Are You Ready for the Digital Natives?

Is your business ready for the influx of “digital natives”? Maybe you’re already experiencing it.

I’m not talking about characters from a video game. “Digital natives” is another name for the newest generation in the workforce. Also called the Millennials, this generation was born between the early 1980s and 2000s (definitions differ). Essentially, they’re today’s young 20-somethings, and they grew up in a world where technology was a a part of their early childhood experiences.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Millennials lately as I’ve watched some of my 20-something former employees move on in their careers and my 22 year-old niece join the workforce. I’ve also been writing and talking to a lot of people about the challenges businesses face in keeping employees happy and productive.

Writing for, Andy McLoughlin offers some useful insights on how to keep Millennials in your workforce working in harmony with your workers from other generations. McLoughlin is focused on the IT angle and writing to larger businesses, but what he says made me think about how Millennials’ attitudes can help small businesses in particular.

Be flexible. Millennials are used to being “connected” 24/7 and don’t see demarcations between work and personal life the way older generations do. They’re not going to turn off their cell phones or sign off Facebook when they sit down at their desks, so don’t expect them to. The downside? You might see workers on Facebook and that might bother you. The upside? They may be connecting with clients or potential customers on Facebook and that might benefit you.

Be open-minded. One problem I’ve witnessed over the years whenever a new generation enters the workforce is that the older generation tends to resist the knowledge the younger folks bring. Senior employees feel that younger ones have to “earn their stripes.” And while this is partly true, today, more than at any other time, younger employees have a lot to offer your business. They may not be experienced in business, but they are experienced in technology—so if a Millennial employee suggests new ways of working, try listening.

Specifically, McLoughlin notes, Millennials are quite familiar with working “in the cloud”—a concept that’s still, well, cloudy to many older workers. Can your Millennial employees suggest new ways of using the cloud to benefit your business? Can they train older workers (or even you) on how to do it?


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

6 Reactions
  1. I really enjoyed reading this blog and like the tips given to the older generations at the end. If a business does not keep up on the latest technology trends they will not survive.

  2. If you want to succeed in business you must have a digital presence. The younger, more actively online generation (millennials) expects it, and if you don’t have it, your gone from this demographic.


    P.S. Follow me on Twitter if you’d like. That’d be cool: @mikepedersen

  3. As a Millenial, I find that some people think that hours you spend with your butt in a chair equals productivity. Measure the success of workers by whether they achieve their goals or not. Don’t worry if they approach it from different angles or even if they do it in ways you don’t expect. Just set clear goals and hold them to those goals. They might surprise you with their ingenuity.

  4. Thanks for bringing up this important topic, Rieva.

    They are kind of hard to figure out, these young folks.

    For instance, the multi-tasking that is now part of their everyday lives is scary to watch.

    My almost 15 year old, watches TV, texts,and hits Facebook-all at once.

    It’s crazy.

    Also, is it just me, or is there an inherent lack of motivation in that 20-year old crowd?

    The Franchise King

  5. The reality is invest in our future leaders or die! Understanding the tendencies and motivators of Gen Y is key to engaging them on the job.

    Sure they are connected through social media, but they crave what everyone else does: human connection.

    As a leader, be a coach. Empower, train and delegate tasks that can help them grow. If there’s one thing that Young Professionals want, it’s career/professional development.

  6. Thanks for all your comments and great insight, everyone. Joel, perhaps you were a bit harsh toward the 20 year olds–my nephew’s 20–and he has a great attitude.