Thursday, May 7, 2015

“Digital Natives,” “Millennials,” and Recruiting and Retaining Young Workers

Two recent articles pose interesting questions regarding recruiting and retaining younger workers. The first, at, and a related Wall Street Journal blog post, consider whether an employment advertisement seeking “digital natives” is evidence of age discrimination. The article notes that the term “digital native” was coined by author Marc Prensky and refers to individuals who grew up with technology, becoming “‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”

Fortune found, however, that employers have used the term in a way that could create legal risks.
Fortune did a simple search in and found dozens of listings, including from both established media giants and startups of all sizes, in which being a “digital native” is listed as a requirement. . . . The employment attorneys contacted by Fortune all argued that using the term leaves employers open to charges of age discrimination.
Interestingly, the article notes that the potentially problematic use of the term could arise from ignorance. For example, an ad posted by Panasonic seeking a “digital native” required “that candidates have a minimum of 10 years professional ‘hands-on experience,’ five years management experience, five years digital experience and preferably a MBA”—hardly the résumé of a 20-something.
Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal article surveyed employer’s efforts to retain and utilize “millennial” workers. The Journal found two primary responses to this challenge.
The rising number of young workers has some companies worried about keeping them on board. Other businesses are embracing flux in the talent market, and say they are focused on getting the most from young hires while they have them.
The article provides interesting ideas related to retention and management of younger workers.
From a legal perspective, whether you’re seeking to recruit digital talent, or retain younger workers, undertaking your efforts thoughtfully and focusing on your real business needs can help limit your risks.
It’s important to remember that your word choices matter. Terms used in advertising have long been used by plaintiffs’ attorneys as evidence of discrimination. Whether an employer intentionally seeks younger workers or not, advertising for “recent graduates” or “digital natives,” could be cited as evidence of age discrimination. Scrutinize your words and eliminate problematic terms. Instead, focus on the skill that is needed. The legitimate skill sought by the term “digital native”—fluency in digital media—can be expressed in a way that does not relate to one age group. Dropping problematic terms for terms specific to the legitimate skills needed will lower your risks.
Similarly, if your company has a problem retaining younger workers, it’s legitimate to focus on the problem. However, you should ensure that your retention efforts aren’t somehow limited to benefit the young. Whether it’s additional benefits,  flexible work arrangements, or rules, don’t explicitly or implicitly limit a benefit to a particular age group.
Finding and retaining the right talent will always be a challenge. A little planning can go a long way to preventing problems.

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