Gen Y and Boundaries (or lack thereof) – Part 2

September 1, 2008

Last week I addressed two Gen Y boundary issues that are often discussed and fairly clear: Time and Place.  Much has been written about Gen Y and their desire, or rather, demand for flexibility, but perhaps not with the boundary umbrella.

I want to add one more “no boundary” topic to the list:  Information Sharing

I’m sure Gen Y’s have boundaries around what information they are and are not willing to share, but I’m confident in saying that it’s far broader than my own and most of my generation’s (late boomer.) 

I remember quite clearly my first attempt to establish a Facebook account.  I was meeting with a Gen Y client who will be launching a wonderful new charity-based website, and asked for his help in setting up my Facebook profile.  I was stopped cold to see that in addition to your gender, birth date and hometown, the template asked for Political and Religious views.  My Gen Y client was perplexed that I was perplexed.

“Why would I want to share that information?” I asked him. 

“Why wouldn’t you?” was his reply.  “Don’t your friends already know your religion and politics?”

“Yes, but it seems strange to have those front and center,” I replied.

“Why?” he asked again and the conversation continued from there.

Whether it is my generation or my personality, I am clearly more private, by nature, than most of the Gen Y people I meet. 

In many ways the individually, megaphoned platform created by personal web sites, blogging, social networking, YouTube etc. provides a wonderful way to share thoughts, insights and experiences with friends, family, colleagues and often a broader audience.  Previously, if you had something you wanted to say or show somewhat publicly, you were at the mercy of the media, publishers and editors. These new(ish) platforms are the great leveler allowing anyone’s voice to be heard.  I love that I can broadcast my thoughts without having to submit my work to a publisher, and hope and wait and likely, be edited.  But whether Gen Y is using this opportunity wisely is another story.

Take YouTube as an example.  You can find videos from broadcasting all forms of partying, to imitating celebrities in their less flattering moments, to showcasing cruel activities towards others.  Many Gen Y’s appear comfortable in the exhibitionist role.  I know this is not the majority of the YouTube content, but it is the content that seems to get the most public attention.  I believe, that’s the point.

While these videos may be fun to share with a small circle of friends, I’m not sure Gen Y fully understands the more public impressions that these videos make.  I’m all for everyone’s 15 minutes of fame.  But is that what you want to be known for?

As a manager, here are some things to think about regarding your Gen Y employees and their potential lack of an internal editor when it comes to sharing information.

Think “loose lips, sink ships.” If Gen Y’s are willing to share such personal information so publicly, do you think they’ll, at one point or another, intentionally or unintentionally, end up broadcasting something about their job, the company, you, your clients or customers etc. that you’d prefer they not say?  Bet on it. As an example, the Isareli army has clamped down on what its soldiers can and cannot share on Facebook.  Some posts and photos had, I’m sure inadvertently, shared sensitive information. 

Also think about the information Gen Y’s share about themselves.  Just as people are measured by the company they keep, your business partners, clients and customers will measure your company by the employees you hire.  Their profile becomes your profile.  Is it possible that they’ll present themselves in a way that becomes embarrassing and you’ll find yourself concerned how your senior management, clients or customers may react?  You can bet on that too.

The viral nature of the Internet is what makes all this information sharing so powerful and potentially more troubling.  An innocent exchange with a friend can suddenly be forwarded along and then forwarded along until the number of people with access to it grows geometrically.  The audience expands well beyond what was intended.

This is not to say that Gen Y’s won’t make you incredibly proud as well.  These bright, creative, caring employees can showcase you and themselves in a wonderful light.  But the risk of it going the other way is pretty strong.

So, what’s a manager to do?

Shutting off Internet access to social networking and broadcasting tools (my opinion on that will be in another blog) won’t help and won’t reduce your risk.

You need to impact the information they choose to share.  When most new-to-market employees begin their first “real” job, there’s training on the hard skills they need to do their job.  But there’s often little guidance regarding the general business life skills that they’ll also need to be successful.  Your instincts may help you make good choices about the information you share about yourself and your company, but your instincts were honed in a more private time.  You cannot depend on new-to-market employees to make the choices you’d hope they would make.  You need to provide guidance, preferably in an open conversation rather than in a formal training class, regarding acceptable and desired boundaries around information sharing.  I still have to remind career-launcher clients that their “black spider of death” web site may not make them attractive to a prospective employer.  This generally comes after I suggest that the ringtone of someone throwing up may lose them credibility if their phone rings during a meeting or interview. 

There are things they won’t think about, connections they won’t make, impacts they won’t imagine unless you spell it out for them and overtly remind them.  These may be one of the awkward conversations you really don’t want to have with your new employees, but isn’t that better than the alternative?

As for Gen Y’s, remember that when you are looking for a job, any serious interviewer (and these are the ones you want) will do as much background checking on you as they can.  They will use all the search engines to read and see more about you than is on your resume.  Make sure you are presenting the image you want.  I can’t tell you how many times a prospective employer called me to say, “the resume was great, but I dug a little deeper and . . . s/he’s just not a fit for us.”  This can be before or after the interview.  In many cases, your online profile can stop you from even getting in the door!  But, it can also help get you in the door.  Remember that these are tool and you can control your image.  Post wisely.

That holds for employees as well.  Think about what you say publicly about yourself and your employer.  Think about what information should and should not be shared, and where it may end up after you post or send it.  Once it’s out there, you can’t unring that bell.  Be aware of the impact of your words and actions, and how this viral platform can help or hurt you.  Information sharing cuts both ways and can get away from you quickly.  Proceed with caution.

Next week, the last blog on Gen Y and boundaries.


One Response to “Gen Y and Boundaries (or lack thereof) – Part 2”

  1. Social Networking Tools - To Enable or Disable Access? | Onboarding Gen Y on October 13th, 2008 6:16 am

    […] their time well, and how to impact the perceptions of senior management (see my earlier blog on Information Sharing Boundaries.)  This is an excellent opportunity to establish a reciprocal arrangement with your Gen Y […]

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