Generation Y's career Facebook fumble

Jan. 10, 2012 at 7:37 AM ET

When it comes to Facebook, Gen Yers aren’t taking their professional lives seriously enough.

A new study found that younger workers, aged 18 to 29, have an average of 16 coworker friends on Facebook. Given the way many in this group tend to act on the social networking site, that could end up spelling career doom.

“They are using Facebook primarily for personal (reasons) to connect with friends first, then family but are inadvertently sharing too much with co-workers,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, which along with, an analytics firm, mined the data of four million Gen Y Facebook profiles. They found younger workers had no qualms about friending coworkers; and this group averaged nearly 700 total friends so it’s difficult to figure out what they’re sharing with whom, he added. 

Gen Yers, Schawbel maintained, are more apt than older workers to include profanity and lewd photographs on their Facebook walls because “they started using Facebook in college before it was open to the world.” It’s also seen by many as a social platform, he added, where LinkedIn is more professional.

One study found that younger male Facebook fans, in particular, are a bit less polished on the site. "Males under the age of 30 had a somewhat higher level of profanity, over 55 percent," said Vlad Gorelik, CEO of Reppler, a social media monitoring service.

Bad behavior online won’t sit well with many employers who have upped their monitoring of employees on social networking sites of all sorts as a way to keep tabs on existing workers or weed out job candidates.

A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management to be released later this week found that “39 percent of surveyed employers monitor the social media activities of employees while they are using company-owned computers or handheld devices,” said Jennifer Hughes, a spokeswoman for the group. And, she added, “40 percent of organizations said they had social media policies. Of those organizations with social media policies, 33 percent indicated they had taken disciplinary action against employees who violated their policy in the last 12 months.”

In most cases, employees can't be legally fired, or demoted, for things they write or post on their private social media accounts, unless you’re ranting about working conditions, work for the government, or are covered by a union contract.

Maybe Gen Y doesn’t care what their employers think. This group is more proud of the schools they attended than the companies they work for, the report found; 80 percent of Gen-Y list at least one school entry on their Facebook profiles, while only 36 percent list a job entry.

This group may have little loyalty to their employers given the average tenure at a job is just over two years, the study revealed. But, Schawbel surmised, some Gen Yers may not list their employer because “they don't want their boss or co-workers to find their profiles, yet our study concludes that they are connected to an average of 16 coworkers on Facebook anyway.”

So are Gen Yers confused? “Their intentions are good but they don’t know the ramifications because we’ve never had to deal with this before,” he explained.

Some other findings from the report:

  • Top five Gen Y work titles: server, managers, intern, sales associate, and owner.
  • Top five Gen Y employers: Armed services, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Target, and Best Buy.
  • Top five Gen Y industries: Travel and hospitality, consumer products, government/military/technology, and education.