Boredom. It’s something we all have experienced at one point or another in our lives. Maybe it’s waiting to get on a plane, listening through a very long after-lunch lecture, or a full day of meetings – this is just a part of life. But not understanding how boredom impacts Millennials can be dangerous for Boomer management.
The Millennials were the first generation to come into an era of never-ending stimulation. We naturally multi-task, and switch from one activity to another very quickly. Some of this has to do with Social Media and the influx of a smartphone culture – if there’s a down moment, pull out the phone and check Facebook. But this also has roots in overarching societal trends around education. In an era where college-bound students are expected to have good grades, study for exams, be involved in extra-curricular activities, be athletic, stay in shape, have a personal life, volunteer, and fit in 2-4 hobbies, it’s no wonder that Millennials do not have much patience for having their time wasted. Which is different than choosing to waste their own time.
What I am talking about is a phenomena I have discovered in every single job I have held, from age 16 when I began working part-time, through student jobs, internships, and even into a fortune 500 company. Employers struggle to keep their Millennials busy. Millennials heavily value their time (and particularly the ability to control their own schedules), so there is little more egregious an offense than telling a high-performing Millennial that they have to be in the office for a set period of time, whether there is work to be done or not. Boomers are more used to an 8-hour day taken at a moderate pace. Millennials would rather buckle down and get it down is 6 hours, then have the remaining 2 for activities of their own choosing.
And the solution is not ‘busywork’, although that is preferable to nothing. In a 2011 study (Levit & Licina), Millennials were asked “What are the most important factors which define career success for Millennials?”. ‘Meaningful work’, ‘Sense of accomplishment’, and ‘Challenging work’ represents 64% of respondent’s #1 factor. When the same question was asked of Hiring Managers, the response was down to 30%. Millennials are very willing to work hard, and naturally enjoy juggling various projects and activities. However, when not challenged or given work to do, Millennials tend to ‘check out’ and begin looking elsewhere. For example…”in both the the UK (34%) and the US (37%), the number 1 reason Millennials provided for switching jobs was that they ‘just needed a change’.” (Mr. Youth and Intrepid, 2010). This is exactly what I did. My move went from a Fortune 500 to a Master’s program rather than from job to job, but the reasoning behind it was identical. Spending most days bored and under-utilized was taking its toll, so I looked for an ‘elsewhere’ that would be challenging.
All in all, Managers, don’t be afraid to fully utilize your Millennial talent. Or even give an overload of projects, so long as the employee knows that they are not all expected to be accomplished at once. And don’t worry, Millennials will let you know if it’s too much! Doing so will not only better engage emerging talent, but will also help in Millennial retention.
Also, because fairness matters, here is a blog post taking an opposing view to mine: http://calnewport.com/blog/2009/02/04/have-we-lost-our-tolerance-for-a-little-boredom/
Levit, A., & Licina, S. (2011). How the Recession Shaped Millennial and Hiring Manager Attitudes about Millennials’ Future Careers. 4; 12. Retrieved from http://newsroom.devry.edu/images/20004/Future%20of%20Millennial%20Careers%20Report.pdf
Mr. Youth and Intrepid. (2010). Millennial Inc.: What Your Company Will Look Like When Millennials Call the Shots. Retrieved from http://www.millennialinc.com