Understanding Millennial Reliance on Technology

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

Even if you don’t understand millennials, you may know that they are extremely reliant on technology. If the power were to go off in your workplace for more than a few hours, continuing the workday would seem ridiculous. No lights, no phones … what’s the point of being at work? Electricity is not an amenity to the workplace. It’s a necessity. You probably agree with this, yes?

But wait … Traditionalists may not have necessarily felt the same way. “You spoiled kids!” they may have thought. “Pick up a pen and paper. Open up some windows. Life goes on, and you don’t need those nice amenities to be a productive employee and get your work done.”

Apply this example to Millennials and their infamous obsession with technology and always being connected. You may have encountered this before. Say the Internet goes down at work. After you subdue a minor panic, you start thinking of what you can still get done. What’s a Millennial’s response? “Oh, time to go home or to Starbucks. Right?” Without the Internet, the whole infrastructure that they’re used to working in (and living in) is down.

For Millennials, the Internet is nearly always a necessity because they rely on it for

  • Any and all information: They grew up using technology to make sense of the world around them. With Google, then Wikipedia, and eventually smartphones, they had constant access to all the information about any subject, topic, or area of expertise they could want. Learning the proper techniques for curling, how to make a Manhattan, or how to ace a Civil War history test never seemed so simple or accessible.
  • Getting around: You may have learned the lay of the land in your neighborhood or became a pro at navigation using what some refer to now as “old-timey, printed maps,” but Millennials never had to. With GPS technology and smartphones, flexing that muscle in their brains was never necessary. Hence the reason you may know some Millennials who use smartphones to navigate to and from work every day.
  • Staying connected: As a generation more globally diverse than ever before, Millennials have friends and family spread out all over the world. What started as messaging your friends on AIM has morphed into Skype, WhatsApp, and FaceTime. For Millennials, these are authentic ways to connect with their peers, near or far.
  • Collaboration tools: Crowdsourcing, Yelping reviews, following an event hashtag — the Internet has opened up a world of collaboration where you can rely on your peers to give you the info you need, rather than being force-fed by those who hold the information or power. In a sense, information has gone democratic.

Millennials will likely always rely on technology to get their work done, whether it’s to connect during and after hours or to streamline processes. As a manager, the best thing that you can do is to give them the flexibility to use technology in a way that suits them.