Top Mistakes Generation Y Makes At Work

Generation Y mistakes at workHave you ever complained about your boss during an online chat? And what should you do if your email address shows up on porno sites?

Branding expert and boomer Nancy Shenker, drawing upon her management experience, tackles such questions in a new guidebook for 20-something workers.

Her new book, "Don't Hook Up With the Dude In The Next Cube," which she wrote along with 26-year old networking columnist, Lindsay E. Brown, provides more than 200 career secrets ranging from how to best post your resume online (make a personal website) to what to do with funny YouTube videos (never forward to professional colleagues, they say).

Shenker said she was motivated to write the book after catching one of the interns at her branding firm, theONswitch, complaining about her online. The incident happened last year when Shenker was walking past the intern's office computer. "She was trashing me, and gossiping about me, saying I was providing no direction," she says. "And her criticisms were valid. But she didn't have the common sense to talk to me directly. Instead, she was talking on her personal Gmail account and left the screen up."

She fired the intern the next day, telling the young woman that while she wasn't hurt, she thought the intern showed poor judgment. The experience opened her eyes to a new role she could take on -- mentor to the younger generation, she says.

"I realized I could be like a surrogate mom," she says. "And then it was clear much of this also applied for guys, too." (How should you handle the intern's mistake? Traditional advice like "own up to the mistake and admit bad judgment" still applies, she says.)

Keep Your Internet Trail Clean

The book, whose narrator is named the "Boss Lady," is written as a long list. It's divided by subject, including "Before You Send," which covers best email practices, and "Clean It Up," which provides instructions on how to maintain a clean digital profile. The latter would have come in particularly handy for an applicant she once had to reject because his personal e-mail address appeared on raunchy pornography websites. "For me, what you do in your personal life is a private matter," she says. "But I had to think about how this might represent my company. You've got to keep it clean when you are in public."

First impressions count more than ever in the fast-paced digital workspace. "It's all very superficial," says Shenker. "But when you are talking about job hunting, people do judge by their book by their covers." While many of the old rules still apply, she offers five key pieces of advice for young workers:

1. Consider creating a separate Facebook page for your professional self. It's not always necessary, especially if you are trying to create a personal brand in your industry. But if you work in a field like finance, and personal online comments can only hurt, make a separate profile.

2. Don't incorporate text-speak into your work life. Informal abbreviations such as LOL and BRB may be widely known shorthand, but it will make you look childish and completely unprofessional in work emails.

3. Respect traditional interview etiquette. Still bring a hard copy of your resume, as your interviewer will appreciate it. And be sure to ask for a business card and to write a thank you note the day of the interview. A personal handwritten note (not via email) will stand out.

4. Never underestimate the human connection. Most of the people still running the workplace came of age before the digital revolution. A handshake and good eye contact will still leave an impression that an email never could.

5. Disconnect. If your job requires you to be on the grid all day, some healthy separation at night will help for the next day of work.

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As a former manager at a Fortune 500 company who hired, trained and supervised student interns for nearly 20 years, I disagree with Ms. Shenker\'s approach in firing her intern, as described in the article. While I realize that interns can be terminated at will, unlike permanent employees who must be given a series of warnings, it is always good practice to approach an intern\' violation with the same benefit of the doubt and respect that one would approach a regular staff member. Student interns are in your company to learn about business, and it is the manager\'s responsibility to teach them. The article does not report any previous violations by intern. Moreover, Ms. Shenker even admits that she was not managing the intern properly, placing the onus on her for the intern’s lapse. This would have been a perfect opportunity to speak with the intern about her violation, review company policy with her (the company policy against using one\'s own email at work must be published in order for it to be enforced), give her an official warning about the violation and explain that another violation could mean termination, and then schedule another appointment to discuss her complaints and address them. This could have turned the situation around, provided the intern with new understanding about workplace ethics, communications and decorum, and showcased Ms. Shenker’s extraordinary managerial skills. Instead, Ms. Shenker missed an opportunity to manage and coach and left a student intern with a bad taste about the company, facilitating a reputational hit against the company, and did not teach her anything constructive. It also did place Ms. Shenker in the position of being petty. Corporate internships are a two-way street; managers, as well, have a responsibility to manage, instruct and coach. If there were extenuating circumstances and this was not the first violation by the intern, it would have been helpful to know that and have the article report it. As it stands, this is not the type of managerial approach to dealing with Gen Y in the workplace – either as interns, permanent employees or young professionals -- that I would advance.

August 02 2013 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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