Are you putting your career chances at risk by spending too much time on social media instead of gaining social intelligence by actually talking to people?
“Adolescents who want to get ahead at work need to spend a bit less time on their smartphones and get an awful lot better at studying the codes that come in flesh. They need to read the eyes, the frowns, the corners of a mouth. They need to read the set of a shoulder and a jaw. They need to know when a colleague needs a kind word or some quiet to get on with a deadline. They need to know that when the boss’s face goes red, you can’t just swipe left and move on.” So says journalist Christina Patterson in an article for The Guardian newspaper.
According to a new report, written by Dr Jennifer Lau of King’s College London and the NCS (National Citizen Service), using social media doesn’t necessarily make you anti-social or unemployable – thank goodness for that! Apparently, increased online interaction does not damage teenagers’ social intelligence levels – in fact, the report showed the opposite – that online activity could actually support the development of adolescents social skills.
Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing their communication, social connection, and even technical skills. Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram offer multiple daily opportunities to connect with friends, classmates and other young people with shared interests.
However, the King’s College report draws on previous studies and new research amongst employers, adults and young people, which identifies that the current generation of adolescents may require additional support to interact successfully with their workmates and colleagues.
And because the nature of the workplace is changing so quickly, young people do need to maintain an ability to cope well with real-life human interaction and situations, in what is an increasingly diverse, technology-reliant environment. This ability is known as ‘social intelligence’ and it’s absolutely vital in ensuring success in young people’s working lives and careers.
Social intelligence is defined in the report as, ‘The ability to apply our understanding of people’s emotions to decide the appropriate form of interaction with others.’ In other words, how well you empathise with, and relate to, other people. As a work skill, social intelligence will become increasingly important to future generations and although the report found that spending loads of time on social media isn’t a bad thing, it has highlighted a gap in young people’s ability to interact with people from different backgrounds.
More than 200 employers were interviewed for the report and they nearly all said that social intelligence was now more important in new recruits than IQ or exam results. They said they were wasting an awful lot of time in interviewing people who seemed to have no social skills at all, and that if you didn’t have any by the time you started applying for jobs, it was probably too late.
Many jobs in areas like telemarketing, accounting and retail are at risk of becoming automated, according to one academic study on the future of employment and when the robots come, skilled and non-skilled workers alike are at risk of losing their jobs.
Developing social intelligence is also essential to the economy of the future and for building the mental resilience you’ll need to deal with things like potential mental health conditions and loneliness in later life.
The study recommends social mixing should form an integral part of social intelligence development in teenagers. It argues that parents may have an important role to play, as older generations own circles also remain relatively closed to different cultures, backgrounds and upbringing.
NCS recommends that young people find opportunities to develop social intelligence to help them to confidently navigate life in the workplace and to improve their overall wellbeing.
The Guardian’s Christine Patterson also wrote, “In this brave new digital world, the shift will be away from employees to freelancers and contractors. It will, in other words, be a shift away from security to a world where you have to bid for every tiny scrap of work. If you are good at it, you will be taken on for a project, and when that is over you will be dropped. We need to prepare our young people for a world some of us are only now beginning to face. We need to teach them to be strong and to cope with disappointment. We need to teach them how to cope when they work at home on their own, but we also need to teach them the social skills to win the work. Parents need to do this. Schools need to do this. And we as a society need to do this.”
So perhaps now would be a good time to log out of Facebook, switch off your phone and your computer and go out into the big, wide world to start working on your interpersonal skills in preparation for your working life…?