I recently read an item on LinkedIn posted by a chap that talked about his business having issues with people being glued to their phones and social media. He said that his wife has gone as far as to install a phone locker in her business in an effort to focus people’s attention on their job.
Without a doubt, the algorithms used by a number of the well-known social media outlets are designed to make them highly addictive. There could certainly be a case made for there being a number of people that have an unhealthy obsession with social media.
My issue with phone lockers and banning people from using things like Facebook at work, though, is that they highlight a wider problem of generational bias.
My kids were born surrounded by technology. My four-year-old daughter (tiny hand pictured above) can find her way around an iPad without any problem whatsoever. As a teenager, I remember dial up internet and having to wait an eternity for a web page to load. I am a technical migrant that has had to get used to technology rather than grow up with it. I appreciate what it can do but also remember the good old days when I did not have to worry about pictures of a night out being plastered on social media. There are positives and negatives of the technology that now surrounds us.
By putting in phone lockers or banning social media, you are essentially telling your employees that you don’t trust them to manage their own time. I appreciate that they may be checking their phone on your time when you are paying them but then you cannot expect them to do any work for you outside of their core hours. You will not have a workforce that is willing to go over and above for you.
My view is that a business cannot expect future generations to meet them where they are, you have to go to them. It is not good enough to say ‘we did not do that in my day’ and expect younger people to work in the same way as we do. The lines between work and play will be blurred for younger generations. They might be glued to their phones but they are likely to switch from Facebook to their work email without any issue whatsoever. They might be looking at pictures of cats on Instagram at work but they are also just as likely to logon to their computer to get work finished late in the evening. They will achieve more as a result as they will be working when they feel most productive.
The evidence suggests that Millennials stand to be one of the most productive generations that we will have seen for quite some time. If we expect them to work in the same way that we do, our businesses may be shooting ourselves in the foot when it comes to candidate attraction and the retention of employees.
Of course, generational bias does not just apply to how we treat future generations but older ones too. We are fast approaching the stage, if we are not already there, when the over 50s will form the largest segment of the workforce. Pool tables and beanbags and climbing the greasy career pole hold less appeal for people in the latter stages of their career. Too many businesses discount older candidates for being ‘over qualified’ when what they are actually saying is ‘you are too old’.
In my opinion that is a luxury that we cannot afford. There is so much great talent coming out of university but there are also a lot of highly skilled and incredibly motivated people in the latter stages of their careers. Perhaps some people feel threatened by hiring someone that has more experience than they do. I think the reality is that you will be hiring a safe pair of hands that can help the development of your wider team. They are unlikely to be after your job and will be people that you can trust to deliver work to your own high standards .
There is also a lot of untapped talent at the school gates. Parents that have taken time out to have kids often find it hard to get back into work because it is difficult to fit work around childcare. Whenever I have hired people on a part-time basis, I always get a fantastic return from people and whenever I advertise part-time HR or Finance roles for one of my clients, I always get a lot of interest from very strong candidates.
The question that I am asking is, that if as a business we try to focus on attraction strategies that appeal to a certain generation, are we ignoring another generation to our own detriment? You can’t keep everybody happy and of course you have to do what you feel is right for your business. Perhaps by making slight changes to your working environment, or how people do their job, you could give yourself a much stronger talent pool from which to hire. I would probably start by getting rid of phone lockers but I think the odd beanbag is fine!