Consider:

  • The average teen in America texts nearly 1,500 times a month and 15,000/month is not unheard of (that’s 500 messages per day!).
  • Kids under the age of 20 spend a total of 3 billion minutes on Facebook every DAY.
  • The average teen now spends an average of six hours a day in front of a computer, TV or video game.

Screen-based stimulation has become the primary source of socialization and entertainment among teens and increasingly younger children. Just a generation ago, socialization occurred when a child was playing with friends, kicking a ball, or playing “house” (or if you go way back, I guess they played “cave”). Are we re-wiring an entire generation? And what does that mean for recruiting, managing, and retaining the workforce of the future?

The social media zombie?
An individual’s fundamental neural framework is nearly complete by the time they are 15 years old. Everything a child experiences forms neural pathways, and the most-used pathways become critical aspects of their personality and the foundation of how they interact as adults. Before the days of screen-based entertainment (most of human history!), the strongest pathways were naturally formed by intense socialization with family members and friends, physical activity and interacting with nature through play and work.

With so many children spending MOST of their time in front of keyboards and flashing screens, a new framework, “the social media brain” is emerging and it is not going to be all good.

A disregard for consequence
New research claims social network sites risk infantilizing the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize, and a shaky sense of identity. That does not sound like the model employee.

The author of the study said the rapid-fire reward of video games and text messaging could be a cause of the three-fold rise in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) over the past 10 years and warned against “a marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences.” She says the behaviors exhibted toward digital media are similar to compulsive gambling, eating and addictions.

Hey, they’ll grow out of it, right? Wrong. The neural frameworks set-up by this incessant conditioning will determine behavior patterns into adulthood … and into the workplace.

What does this mean for companies?
All of this research points to a real challenge for business: many young people entering the workforce over the next 10 years may severely lack critical life skills such as an ability to interpret non-verbal behaviors, holding sustained conversations, and dealing with face-to-face conflict. How will the workplace adjust? I see it happening in several ways:

1) Companies will have to offer new levels of emotional intelligence training to new workers.

2) The work environment will conform to the new workers, creating jobs and work situations with constant stimuation, short bursts of work and a focus on individual contribution.

3) Universities will recognize the need for an emotional intelligence curriculum and differentiate their offerings based on this need.

There’s no going back. These are the realities of the new workplace. So as you think this through, what other business opportunities and challenges will occur as traditional company cultures collide with Generation Zombie? Do you see it already happening?

Tomorrow, noted organizational development authority Gil Crosby will offer his insights on this topic in a guest blog.

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