8 January 2017

What was the first thing you did when you woke up this morning?lawrence jones verbier

Check your phone? Look at the news, or at Facebook, or Instagram a photograph of your breakfast? Are you reading this post on a phone?

I watched a truly eye-opening video this week that has really turned my attention to the issue of smartphone overuse. I’m guilty of it myself and, as a dad of four daughters – two of which are at an age for smartphones and social media – it’s an issue that is high on my agenda to tackle.

In the now viral video, which you can watch below, Simon Sinek discusses millennials and why they are hard to manage. He discusses the ‘bad hand’ that this generation – born after 1984 – were dealt thanks to the influx of technology, social media, medals for losing and the on-demand, instant gratification provided by the growth of the internet. Combining this with a corporate world that is focussed on numbers and strategies rather than people development has created a generation of young people who are hard to manage and who are unhappy.

It is a challenge that we are seeing here at UKFast. We’re seeing more people of this age who are less equipped with the social and softer skills that we look for. It can be seen in the most simple, small nuances – like eye contact, nodding along to conversation and facial expressions. These are all skills that we count as second nature but they’re not being developed naturally in a world dominated by text messages and emails.

There is also a level of expectation now. It’s no longer the norm to join a business and expect to work your way up; young people are expecting management-level positions upon graduation. But I have to state that this isn’t a claim that I would make with such a broad brush. There are certainly still individuals who’ve been brought up to work hard and to communicate well; and that’s not to say that this generation is a write off. It just means a different approach to employment and people development.

I was pleased to hear Simon state that it is the responsibility of businesses to combat the problems that ‘millennials’ present – to create supportive, educational environments that help this generation to grow and develop the social skills that have been hampered by constant interaction with the digital world and an upbringing that teaches them that it’s the taking part that counts. Taking part isn’t enough in the real world; it’s about working hard towards a goal.

Alongside this, it is especially concerning to read of the physiological effects of the constant influx of text messages, likes and notifications. Each of these alerts produces dopamine – the same chemical provoked by any addictive substance or activity, including smoking and drinking. Young people are becoming addicted to the buzz that they get from sharing on social media.

That’s why I asked what you did first thing this morning. If you checked your phone, that is a sign that you’re in this bracket and it is time to make a change.

With my teenage daughter quickly growing up and the second-eldest not too far behind, we’ve had to introduce rules to our household when it comes to mobile phone usage. They’re only to be used on the ground floor of the house, never upstairs. And we hold a weekly ‘no-screens’, board game night where no devices are allowed – adults are included in this. I have had to change my own behaviour too. We get precious little time to spend with our families as it is, and I certainly don’t want to waste that time by being on my phone. Simon is right; by answering your phone or having it on the table, you are saying that the company with which you sit is not enough to hold your attention. I never want my children to feel that they come second fiddle to a phone!

It has been quite wonderful over the New Year break having my wife and the girls over in Switzerland. Coco, our four-year-old daughter, has been taking to the slopes like a pro. She has so much confidence, we have to keep reminding her to slow down and turn! If she had it her way, she’d been speed-skiing down the slopes at 100mph!

These are the single most important memories we can make as adults. They’re moments we will never get back; children grow up so quickly, and whilst I have certainly used my phone to film the girls skiing in a row like a line of ducklings following their mother, I have put it away immediately and got back to the moment. Sharing these moments with one another are the only shares that really count at the end of the day.

Taking some time to reflect this morning, as I look out of the window and watch the snow fall across the Swiss Mountains, it seems so ludicrous that we could ever choose to bury our heads into a small black rectangle instead of looking out at the world and seeing its true beauty. As soon as this post is written, I’ll be closing the Mac and getting back to my morning coffee in the snow. Verbier is so peaceful first thing in the morning and it would be a crying shame to miss that moment of reflection and peace.

One of my goals this year is to step away from my phone; to leave it at home whenever I can. It’s hard as an entrepreneur to step away from the office, to be uncontactable, but that’s why we create these amazing businesses with incredible people – so that we can step away and not worry about a thing. Perhaps we also need to learn from the ‘millenial question’ and take some time out of the constant stream of notifications and updates.

This year should become the year that you disconnect, not completely of course, but enough to enable you to reconnect with the real world. I’d love to know how you get on.

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