Milenials and Addiction


At first glance, you may assume that the topic here is the opioid crisis in America and its' effects on Millennials. Although this is certainly a topic of concern that we will talk about in this space in the near future, today we will talk about another addiction that hits the Millennial generation especially hard. 


Specifically, the addiction to social media and/or dopamine. One is a technology, the other is a substance produced in the brain, but they are intrinsically linked, and consequences are substantial, not only in the lives of the Millennial but in the workplace as well. 


Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that affects your emotions, movements and your sensations of pleasure and pain. Although dopamine itself is not addictive, reliance on it can be. 


Adolescence is a tough time. These years are typically the ones where young people struggle with learning to cope with disappointment and developing patience. It is important to note that during this time, the young person's brain is still developing. It is still being "wired" with hardware and the subsequent software that will be a part of their brain for the rest of their lives. However, for the first time in human history, technology has been added to this delicate mix in a big way. 


When that teenager, (the one with the developing brain) posts on social media and someone "likes" it, instant dopamine. When they talk about themselves on Facebook, studies show a big increase in dopamine production, which makes them feel good. If they are sad, frustrated, or impatience, put another post and let dopamine do the rest. After a constant diet of this, the adolescent brain learns that social media (due to dopamine) makes them feel good. This becomes part of the hard-wired portion of their brain. 


Millennials grew up on a combination of social media and permissive partnering, which became a potent and perilous cocktail. 


In a fascinating interview with Simon Sinek on "Millennials in the Workplace", recorded for Inside Guest from Oct. 2016, he discusses the challenges of hiring Millennials, as a result of there being raised on social media and the parenting styles of the 1990s and early 2000s. If you showed up, you got a participation medal. If you didn't study and got poor grades, Mom and Dad will challenge the school until you do. But, rather help, these practices actually served to create a generation with lower self-esteem than any previous one - because they feel like frauds. 


Millennials were raised in a world that delivered or at least promised instant gratification. If you want something, you can have it immediately. Order it on Amazon and it will arrive the next day. What to see a movie? Log on and watch it now. No need to wait for the next episode of your favorite show - you can binge watch it right now. Millennials were taught by their parents, and by social media that they can have everything they want when they want it. 


Then, they enter the job market. They learn that Mom and Dad can't get them that promotion. They want to get to the top of the mountain, but they don't want to actually make the climb. They find out that job satisfaction can be a long, hard, uncomfortable and messy process; and guess what? They don't have the skills to understand this, much less cope with it. They become frustrated and what little real confidence they may have had is diminished evermore. 


The question for companies now is how to handle the needs of the incoming workforce. The baby-boomers are gone. What worked for them isn't valid now. Organizations need to find ways to engage Millennials, ways to build their confidence and develop the social skills that their reliance on social media has deprived them of. They need to find ways to build patience and develop a reward system that helps Millennials. Companies need to help them construct the business and communication competencies that their reliance on technology and recent partnering styles didn't. 


This is a tall order for which most organizations are ill-prepared. However, those that figure it out and implement this new workplace paradigm well be positioned to reap the rewards.