By Meagan Johnson and Larry Johnson
We call the generation born after 1994 as Generation Linkster, so called because no other generation has ever been so linked to each other and to the world through technology. They are currently in their teens and preteens. There are approximately 20 million Linksters in the United States and they represent 18 percent of the world’s population. They are now entering the workforce as part-time employees, working after school and during the summers.
Most Linksters don’t remember the O.J. Simpson trial, the disputed 2000 presidential election, the dot.com collapse, or the 9/11 attacks. Their vocabulary lessons include words like terrorism and Google. The nice lady that gives you directions from your GPS is an icon for them and as trustworthy as a police officer. In fact, the people they trust most are their parents who are, for the most part, Generation X.
The biggest difference between them and Generation Y besides age (Generation Y was born between 1980 and 1994) is that Gen Y embraced and expanded the use of technology to communicate through social networking and micro-blogging. For Linksters, these wonders have always been a part of their lives. The difference is similar to Boomers who witnessed and were amazed by the invention of the microwave compared to Gen Yers who never experienced life without one. Consequently, being able to communicate with Linksters via these electronic venues is even more important for managers than it has been for communicating with Generation Y.
Another difference is that Generation Y was raised primarily by Baby Boomer parents, who had postponed having children until they were financially and emotionally mature enough to “do it right.” Consequently, many went overboard and became “snow plow parents” who doted on their children and removed any obstacles in their childrens’ path.” Linksters, on the other hand, were raised by Generation Xers, who’s parents had raised them by leaving them to fend for themselves (remember the term “latchkey kids.”) Consequently, these Gen X parents tended to be a little tougher and a little more demanding of their Linkster children than the doting Boomer parents were of their Generation Y children. Our guess is that as these young Linksters enter the workforce, there will be less complaints about their lack of initiative and discipline than there have been about their Generation Y brethren.
A third difference is in how Linksters learn. A recent cover story in Fast Company Magazine pointed out that selected kids around the world are now learning their ABCs and more on Smart Phones. As the iPad and other devices become more ubiquitous, school books may go the way of paper ledgers and slide rules. Linksters are already headed down that road.
Also, since teacher/student relationships in school tends to lay the groundwork for the manager/employee relationships in the workplace, in an iPad learning environment, the teacher becomes more a mentor than an authority figure. Consequently, future managers of Linksters will need to adopt a more mentor-like approach to their young employees.
A fourth difference is that because technology has made doing so affordable, Linksters have gone from customization to personalization. They’re able to personalize the ring tones on their cell phones, the design of their clothing, and even put their initials on their M&Ms.
It’s important to understand these differences because as generations age, they exert influence, assume control, and demand cultural focus on their needs.
In our book, we offer 10 tips for managing Linksters:
1. Ride herd on them – they need close supervision.
2. Provide them with job descriptions – they need to know what to do.
3. Treat them like legitimate citizens – they like to feel like they’re part of the family.
4. Lead by example – they often look to you as a surrogate parent.
5. Orient them to the obvious – their inexperience may blind them to not doing stupid things like waiting on a customer with their iPod ear buds in.
6. Welcome them with open arms.
7. Know what songs are on their iPods? It helps you to relate to them.
8. Create micro-career paths – this may not be a career for them, but it’s how they learn to navigate the waters of organizational structure.
9. Reexamine your uniform policy – would they be embarrassed wearing it with their friends.
10. Thank their parents – their parents’ support will encourage them to stay loyal to you and do a better job.