Apr. 25, 2014

How the professional world will accomodate Millennials and their technology

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January 31, 2013

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It is not uncommon for someone of an older generation to lament how today’s youths are constantly engrossed in various forms of technology. The other day, one of my professors remarked that students spend their time walking around campus “staring at little boxes,” by which she meant our smartphones. I won’t disagree with her assessment, as I’ve nearly collided with many people who were entranced by a text message or their Facebook newsfeed.

Although many students here at the College of William and Mary would prefer to ignore this fact, we are all bound to graduate in the near future with many of us moving on to take jobs in the real world. These jobs, however, do not have breaks between classes where we have time to shoot off a quick text or tweet. Thus arises the issue of how employers deal with a generation whose lives are fully integrated with various forms of social media. A classic method in curtailing technological distractions — one which always frustrated me in elementary school when I wanted to play games on school computers — is to deny access to social networking websites. This strategy is a simple way to ensure that our work hours are spent working productively for our employers.

A new Huffington Post article entitled “Millennial Workers: Understand or Lose Them” argues that managers should consider flexible policies that find a middle-ground between cutting off all access to technology and permitting its use at the expense of productivity. I agree with the need to permit at least some access to technology and social media in the workplace. Completely denying our generation access to technology that is part of our daily routines will only lead to dissatisfaction, which will most likely result in passive resistance and a disinclination to perform at our fullest potential. At the same time, however, we need to ensure that our use of technology and social media is not engulfing our worktime, not only because that hurts the employer but also because our career advancement depends a great deal upon interpersonal relationships that we develop over the course of a career.

In the end, the best way to handle this issue is simply to set expectations. Technology in the workplace should not be viewed as a “fixed-pie” approach whereby increased utilization means decreased productivity. If both the employer and the employees have a mutual agreement regarding the appropriate utilization of social media and smartphones, workers will be happier and provide the employer with a higher level of productivity. Additionally, our understanding of new technologies will allow our employers to access new customer bases and generate more revenue. In the end, successful companies will embrace technology and social media, while businesses that fail to do so will lose out on the talented younger employees that help fuel their bottom line.

Email Derek Bluemling at drbluemling@email.wm.edu.

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