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Rachel Matthews The struggles of managing digital natives

I recently discussed the death of traditional soft skills, and how L&D need to re-evaluate their offering in order to appropriately develop their people for the modern organisation. One of the points was digital communication in the workplace and, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that new technology is creating many new struggles for managers, specifically around managing digital natives.

The struggle for managers

Knowing that digital communications have revolutionised the way individuals are communicating, how they are interacting and who they are speaking to is insightful. But how does this affect managers?

In many organisations managers have less control over what happens in the workplace. Increased workloads, time pressures and demands have organically encouraged a ‘stand on your own two feet’ approach to many working environments. However, digital communications and technology have distorted the traditional employee-manager relationship, which can make these environments difficult to manage.

Digital distractions
There is a bigger need for professional trust and integrity than ever before. With easy access to social media, mobile phones and the internet in general, managers need to trust employees to spend their working day actually working. After all, a lot of work is invisible to a manager – they only see results.

This can be difficult though, especially if a manager suspects that one of their team is taking advantage of this accessibility. The Telegraph once reported that 28.2% of employees get distracted by their mobile phones, 22.2% by online shopping and web surfing and 16.9% via social media, with the average employee wasting up to 60 hours per month with distractions.

However, digital natives in particular are renowned for being able to multitask, especially with the use of technology. So, is it really a problem that they are sending an email with Facebook open in another browser?

Well, there are plenty of studies showing that multitasking isn’t actually effective (we’ve talked about it ourselves, and why multi-tasking is an L&D dilemma) and adding to that the fact that it takes 23 minutes to effectively get back onto a task after being distracted, I’m sure you’ll agree that it is a problem. And it’s not an easy one to manage.

Social media risks
But social media doesn’t just cause distractions in the workplace.Managing Digital Natives

If your working environment is friendly and approachable, there’s a good chance that your employees are friends with their managers. There’re a lot of positive repercussions of a friendly environment, although it does come with struggles for managers. This creates issues when disciplinary issues arise, or difficult conversations are required.

While this still rings true, social media has added an additional element of awkwardness to this. When managers and employees are friends on Facebook, or other networks, there are so many possible negative outcomes.

Firstly, it distorts the relationship from professional to personal, secondly, there are risks of invasion of privacy on both sides. Personal lives should be just that, and having access to each other’s social media accounts removes that level of privacy.

That’s without considering the dozens of stories floating around the web about individuals losing their jobs because of what they have posted on social media.

Messaging platforms
Messaging platforms such as WhatsApp have revolutionised digital communications, and many organisations and individuals use it. However, managers and employees being a part of the same groups (unless they are strictly professional) comes with risks.

Not only is there a potential of inappropriateness in these groups, but there’s also the ‘always available’ aspect. Managers having access to their employees outside of work can have huge downfalls. Knowing what their team is up to at all times is not only inappropriate but can damage relationships in the workplace.

This, of course, goes both ways. It’s important for managers to switch off too, and constant availability via these platforms can result in late night messages, general office queries and other discussions that should be dealt with in the office.

Why do L&D need to do something about this?

It’s up to L&D to take the opportunity to educate their managers appropriately on these risks.

While HR will likely have policies in place, after they are read for the first time, policies are often forgotten. They also don’t highlight the risks that digital communications can pose.

L&D should look at re-evaluating management solutions and even communication solutions to highlight the impact technology has on relationships.

If a manager isn’t respected or a team isn’t trusted, employees are often less likely to play by the rules. The result of this? Demotivation, lack of productivity and a drop in quality of work.

A lot of managers won’t be aware of the potential pitfalls and how it can affect working relationships, so L&D need to consider then when scoping and planning effective management solutions.  

Want to discuss how to improve the management solutions in your organisation? Get in touch with us today for an informal chat.

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Rachel Matthews

Rachel Matthews, Social Media and Marketing Manager

In my blogs I will look at industry constraints and issues and problems that employees face in their day-to-day work lives.


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