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Millennials have gotten a pretty bad rap, but do they deserve it?

By Melanie Haupt, February 28, 2014, Screens

Millennials: How do they work? While we wring our hands about how the kids these days have departed Facebook, leaving it overrun by The Olds in favor of Snapchat and Tumblr and God knows what else, other folks are looking at the professional and cultural implications of this particular generation's emergence into the workplace. Beyond deciphering how teens and young adults use social media or working the next marketing angle to separate them from their precious dollars, some of the most interesting conversations about Generation Y (people born between about 1980 and 2000) center on how well-positioned they are to change the world of work – or just plain change the world.

Clearly, social media is the obvious starting point. Yes, social media is where teens blow off steam via a series of weirdly complicated social codes and interpersonal Gordian knots, which youth expert danah boyd will explain in her talk, "It's Complicated: Teens' Social Media Prac­tices." But for many, technology is the proving ground for organizing and developing leadership skills.

Simone Bernstein, a student at St. Bonaventure University and co-founder of VolunTEEN Nation, argues that teens and young adults can use social media and technology for something more meaningful than sharing inappropriate selfies. "The tools needed in the global society of the 21st century involve taking initiative, solving problems, and generating new ideas," she writes via email. "Characteristics of the millennial generation include a greater familiarity with communication and digital technologies, which are strengthening relationships and allowing communities to grow and develop. Millennials are using these skills to make a difference in their communities and defy conventional wisdom."

Bernstein will participate in the panel, "The Kids Are All Right: Youth Activists Online," which is concerned with the ways in which young adults can harness the power of their communities via social media to effect change. Her organization, VolunTEEN Nation, helps connect teenagers across the country with volunteer opportunities that will help them "address societal challenges, solve problems, and heal divisions in the world."

"When youth solve problems," she explains, "they feel empowered, and communities cultivate future generations of individuals committed to unraveling global challenges."

Such skills are also portable into the work context, which is what interests Jennifer Selke, who will present "Millennials as Supervisors: Strategies for Success." Selke, an educational psychologist and summer camp director, is also interested in how teens and young adults use social media and technology, but within the context of their overall portfolio as future functioning adults.

"Millennials are eager to do well and make an impact," says Selke. Digital natives who have been shaped not only by the instant gratification of the Internet but also by a culture that gave them trophies just for showing up, millennials don't go in for hierarchies or paying dues: They want to jump in and take charge on day one. "They care deeply about doing work that is meaningful, but few workplaces know how to manage workers for optimal engagement," Selke warns. "Where I think millennials will make the biggest impact is in their intolerance of being unhappy at work. Companies that have been able to get by with a workforce waiting for that gold watch and pension are going to have to pay more attention to workers' well-being."

Just as engagement is key when it comes to attracting millennial eyeballs, energy, and dollars, the workplace or nonprofit that wants to retain, motivate, and mentor high-quality millennial leaders will find itself adapting to a generation of workers looking to make meaning out of both their work and leisure time.

Related Events

Millennials as Supervisors: Strategies for Success
Friday, March 7, 3:30pm
Courtyard Austin Downtown Rio Grande Ballroom

It's Complicated: Teens' Social Media Practices
Saturday, March 8, 12:30pm
Sheraton Austin Capitol ABCD

Why Your Non-Profit Needs Millennials
Monday, March 10, 11am
Austin Convention Center Ballroom F

Generation Mash-Up: Y Bother?
Monday, March 10, 12:30pm
Austin Convention Center Exhibit Hall 5

The Kids Are All Right: Youth Activists Online
Tuesday, March 11, 5pm
Austin Convention Center Room 10AB 

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