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How employers can help Generation Z handle smartphone addiction

The use of smartphones has made information readily available and with no guidelines on what an excessive amount of time on the internet or social media actually means. [Getty Images]

Generation Z also referred to as zoomers, is the demographic cohort succeeding millennials and is generally between the ages of 10 and 25, born between 1997-2012.

This generation has been accused of being heavily addicted to smartphones, which has not only affected their careers but also their social well-being and health.

The use of smartphones has made information readily available and with no guidelines on what an excessive amount of time on the internet or social media actually means.

Parents and teachers seem to have put more emphasis on the type of content their students are exposed to and not the quantity of the information.

It is one thing to put parental control on a device, but it is totally a different thing to control the amount of content consumed and the short and long-term effects on the brain.

It appears most training institutions have not put in place working smartphone etiquette practices in their teaching and learning environments, especially at the tertiary level.

This behaviour has now inspired Google’s new research on digital well-being on user behaviour aimed at reducing the risk of smartphone addiction.

As much as some smartphone devices have invented mitigation strategies such as the "do not disturb" feature and specific modes for concentration.

It is unclear whether users use them to limit interruptions and constant notifications, which fuel these addictions. Smartphone addiction has adverse effects on Gen Z’s attention and retention rate at work and encourages procrastination.

No employer wants to deal with someone who is constantly on their smartphones with constant notifications that disrupt others in the office.

Apart from having negative effects on mental health due to poor sleeping habits and constant disruptions, this addiction is detrimental in terms of building social interaction, meaningful connections, relationships, and teamwork.

Employers can, however, play a key role in helping Gen Zs handle this challenge by doing the following.

Include phone etiquette in the onboarding process.

It is time that onboarding processes now evolve with the changing needs at the workplace. Traditional onboarding processes will not work with them.

Hiring managers and human resource officers need to identify current challenges in the labour market and practically implement working solutions as mitigation measures.

Identifying phone etiquette practices and including them as part of the onboarding processes can go a long way in helping Gen Z understand and balance between work and staying online.

Engage them in understanding the effects of smartphone addiction and information overload and what it means in building a successful career.

Propose the best workable steps in managing addiction, provide examples and demonstrate how staying connected is as essential as having time to concentrate away from distractions and complete assigned tasks.

Give more collaborative tasks at first.

Assign Gen Z tasks that require more collaboration and working in teams. This is more exciting because they will have more time to work with colleagues, solve problems in real-time, and have a chance to contribute to pertinent issues thereby substituting the desire to visit social media platforms.

Team leaders and managers should avoid giving Gen Z  tasks that are more independent and boring during their months at work because the chances to visit social media platforms are high.

Too much use of social media encourages procrastination. This does not however mean that team leaders and managers should start micromanaging because it won’t bring out the desired results.

Collaborative tasks can be activities that require brainstorming, fact-finding, design thinking, and innovation challenges.

This works well, especially when there is a remote or hybrid setup where team leaders and managers have less control over their work environment. It is key that companies and organizations give Gen Z opportunities to present in meetings, lead sub-committees and stay connected with larger teams both in the remote and hybrid work environment.

Invest in Wall Graphics and Visuals

Working in a boring office environment can be a great motivator to visit the internet to discover exciting information to cheer you up.

Companies and organizations can invest in having their offices painted or coated with graphics that encourage concentration, less use of smartphones, silence, meditating, etc.

Some examples of graphics include: "ON focus", "ON dedication", "ON motivation", and "OFF excuses."

There is overwhelming evidence that suggests that colour influences productivity, creativity, and mood at work. To help Gen Z to remain focused and to avoid the temptations of grabbing their smartphones, have your office painted beautifully with mind-appealing visuals.

Managers lead by example and adhere to the rules set.

Gen Z learns so quickly, and they can tell whether managers live by their word. If you expect them to not use their smartphones in meetings, led by example.

It becomes hard to impose the rules that you break. A simple rule like "Office mode on" that requires every employee to put their phones on silent when they arrive in the office, well adhered to, can go a long way to helping Gen Z in navigating the workplace.

In conclusion, smartphone manufacturers need to go beyond providing tools that show total screen time statistics to inventing tools that can notify users if they excessively use some platforms.

Parents and teachers can enable such tools on their student's devices so that if for example if students spent 4 hours on TikTok, the tool automatically blocks access until the next day.

Smartphone addiction can lead to procrastination which is a killer of many careers. I call upon different stakeholders to further analyze how to build smartphone etiquette in their different spheres of engagement with Gen Z so they can build a productive generation that is digitally connected but not overconnected

Nelson Komba is an Alumni and Communications Coordinator Generation Kenya