Multitasking on Their Smartphone: Millennials in the Workplace

From the angry lady in the checkout line to the over-served passenger in an airport terminal, these once innocuous scene-causing events now have the potential to go viral. Citizens, beware of your public behavior because if you are not, you will likely be the next sensation on someone's Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram feed. If that isn’t enough, the incoming leader of the free world used 140 characters so effectively that some believe that it actually helped him win the presidential election, thus redefining political campaigns forever.

With all of the change that has and will continue to take place with technological advancements, one thing is clear - we have not only changed the way in which we communicate, but also our expectations as it relates to how businesses and friends communicate.

According to a recent study by Microsoft, the human attention span has shrunk to less than that of a goldfish. If you were wondering, the human attention span is eight seconds. The study concluded that since the year 2000, the human attention span has decreased by an alarming 12 seconds. One question of interest to managers and employees is how do companies large and small keep up with a society of adults who are attention deficient? Specifically, what strategies can employers utilize to attract and retain a millennial workforce that differs from their predecessors?

Don’t Deny It

Go ahead and skip to the final stage of grief. Just accept that this is a thing and you will have to deal with it. Unfortunately, there remains a contingent of hiring managers who refuse to believe that employees can work to their potential and simultaneously check their Facebook feed. I would place these managers in the same category as people who believed the earth was still flat after Columbus came back from his adventures. To have this 1491 mindset clearly ignores a changing work dynamic. Millennials in the workforce not only grew up with computers, but they had cell phones at the ripe age of 12! They have multi-tasked and used technology to complete their homework and watch “Boy Meets World” all while texting their friends. They wrote college term papers while posting about how they wish they could be at a bar with their friends. Those Millennials, who for the most part aced their homework and wrote exceptional papers, are now in YOUR office.

Simply put, the world has changed. The employee of today CAN focus intently on their job and text their friend about the party this Friday. Why? Because they’ve been doing it their entire life. Smart businesses will not fight this shift in workplace dynamics.

A recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Millennials in the workplace stated, “some studies suggest that this generation is rewiring the brain with extensive multitasking training, evidenced by the teenager who can simultaneously play video games, watch TV, and do homework. They are retraining the brain to reduce the performance deterioration of multitasking by increasing the speed of information the brain processes.”

Smart companies will find ways to harness the abilities and skill sets of these new employees and put it to work. Attempts at getting Millennials to conform to outdated work practices will chase good talent away and hurt business.

Maintain or Increase Standards

Conversations involving Millennials and their work ethic can raise the temperature in a room. My impression is that those in positions of leadership feel that Millennials are entitled kids who never had to work for anything and want everything. In fact, there might be some who read the preceding paragraph and disagree completely. A new workforce that brings new ideas and new ways of doing things does not mean that managers should lower standards or expectations. In fact, research tells us that Millennials are the most culturally diverse and educated generation to date. Managers should look at this as an opportunity to drive results. For example, employers could:

• Offer stretch goals to new Millennials in the workforce

• Provide a judge-free and open environment where they can Snap away, but also perform

• When they do perform, reward them

As more Millennials enter the workforce over the next several years, the actions taken today will have far reaching consequences. How will companies inculcate them into their organization? How do they change the outdated ways of operation, so that a new and exciting era in business can be ushered in? Only time will tell, but the best managers and organizations will look at this as not a challenge, but an opportunity.

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