Shrinking Attention Spans

I had a recent conversation online with a few young professionals who complained that they need to check their smartphones in meetings because they are simply too boring.

While there’s an immediate problem of their lack of responsibility, it points to a fact of life for Gen Y and Millenial employees.  They were raised on video games, remote controls and high-speed internet access, and they have been led by doting parents to believe that they have a right to switch to something more captivating whenever they want.

Not that they are the only culprits.

Employees of all ages are using their smartphones to look for, and find, better stuff in the middle of meetings, conversations and conference calls.  Their eyes glaze over, and as they succumb to the “Blackberry Itch,” their mind starts to conjure up wonderful messages, websites and instant messages that will be instantly theirs in a matter of seconds… in the time it takes to grab their smartphone and fire it up.  For some, this need to find instant distractions has become an addiction, as their mind convinces them that it needs additional stimulation whenever there’s a momentary lull.

It’s no insult to the other people in the conversation, meeting or call.    It’s not meant to be rude or disrespectful.  In fact, it’s not meant to be any more significant than changing the channel on a TV or clicking on a link to a website.

Unfortunately, it IS unproductive, and while some may think that it’s simple multi-tasking, a meeting in which half the attendees are lost on their smartphones is a meeting that will take longer than it should, wasting time and costing thousands of dollars.  The cost far outweighs the potential benefit.

In passing, I read about some research that’s just beginning to explore the widening problem of reduced attention spans in the workplace, but in the meantime younger employees would do well to realize that their careers are being endangered by everyday habits.