Kaya Consulting

The myth of millennial multitasking and other graduate development insights.

The myth of millennial multitasking and other graduate development insights.

A lot has been said about the current crop of ‘millennial’ graduates. They are famously hard wired for our era of 24/7 connectivity and multitasking. They grew up with the technologies that Gen X and baby boomers have had to adapt to. But they are also infamously hard to engage, manage and motivate, despite their ‘always on’ energy, as we found when we started working with this year’s graduate recruits at one of Africa’s leading banks.

So how exactly do you harness the energy of the millennial generation? You start by finding out how to develop their emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?
Your EQ is a measure of your non-cognitive skills and is largely centred around your ability to deal with people and the world in general.

EQ encompasses everything, from your interpersonal skills and ability to empathise, to your assertiveness, self-confidence and ability to cope with everyday interactions, situations and decisions, as well as the associated stress of those interactions, situations and decisions.

Sometimes, these skills are referred to as ‘soft skills’, but when you consider that 45{be38fd1e2c946a347db4d7316b241dce4b842100e7b38236661610f0dce6def9} of success as a managerial leader is dependent on your emotional intelligence, your EQ is often harder to master than this nickname suggests. After all, maturity comes with time and experience. Or at least, it usually does.

The problem our client encountered with the latest millennial graduates
The client at the heart of this particular story is a banking sector heavyweight, with a market-leading reputation built on innovation, so graduates are an important part of their cultural makeup.

Imagine the concern among their management ranks, then, when the 150 graduates on the bank’s 2015 graduate development program appeared to be completely different animals to any graduate intake seen before. And not necessarily in a good way.

Time to change the way we work with graduates
At Kaya, we’ve been providing EQ-focused learning and development programs for our client’s graduates since 2011, and we were equally concerned about the 2015 graduates.

As usual, at the start of the graduate-development year we assessed and analysed the 2015 graduates, with a view to tailoring our EQ learning and development program and workshops to meet the needs of this current crop – something we do every year.

What we found was that the 2015 grads were markedly different to previous years, with remarkably lower EQ scores and a completely different view of work, the world and their place within it.

In fact, when we embarked on our EQ learning and development program, we found that tailoring our workshops wasn’t enough. A whole new strategy and presentation style were required.

What we’ve discovered about millennial graduates: the negatives
When it became clear we needed to rethink our approach, we decided to supplement our EQ assessments and first-hand workshop experience by delving into the latest psychological and neuroscience research into the millennial mindset.

What we found is that millennial graduates – and millennials in general – are characterised by:

  • historically low emotional intelligence (mid-teenage EQ levels, not what you would expect of adults in the workplace)
  • low employer loyalty, despite a general feeling of entitlement (expectations of employers are often unreasonably high)
  • an impulsive, even impetuous approach to decision making
  • poor attention spans and an inability to digest information thoroughly
  • poor interpersonal, relationship and diplomacy skills
  • an inclination to defer personal responsibility.

The multitasking myth
We also found that the popular contention that millennials are natural multitaskers is, in fact, incorrect.

While it’s true that technology and contemporary habits like ‘double screening’ (using two devices at the same time) often come as second nature to millennials, our experience – which is supported by external research – is that they are no better or worse at multitasking than older generations.

The technology we use today is changing the way we think and work. Arguably, it’s changing the way our brains are wired. And there is some evidence to suggest that we – as humans – are evolving into multitaskers. But while a multitasking gene has been discovered, it only exists in 2-5{be38fd1e2c946a347db4d7316b241dce4b842100e7b38236661610f0dce6def9} of millennials.1

Claims that the millennial generation is the multitasking generation are overstated, then.2

But the real danger here is that millennials BELIEVE they can multitask, when, in fact, all they’re doing is dividing their attention. There’s a big difference.

What we’ve discovered about millennial graduates: the positives
On the flip side, we have found that millennials have a number of positive traits that employers should relish and embrace. As a generation, they are:

  • tech savvy and hard-wired for our 24/7 way of living and communicating
  • energetic and enthusiastic when fully engaged, underpinned by a feeling that they can achieve anything
  • inclined to value their own worth highly and take equal pride in work that engages them
  • naturally disciplined in working flexibly and autonomously (ideally suited for flexi time and working from home).

So the question is: how do we, as employers, harness and develop this energy and capability? With millennials coming into conflict with their Gen X and baby-boomer managers, what’s the best way to manage and engage millennials, not only in their work, but in their learning and development?

What’s the best way to engage millennials?
Remember, millennials see themselves, their careers and the wider world differently.

They have strong values, but they are largely what we call ‘lifestyle values’ around work-life balance and general wellbeing – values that they look for in employers. Aligning with these values is key.

So, what can you do on a practical level to help your millennial graduates learn and grow?

Faced with graduate workshops where participants were often disengaged, regularly distracted and occasionally disruptive, we implemented these four key tactics:

  1. No mobiles, no laptops. The temptation is too great for millennials, so the best option is to remove the distraction in situations where you need their undivided attention.
  2. More physical engagement, less listening. Break up your presentations. We’re using regular activities and exercises – individual and group activities – to improve engagement and punctuate each learning and development session.
  3. Frame everything around ‘you’. Make your millennial audience your focus. Make them feel special. Important, even. Make it clear that you’re trying to help them achieve their dream, that you value their individuality, and that they are in charge of their destiny – it’s up to them to help you help them.
  4. Get everyone on board. Ensure that all of your managers are aware of the idiosyncrasies of millennials and use that awareness to develop new tactics for managing and motivating your millennial team members. Share notes and experiences. Collaborate.

For more information about our graduate and leadership development expertise, check out our organisational effectiveness and development services. Alternatively, if you’d like to talk to us about your graduate development program or the issues you’re facing with the millennial generation, please contact us.

1Teen Researchers Defend Media Multitasking’ in The Wall Street Journal. 2Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career, New Studies Suggest’ in Forbes.

Heidi van Schalkwyk is the managing partner of Kaya Consulting South Africa and an expert in personal effectiveness, emotional intelligence, coaching, psychometrics, energy management and the development of talent, leaders and high performance teams. She is also a registered industrial/organisational psychologist with the HPCSA and a member of SIOPSA (Society of Industrial and Organisational Psychology in South Africa).