On Thursday, the front page of the popular humor and commentary website Cracked.com featured a critical response by author Mark Hill to a viral video on the topic of managing young people in today’s workplace. The 15-minute video repeated a number of familiar talking points about the millennial generation, which Hill rejected as overly reductionist. A major point of the article was that criticisms of the young generation seem to repeat themselves, almost word-for-word, going back to the time of the ancient Greeks.
Strangely, though, the criticisms that used to be applied to video games and television can now be said to reflect on the older generations’ misguided disdain for modern technological resources and online information technology training.
In fairness, the observations of the video’s star, leadership consultant Simon Sinek, may not be entirely unfounded. Although it should go without saying that individuals – both in and out of the workplace – must be judged as individuals, there are legitimate criticisms that can be levied against the overall culture of any generation, whether young or old.
There may be significant defining features of the millennial generation, but it is too often that viral content emerges to malign that generation and demand changes from it, as opposed to discussing the ways in which those features can be used productively, or the ways in which the modern workplace can adapt to the needs and expectations of young workers. Even if millennials do demand more of their workplaces than do older workers, they also bring things to it that older workers do not, such as proficiency with online information technology training and other forms of skill-development.
Yet, many of Sinek’s criticisms actually have to do with the prevalence of technology in the lives of people born in or after the 1980s. For people involved in a field like online information technology training, this should already be enough to give them pause. After all, even if a high degree of familiarity with modern technology leads to problems in work habits and workplace expectations, it is nonetheless an indispensable skill in almost every modern workplace.
Thus it seems appropriate when Hill ridicules Sinek’s apparent notion that limiting the use of smartphones is more important than making institutional improvements when it comes to improving employee culture. Such recommendations seem like an attempt to reverse the tide, as opposed to harnessing its energy as one might do by offering millennial employees additional, online information technology training, to help them build on their existing technological proficiency.
Smartphones aren’t just distractions and their effects aren’t just psychological. They are increasingly necessary modern tools for comprehensive communication, efficiency, and research. Generational problems come into play not as a result of the mere use of this technology, but because of a lack of workplace training regarding their efficient use. The same is true for computers in general, and for any number of workplace-specific systems and applications.
This is something that was highlighted on Thursday in an EBSCO white paper that looked at millennial workers’ approaches to research. Such employees are highly skilled in the kinds of internet research that served them well in school, but are less likely to adopt other resources, at least in absence of training. But there is nothing intrinsic to the millennial generation that makes it averse to such resources; and in fact its technological proficiency and desire for workplace satisfaction probably makes it both highly willing and highly capable of adapting to new demands.
The opportunity clearly exists for mangers of all types to provide already tech-savvy employees with online information technology training and other sorts of on-the-job training that will not only undercut the worst tendencies of the millennial generation, but also exploit its obvious strengths. But in order to do so, older mangers will need to be as adaptive as their younger workers.