Shel Holtz appears to have either struck a nerve or a chord with a recent post titled (cleverly) “Recruiters shouldn’t care about that Facebook picture of your beer pong game in college.” Most of the comments (and there are a lot–the reason I’m writing this is that I had more thoughts and didn’t want to keep posting comments!) focus on the appropriateness of sharing “party pictures” and the perceived lack of judgment in doing so, and whether it’s short-sighted of HR to take this into account when making hiring decisions. I’m not going to tackle that aspect of Shel’s post, as it’s being examined in detail on his blog.
What is interesting to me though, is Shel’s point that Millenials (paraphrasing here) don’t see the need to separate their work and personal lives–or, in Shel’s words “[…] they see no reason to pretend that they don’t have personal lives in order to create some kind of fictitious persona for work.”
This is of course dramatically different from those of us who essentially had these firewalls between work and home built in from day one of our work lives, and it might be why many commenters are blowing by that point. It’s too foreign to us. And I honestly don’t feel as though I’ve created a “fictitious persona” for work because I choose to keep some things private. I’m more comfortable in my jammies than a suit, but I’m not going to wear them to work to be “authentic.” Work–>work clothes, Home–>stuff that I can cook in and get food on without an enormous dry cleaning bill. These separations don’t make me any less “Jen” in either setting, they are situationally appropriate. I view what I choose to share in each setting the same way.
I can think of a number of cases how this separation is beneficial, from both the perspective of the employer and employee. It makes me wonder if Millenials are perhaps setting themselves up for future problems, because it’s hard to put that privacy genie back in the bottle.
Part of my thought process I think stems from having lived in small communities, where everyone actually did seem to know everything about you. People clamor to escape small towns due to the very environment that many are now willingly recreating on Facebook. (This is interesting to me from a sociological perspective, maybe as a disconnected and far-flung society we long for the close ties of a small town? Maybe?)
While it might be the “new normal” to be completely open, mixing family and work could soon start to present issues for Millenials. If you’re accustomed to sharing everything, it will soon appear in a space shared by work and family. Think of what celebrities and politicians go through, but on a smaller scale: maybe you use a sick day to play golf. Someone posts “hey, great round today” on your Wall, and suddenly you have a credibility issue at work.
Or, what about the very personal decision on when to start a family, and who to tell–with work and family intertwined on Facebook, do you delay telling family until you’re ready to notify work–or the reverse? There are a number of medical and personal situations that an employee perhaps wouldn’t want their employer to know about (treatment for depression, fertility treatments, financial issues, and so on) and the employer–from a legal perspective–might not *want* to know about either. Perhaps these issues can be kept separate, but it’s going to take a heck of a lot more work to do so.
I’m not saying one way is good and the other is bad. I do think that eliminating any kind of separation between one’s personal and work lives is a decision that should be made consciously, with an understanding that it’s going to be very hard to recapture that privacy if you should ever desire it.
In the long run, having no distinction between these spheres of self could ultimately lead Millenials to be *less* authentic rather than more, as they struggle to regain a modicum of privacy in the future.