Recently I was addressing a group of executives and one of them popped this question:
“Chad, what are your thoughts about millennials constantly using their cell phones during business hours? It’s driving me nuts! How do you control it?”
I’ve heard this question before. It’s a hot button for many supervisors, especially those of the Boomer mindset. So to answer, I begin with a disclaimer:
“If there’s a blade swinging by their head when they’re on the phone, that is not good. That’s no longer a cultural issue; it’s a safety concern.”
But my next response often surprises leadership. In my experience working with college interns and millennial young professionals, I take this approach:
“I don’t care if my employees are on their cell phones—as long as they’re getting their work done.”
What? Chad, you can’t be serious.
Oh yes I can.
As with many issues surrounding the millennial workforce, leadership tends to view cell phone use as a question of right vs. wrong.
I say it’s a matter of performance vs. non-performance.
If an employee is getting the job done, does it truly matter how, when, where, or under the influence of which electronic devices? My experience with millennials is that they have a difficult time separating work and personal time because of their connection to technology. Their devices make them accessible 24/7; therefore, they use those devices for both work and play at all hours. Most leaders will admit this actually works to the company’s benefit.
For example, at a recent TEC event, I tossed this question back to the leaders:
“How many of you love the fact that your millennial employees are always connected electronically to their e-mail and phones?”
Three-quarters of the room raised their hands.
Why? Because the boss can get a hold of young workers anytime. Many of the executives in this discussion were Boomers, who were working 50-60 hours a week and on weekends, and they admitted they frequently send e-mails to their staff after hours.
Wait a second. Why is it okay for the boss to send an email on a Saturday morning (an employee’s personal time) and expect a response, yet that same employee is prohibited from using his phone to text a friend or call his mother during office hours? It’s a double standard.
A few weeks ago, I tried an experiment at a meeting with a group of Boomers. As soon as the meeting started, I pulled out my phone and started to type away. I noticed I was getting some strange looks, and at one point someone asked me if I was done. I replied, “Don’t you want me to take notes?” As we wrapped up the meeting, the group questioned who would be responsible for capturing the discussion on the whiteboard. I quietly pointed out that it was already in their e-mail inboxes.
If you attempt to stop the millennial generation from using technology and expect them to eliminate the resources they use to better the organization, you will disengage their loyalty and force them to choose between work and personal time, which is foreign to their lifestyle.
The better approach is to ask yourself some questions.
- Are they getting the job done?
- Have I set the expectation that they should be available at all hours?
- Do we have a flexible work schedule?
- Does restricting technology do more harm than allowing it?
You might be surprised at the answers. Leaders who recognize the value of the millennials’ methods will be better positioned to attract and retain young talent—for the good and growth of the entire company.