It’s the fact that they’re not working.”

Herring, speaking May 4 at the 2010 Open Government Innovations Conference in Washington, held by 1105 Government Information Group, said that about 75 percent of the workers in her division are under the age of 30. She was one of a group panelists who addressed a session titled “The case for cool: How young employees are infusing government with much-needed innovation.”

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The willingness of younger workers to share personal information using social media tools baffles the older generation, said Dan Mintz, chief operating officer at Powertek Corp. and former chief information officer for the Transportation Department. “I don’t know if it causes fear, but it’s incomprehensible. Those people who are really used to hierarchy and structure in organizations have great difficulty in dealing with people who have no respect for the organizational hierarchy."

But younger government workers on the panel emphasized the utility of social media tools.

“Like all communications tools, there’s a time and place for what you’re doing,” said Steve Ressler, an information technology specialist at Immigration and Customs Enforcement who created GovLoop, an online meeting place for government employees worldwide.

He compared social media to a multi-tooled Swiss army knife.

“Sometimes e-mail is very effective at certain things, and Twitter and social networks are effective at other things. It isn’t either/or. It’s using all of them,” Ressler said.

The social media space is still emerging, he added. “The skill set is in doing it right and doing it well."

But panelists agreed that dissolving the generational divide on technology will ultimately help government meet its goals.

“In the Army JAG Corps, my leadership is very much attuned to what our young judge advocates and our young soldiers bring to the table,” Herring said. “They want to hear it. I think we have very much of an open dialogue between senior [staff members] and youngsters, for want of a better word, than we’ve had ever in history.”

“Generations can learn from each other,” said Jonathan Rubin, a communications specialist for the General Services Administration’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement. “Real knowledge is how to speak and learn from each other.”

About the Author

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 19, 2016

There is no way 75% under 30 was an accurate number and we weren't on Facebook all the time.

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 Kenny Gilliland Falls Church Va

As my bosses used to say, it is all about leadership. Regardless if it is in a company or in the military. It is the bosses function to keep the employees engaged and actively employed. If they are not doing work, then the question is what work are you having them do? Obviously they are getting their job done or they would have been fired by now.

Thu, May 20, 2010 Sterling

Take a moderate, long-term viewpoint. Email (phones before it) was once derided as a waste of time. Now we can't operate without email. Social is the same thing. It's like a more public email. Gen Y prefers it. Government, like it or not, is going to have to deal with it b/c the workers define the workplace in the long-run, not the regulations or rules. Why? B/c the workers eventually become the ones making the rules.

Mon, May 10, 2010 Eirik Iverson Chantilly, Virginia

Social networking 'at the office' poses multiple risks to the employer, one is mentioned in this article. Among other risks, employees doing so expose the computers, and the LAN their computer operates within, to zero day malware attacks. Some such attacks do not even attempt to install malware on the host but instead hijack the web browser to steal information and explore other resources within the LAN. If your organization does not wish to totally cut off social networking but eliminate risks from it, then Google these keywords: Pixie social networking. This approach prevents social networking from doing any harm to the user's PC or the LAN its inside.

Thu, May 6, 2010

All of the social media capabilities bring attention/instant gratification to younger workers who felt they were deprived in their earlier years. But an even greater problem as Steve Ressler in your article pointed out is younger workers have yet to learn the "proper time and place".

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