In simple terms, “social media has shifted the way we communicate with each other,” both socially, and at work, Crystal Washington – author, social media strategist and owner of CMW Enterprises – told those in attendance at the 5th Annual People in Energy Summit in Houston.
Over the next decade, a large number of workers from the Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y, will be moving into the energy industry. The new workers will be necessary in replacing retiring workers that come primarily from the Baby Boomer generation. As the new workers begin to make up a higher and higher percentage of all workers in the industry, it will be necessary for the industry to be flexible and open to the changes – including those brought about by social media – that will arrive with the influx of new workers.
There is a logical reason for the generational difference in social media and technology, Washington said. It’s not that Baby Boomers in the energy industry can’t use technology as well. However, people from that generation did not have to adapt to technology as quickly as subsequent generations, because new technology came out far more slowly than it now does. Baby Boomers were already adults before the technology boom came along. They were working and communicating without the use of smart phones and social media long before that technology was invented, and did not have to adapt as quickly.
And then things changed. In recent years, technology has moved very quickly in a short amount of time, forcing workers to quickly learn how to communicate in new ways, noted marriage and family therapist Sadia Jalali in a Houston Public Media interview. The rapidity of change has been the most difficult for generations used to technology moving at a slower pace.
However, despite the challenges of a multi-generational workplace, and the need to use rapidly changing social media and adapt to technological innovations, the energy industry could benefit from all of it by challenging new Gen Y workers to show, by the use of social media, how the workplace could be fun to potential new employees, and encouraging them to channel their energy back into the company, Washington said. That could be essential in getting the new workers that the energy industry will need in the coming years.
In short, Gen Y workers using social media could be an asset to the energy industry as it goes through a period of generational transition in the workplace.
As for the different generations learning to co-exist, that can be overcome, said Dr. Michael Winters, a Houston-based psychologist, in a Houston Public Media interview.
“The technology is the big thing that’s different. Each generation has to respect the communication styles of other generations. There is an etiquette to it, and digital natives understand it,” Winters said, adding that older generations have the most to learn about the communication styles commonly used in social media.
Direct social recruiting is another way in which energy company hiring authorities can benefit from social media, Washington noted. In a recent study, 73 percent of hiring managers have hired workers via social recruiting.
In recent years, the culture of LinkedIn was business, and “the rules for engagement are the same as in-person,” Washington said. “If you have some type of group that will help people learn more about their industry, that is the thing that does well on LinkedIn.”
However, as new as social recruiting is, it is already changing. In a study of how people got jobs on social media, 18 million got on Facebook, 12 million got one on LinkedIn, and 10.2 million got one on Twitter, Washington said.
“You get jobs through those whom you know,” Washington noted, adding that Facebook’s culture was one of building relationships. Facebook Graph Search was designed to help users find the people, places and things they are looking for, and discovering new connections based on what others have shared.
“Social media does not replace face to face interactions. It does not replace phone calls. It does not replace handwritten notes. But it is a great way to touch in between real life interactions. It’s a shift in the way we communicate,” Washington said.
Washington touched briefly upon how social media came to be the preferred communication choice of many younger workers, noting that it couldn’t have become as pervasive as it is without the concurrent evolution of mobile phones into smart phones.
“Phones aren’t just phones anymore. Phones used to be just to call people, but phones and social media feed each other. Phones helped grow social media, and social media helped grow phones,” she said, adding that many people in the younger generations grew up with both, and “seem like they’re born knowing how to use this technology.”
Regarding social media at the office, “A lot of what you’re dealing with depends on the demographics at your organization,” Washington noted.
Generation Y workers do not mind making a mistake with communication technology. They grew up with it and know that the wrong keystroke is not going to break anything. Baby Boomers, by contrast, are not as comfortable making mistakes with technology. They also worry about the effects from miscommunication that social media could potentially cause.
Ultimately, a multi-generational energy industry workforce can be an asset. Young generations just have to learn to respect experience, and older generations have to learn the value of a fresh perspective, Winters said.