Future Workers Spend Most of Their Time on Smartphones

Experts say HR will need to adapt with training, policies as those ages 13-17 enter the workforce

By Aliah D. Wright May 12, 2015
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Assisted by the widespread use of smartphones, 24 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds are online “almost constantly,” according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. In addition, according to the Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015, 93 percent of people in this age group use the Internet daily, enabled largely by the convenience of smartphones.

About 56 percent of these teenagers visit the Internet several times a day; 12 percent go online once a day. “Just 6 percent of teens report going online weekly, and 2 percent go online less often,” the report states.

A great deal of their activity includes the use of social media sites and texting apps; 91 percent of teen cellphone owners use text messaging—either directly through their mobile phones or through an app. Thirty-three percent of teenagers use messaging apps like Kik, WhatsApp or Facebook’s Messenger.

This constant connectivity should give human resource professionals pause, experts say, as HR will need to adapt to young workers’ communication habits as these teens enter the workforce.

“Employers will have to provide a ‘laser-focused’ explanation of workers’ roles through more structured job descriptions and strict definitions of their responsibilities in order to properly engage members of Generation Z,” according to Workplace Visions, a publication of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released in 2014.

The Pew study was conducted online by the GfK Group and reflects responses from more than 1,000 13- to 17-year-olds and their parents or guardians from Sept. 25 to Oct. 9, 2014, and Feb. 10 to March 16, 2015. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Among the findings:

  • While 30 percent of these teens have or have access to a smartphone, another 30 percent have a basic phone and 12 percent don’t have a cellphone of any type.
  • African-American teens are more likely to have smartphones than those of other races—85 percent compared with 71 percent of both Hispanic and white teenagers.
  • 91 percent of teens go online from mobile devices at least occasionally; among those, 94 percent go online daily or more often. Sixty-eight percent of those without mobile phones access the Internet daily.

In addition to texting, a great deal of teens’ online activity occurs on social networking sites. The Pew report states that Facebook remains the most used social media site among American teens between the ages of 13 and 17, with 71 percent of all teens using the site. Half of teens use Instagram, and 4 in 10 use Snapchat.

According to Pew, 71 percent of teens use more than one social media site. Among the 22 percent of teenagers who visit only one site, 66 percent use Facebook; 13 percent use Google Plus, 13 percent use Instagram and 3 percent use Snapchat.

Smartphones at Work

“The first hurdle employers and HR leaders need to get over is the phone,” said Stan Thorne, communications technology advisor for Joshua Communications, a 20-year-old advertising agency for brokers and HR leaders to better explain their benefits to their employees.

“Old school still sees it as a phone. New school … sees it as a way to stay in touch with friends and do some work.”

Thorne told SHRM Online that “HR leaders need to understand that it is perfectly acceptable for [younger employees] to communicate via messaging—text, Snapchat, Facebook's Messenger, WhatsApp—or send some work e-mails on their phone. In fact, HR leaders should embrace using the Millennial's phone.”

In addition to communicating in the way these teens prefer, employers can enjoy cost savings from embracing the “bring your own device” (BYOD) to work trend, Thorne said.

“Companies can save $300 to $1,000 an employee per year by utilizing the communication platform (phone, tablet, and laptop) that the employee already has,” he stated in an e-mail interview, citing the Cisco IBSG Horizons Study.

“We have found great traction in mobile messaging. It is electronic communication that cuts past the clutter of e-mail. HR leaders use it as a monthly reminder for wellness, training and company updates.

“All of the benefits portals we put in place are mobile-compatible. Banks, hospitals, construction companies and railroads have all realized not all employees are at desks,” Thorne said. “And, the best way to reach them is to utilize probably one of the most powerful computers they can access—the employee's phone.”

Time Management Training Key

“It’s going to be difficult to shut this new generation out of social media” while they are working, David Blacker added in a telephone interview with SHRM Online. “It’s their primary means of communication.” Blacker is managing principal of Venerate Media Group and an expert on digital communications. He and other experts said HR will need to adapt, not the other way around.

Younger workers will need training in time management. Employers will need to convey, for example, that “If you have a deadline, everything else gets shut off—everything is a distraction and nothing else matters,” he said. Future workers will need “to learn to focus” by disconnecting from e-mail, the Internet and the telephone and by eliminating other distractions.

“That’s the key essential for time management—be good at just one thing,” Blacker said. “That’s the secret to time management. You can juggle and chew gum and ride a bike, but you’re only going to do one well.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM and author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013). Follow her on Twitter @1SHRMScribe

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