Managing Decision Fatigue: Sources – Symptoms – Solutions

You probably know the feeling – it’s mid-afternoon and you’re just tired of thinking. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a meeting and you’re beginning to zone out. Perhaps you’re in the sixth virtual conversation of the day and you’re paying more attention to everyone’s background than you are to the decisions being discussed. Maybe you’re in the supermarket staring at the toothpaste and wondering why all these choices are necessary.

Decision fatigue has become the new drain on today’s daily performance. Truth is, decision fatigue has always been around because it is the result of what happens when glucose levels in the brain become depleted. But in recent years, the impact of this mental drain has become so much more intense because of the number of decisions we are compelled to make every waking minute.

Can you can you successfully manage the decision fatigue draining your energy and impairing your thinking?  Yes! To do so, however, it helps to examine both the sources and symptoms first. Only then can we discuss solutions. Allow me to do so using a three-step framework: Sources – Symptoms – Solutions.

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Every time you make a decision, your brain consumes a bit of the blood glucose (sugar energy) produced by the body from the foods you eat. Deciding whether to turn left or right in the parking lot consumes little glucose. Analyzing data and producing a report consumes a lot more. This is why you feel drained after doing so. It’s also why you shouldn’t make significant purchasing decisions after focusing on an important task. Your brain won’t have the glucose energy to maintain proper focus to make a disciplined choice. The sources of decision fatigue fall into five categories:

First, there is work, which is composed of all the decisions you make during the day. This includes everything from significant choices to nuisance decisions such as navigating phone menus, clicking out of browser pop-ups, declining “convenience” options built into software applications and endless updates that developers promise will improve our user experience. (yeah, right!) On top of this, the pace of work, for many, has become more pressure-filled because of our 24/7/365 society. The same is true because of globalization and the endless demands for instant outcomes. Mix in the general competition for attention from social media and other forms of digital messaging and the brain has trouble processing this constant procession of decisions, both large and small.

Second, there are consumer sources. This consists of everything you buy, from food and personal care products to Netflix packages, apparel, big screen TVs and the car or truck you drive. Frankly, it’s business’ job to sell you the products and separate you from your money. The number of ways they attempt to do this, however, has exploded over the past few years. Research indicates that consumers don’t like too many choices, but it also shows people buy more when they’re confused. This is why your head hurts when attempting to purchase complex items like a cable subscription.

Third, there is social media. This includes all the platforms most of us use daily to connect with each other and keep up on what they have to say. These applications have become such an integral part of life for so many, they deserve their own category. Millions have been invested in making sure that users remain continually engaged, whether it is the never-ending scroll feature or the continual pop-ups that offer assistance, advertisements or the diversions we have come to know as click-bait. Add to this a design that ensures you will never see the same page display a second time, and these companies have created billions of users afraid to close the app. Each one of these sessions, of course, includes hundreds of decisions about what to read, what to click, and how to respond.

Fourth, there is news and entertainment. These have blended together so much that they really fall into the same category. As much as entertainment should be a source of relaxation, research has shown that the overwhelming number of choices confuses viewers resulting a sort of mental surrender for many. When it comes to news, it is important to remember that CNN, FOX, print media and the others are NOT in the business of keeping us informed. They are in the business of making money. Hence, the long-time industry motto, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Bad news, polarization and stories with manipulated narratives stress readers and viewers resulting in decision fatigue. At the same time, there is a sense of being left out if you don’t keep up.

Finally, there’s You and Others, or relationships. This category includes family, friends, colleagues and everyone else with whom you relate on a regular basis. Each of these relationships requires its own set of decisions based on how you interact, along with past experience. Each one of these decisions requires the brain to consider dozens of factors, consuming boatloads of glucose, especially for those relationships you find more challenging. Just as a large report or presentation can consume a lot of sugar energy, the same is true with the lengthy or intense conversations you have with one or more people over a beer. At the end, you feel tired of thinking because your brain has had to pay attention while developing what to say in response, based on your past experience with these individuals.

As mentioned before, many of these decisions have been a part of life since the dawn of time. But in recent years we have added social media, the options that come with menu-driven software, and an explosion of consumer choices in pretty much every product category. According to research from Roberts Wesleyan College, adults are now making an average of 35,000 decisions per day. As a result, there are five symptoms that hinder our thinking and impair our daily performance.

The Symptoms of Decision Fatigue

First, there is continuous partial attention, which forces our minds to constantly dart back and forth from micro-decision to micro-decision, each one costing us a bit of glucose energy. This darting becomes cumulative over time and the reason why we wonder what happened to the productivity of the day. Have you ever said to yourself, “I know I made a lot of decisions, but I didn’t really accomplish anything?” When the brain is not given a change to replenish itself, glucose levels become so depleted that you can actually feel your thinking shutting down.

Safe Decision Syndrome is the fear of making any decision that might result in a mistake, an unfortunate outcome, or perhaps correction or discipline by a supervisor. With the number of decisions we are required to make these days, the possibility of this happening has gone way up. Those who have been “burned” by one or more of these situations become overly cautious about making any decision that is even tinged with uncertainty. Most times, they just stop unless they have explicit permission to act.

Third, there is menu-driven thinking, which is an over-dependence on digital cues. The advent of computer software has brought with it increasingly sophisticated ways of guiding, some would say manipulating, our thinking and choices.  Whether it is telephone menus, airline reservation sites, or the screen in your car’s dashboard, we are thinking less and being led more. Some might argue that menu-driven thinking reduces the need to think, thereby saving mental energy. The price of this, however, is a deficit in creative and critical thinking especially among many of those coming of age in this digital society. When they are compelled to make decisions with an uncertain outcome, the associated stress of doing so consumes a tremendous amount of glucose.

Fourth, there is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). This has become a juggernaut in both social media and marketing. The fact that a sizeable number of people interrupt their sleep to check their mobile devices illustrates the way FOMO has become a major factor in fostering decision fatigue. As with any other digital interaction, the fear of missing out requires dozens of decisions throughout the day, each one consuming a bit of the blood glucose so essential for attention and concentration.

Finally, there is the sense of manipulation we develop when we feel like we’re being led to a particular outcome, even though we’re being told we have complete control. Sadly, this has become pervasive throughout society because of digital technology. As a result, we expend more blood glucose trying to game the systems that are trying to maneuver us into pre-ordained choices. Having to anticipate these processes for even simple purchases or decisions draws our focus and energy away for more significant issues. Feeling like you’re settling or surrendering results in an underlying sense of distrust in all these systems.

The Solutions to Decision Fatigue

Over the past several years, I’ve identified more than 30 strategies for battling decision fatigue and continue to discover more as I interview effective decision-makers. Here are three to get you started.

First, begin each day with something that will you give a sense of completion. Admiral William McRaven has become known for his ten rules learned during Navy Seal training. The first of these is “make your bed,” a simple task but a good way to start the day. For me, it’s posting an inspiring thought on Linked-In. Others with whom I have spoken have a ritual that helps center their thinking before diving into what needs to be done. What do you do every morning to top off your energy before commencing the work at hand?

Second, work at eliminating unnecessary decisions. I spoke to an executive who told me of assuming the leadership of a manufacturing plant. Being a first-time plant manager, he dutifully studied all the reports that arrived in his in-box, sometimes late into the night. But one day it dawned on him that no one ever asked about these reports. He started asking those generating them about their purpose. He was told that his predecessor was a “numbers guy” and couldn’t seem to get enough data to analyze. So, this manager sat down one morning considered the value of each report. Then he eliminated all but two, saving him a couple of hours of work a week. Effective decision-makers are constantly looking for ways to consolidate, delegate or eliminate decisions for both themselves and those with whom they work. How about you?

Finally, chunk your time. I’ve interviewed several executives who divide their time into 15- or 30-minute segments. Then they assign the decisions they need to make to those segments. This is especially useful if their days is filled with requests from others. Not only does it compel those asking the questions to better organize their time, it forces the decision-maker to act, rather allowing the issue to drag on or be postponed. Even if you cannot do this for the entire day, simply dedicating time chucks every morning or afternoon will enable you to focus without the endless distractions. Don’t worry. The people around you will get used to it. If you have a boss that wants you available at every whim, sell him or her on how you can get more done if you compartmentalize some of your time.

When battling decision fatigue, the goal is NOT to better manage the 35,000 decisions we might face every day. It is to REDUCE the number of decisions we make. In other words, fewer decisions equals less blood glucose consumed. This leaves more sugar energy for focus on the most important issues.

Who Are Your Mentors?

A recent study conducted by OnePoll found that of 2000 Americans surveyed, 74% say they have a mentor. For those who do, the average person has four. “Dad” tops out the list as most common with “mom” coming in a close second. Many people will not find this surprising. After all, it’s understandable that most people would look up to their parents. But what about mentors outside of family? In truth, it’s those you meet in business and the community who have the greatest influence on your decision making and, in turn, your life outcomes.

When I’ve interviewed leaders over the years, I’ve always listened for who they turn to for guidance and insights. Sometimes these people drop into our lives serendipitously such as a boss, team member, colleague or neighbor. But being proactive in seeking out mentors accelerates the process. That’s not to say you should walk up to someone you admire and say, “Hi, I’d like you to mentor me.” The mentoring relationship requires vetting on both sides. Most evolve over time, based on the development of mutual trust and admiration.

We can also outgrow mentors. It may be a difference in values. You may become separated geographically. You might find yourself limited in access. Over time, you may discover that the mentor’s vision is ultimately more limited than yours. When I worked as a stockbroker years ago, Jack, the vice president of our branch said to me, “If you want to make $100,000 per year, find someone who does so and get them to teach you. But if you want to make $200,000 per year, you’ll have to find someone else who does that, because the $100,000 person doesn’t have the vision and skills to do so. From my experience, his advice has been remarkably prescient.

So, what’s the bottom line to all this? First, resolve to define the kind of mentoring you need. Is it personal? Is it professional? Is it about your career? Is it about developing relationships? Is it about growing personal influence? You get the idea.

Second, begin a list of those with whom you have contact who might be able to provide the insights and support you are seeking. Be broad-minded. Mentors sometimes come from unusual places. Someone on your softball team may the person to seek out about honing your leadership skills. You may find someone where you work who can provide guidance about a personal challenge you’re facing.

Third, develop a list of the characteristics you seek in a mentor. This is not a checklist to be shared, but more of a compilation of qualities you would like to see in someone from whom you can learn. There’s no need to grill people. Just get to know the individuals you have in mind and see where the conversation takes you. Chances are, you’ll discover whether the relationship has the potential for mentoring.

Finally, consider what might you be able to offer the mentor in return. Understandably, this should not be viewed as a quid pro quo. But it always helps to keep the other person in mind. You may find that the mentor is simply seeking ways to give back after years of benefiting from relationships from others.

I’ve had a number of mentors over the years and continue to seek out new ones. Some are more fruitful than others. The only way to know is to reach out and develop relationships with those you admire.

Overcoming the Tyranny of Choice

We’ve all become spoiled by the number of choices we have. Supermarkets offer more than 60,000 consumer goods in all sizes and shapes. Searching on-line generates thousands of links for even the most obscure topic or item. Artificial intelligence anticipates the words we want to use in a text, the products we want to buy and provides instant directions if we search for a particular store or business.

Yet there is building evidence that many people are feeling overwhelmed by the number of decisions forced upon them daily. Constant pop-ups conspire to deflect out attention. We find ourselves declining endless offers in exchange for personal information. We resort to placing phones on silent and refusing to answer any call for which we do not recognize the number. Some people have begun to call this the “tyranny of choice.”

“OKAY!” you might say. “Tell me something I don’t know. Better still, teach me how to battle this tyranny of choice. So, consider these four strategies when attempting to reduce the decision fatigue in your life.

Review the apps on your phone and remove the ones you’re not using.Do you really need a tip calculation app? Twenty percent of $24.03 is $2.40 times two or $4.80, for instance. You get the idea. How about that app you downloaded to navigate last year’s industry convention? When was the last time you opened that? How about the app that allows you to age your face? Chances are, the novelty wore off after 48 hours. Remember, by the way, that even if they’re not open many of these apps are tracking your location, personal information and even your purchasing history. After all, you probably gave them permission when you clicked on “Accept Terms and Conditions” without reading them.

Install an ad blocker.Simply search on ad blocker for each browser you use. Then follow the instructions. I know. You’ve been meaning to do it. But there are so many other decisions you need to deal with first. Just do it. Total time invested? About 15 minutes.

Add a note about Reply All to your signature file.It might read something like – Thanks for NOT copying me on e-mails for which I do not need to respond. This will not end this nuisance completely. But even it drops by 20%, you will have reduced your decision fatigue.

Schedule internet and YouTube searches for just before another commitment. It’s so easy to open a browser for “just a minute” and lose 20 minutes for your life. Need to research a new appliance? Do so 10 minutes before that meeting on Zoom. Trying to figure out how to install linoleum in you your basement bathroom? Search for instructions on YouTube just before that lunch you have coming up.

Decision fatigue is hampering all of us at this point. Implement these simple ideas to reduce your daily stress. I’d offer you more strategies for doing so. But then I’d just be contributing to your tyranny of choice.

How to Remember Fantastic Shower Ideas

If you’re like me, you’ve had fantastic ideas in the shower. But when you’ve tried to recall them while drying off, they’re nowhere to be found in your memory. So why is this? Simple. When the brain introduces a bright idea or insight, it does so into your short-term, or working, memory. Unfortunately, thoughts in short-term memory only last three to five seconds before they are flushed out of the way by the next incoming thought or stimuli. The only way to capture these great ideas in through instant rehearsal. In other words, you’ve got to stop whatever you’re doing immediately and focus ALL of your attention on that great idea.  Here’s an example:

Not long ago, I was taking a shower and thinking about something I had to teach in an upcoming seminar. Suddenly, it dawned on me exactly how to explain the concept. But not having anything to write with, I began to write it on the steamy shower door. Even though I knew these words would disappear within seconds as the steam from the show erased them, I was mentally rehearsing them and moving this explanation from short-term to long-term memory. When I got out of the shower, the first thing I did was grab paper and pen write them down along with any other associated thoughts and ideas. I still have that water-stained paper because just looking at it helps me to remember the concept.

You can do the same thing, in the shower, while you’re driving, pushing a shopping cart, chatting with a friend, or anywhere else. The key is instantaneous rehearsal. Drop what you’re doing and focus all of your attention on recording the idea. Don’t believe this works? Ask the smart-decision makers you know. They’ll tell you similar stories.

Are You a Flat Rabbit?

My friend Jay, was watching his grandson, Jake, vacillate over decision. After a minute or so, Jake’s mother, Tina, said “don’t be a flat rabbit.” When Jay asked about the origin of the phrase, Tina explained that rabbits start to cross the road, hesitate and then run back to where they started, just in time to be run over a car. The same can be said about squirrels, cats, armadillos, and the occasional human.

So how about you? Are you a flat rabbit? We all succumb to indecision from time to time. In the process, we over-think problems, obsess about unknowable outcomes or thrash back and forth out of fear that we’ll make a mistake. As a result, we lose out on opportunities and appear indecisive to those around us. Do this enough and it can become a habit . . . a bad habit.

I’m not arguing that we have to be absolutely decisive in every situation. That said, the best decision-makers I’ve interviewed generally display an air of decisiveness and confidence that most people wished they possessed. These decision-makers use their intuition and sense of clarity to go with what feels right. The decision doesn’t always work out. But pretty much all of them will tell you that it’s better to take action with a 90% chance of being right, than waiting till everything feels perfect and finding the opportunity has been lost.

So, how do you go about becoming more decisive? In reflecting on the interviews I’ve conducted, two patterns have emerged. First, these individuals have developed the discipline to stop and consider the factors involved when confronted with a decision, especially one that requires a quick action. When a couple of co-workers lean into your work station and say, “Come on, we’re going to lunch” Your first impulse might be to say, “okay.” The people I’ve interviewed are more likely to stop, think a ahead to the afternoon’s commitment and the impact a juicy sandwich will have on their productivity.

In addition to resisting impulsive decisions, the best decision-makers rely more on their intuition. While we all possess an intuition, the best decision makers have honed theirs into a tool upon which they depend. Intuition is not just something that evolves. It is a tool that can be consciously developed. It is so important, in fact, we spend an entire module on developing intuition during my on-line course, Make Your Best Decisions Now.

Becoming more decisive begins with defining personal priorities. Simply asking, “How important is this decision?” will compel you to determine the amount of time and energy you should be devoting to the issue. So the next time, you find yourself vacillating on a decision, stop and ask yourself, “Am I behaving like a flat rabbit?”

If the System is Too Complicated – Good Decision Makers Lie

I have two friends, Joe and Judy. Joe has been having trouble with his dentures. Since he can’t wear them, it’s difficult to understand what he is saying. The other day, Judy was trying to help Joe make an adjustment to one of his financial accounts. She called the bank’s support line. She explained who she was and that she was authorized to act on Joe’s behalf. The young support staffer told her he needed Joe to give voice authorization. Judy explained the denture situation, but the young man persisted. So Judy put Joe on the phone. After four attempts, the young man was still not convinced it was Joe. Exasperated, Judy asked to speak to a supervisor. After a few minutes, a supervisor came on the line, asked Judy for a few of Joe’s identifiers, and okayed the change.

When Judy told me this story, I asked whether the company was using voice-recognition technology. Judy said she didn’t think so. “Why didn’t you just hang up, find another male to act as Joe, and call back,” I asked. We both laughed at how easy it would have been to game the system. Of course, if you can game the system that easily, what’s the point of having it? Have you been through something like this? I know I have, a number of times.

We are in a struggle right now with trust and technology. We have all become less trusting of those around us because of the nefarious few who attempt to steal our money and identity. At the same time, we have financial institutions implementing security protocols can defy reason in their requirements or are so easily beaten as to be useless. In the midst of all this, we have staffers who focus so much on the rules, that they have lost their sense of reason. The result is countless experiences like the one I described above. I don’t have a solution to all this. I don’t think anyone does. These systems will simply have to evolve over time.

In the meantime, I’ve come to believe that it’s okay to game poorly designed systems; in other words, lie. At the same time, it makes me want to re-think my association with any organization failing to take more care with my personal information. How about you? I’d be interested in your stories.

Decision Making is Not About Age

I’ve always been careful about labeling those in the youngest generation as lacking common sense. Two separate incidents in the past week illustrate that how well a person makes decisions is not based on age but experience, maturity and the influence of others.

Example number one: I received an e-mail from a utility supervisor in snowy North Dakota.  It read: “Last week, I came upon a man in his early twenties who had spun out on an icy road. He was stuck off the shoulder in about eight inches of snow. He was spinning his tires and, at the same time, talking on the phone telling his friends how stuck he was. As I started to scrape away the snow, he remained in his truck laughing about the situation. After a few minutes, I yelled to him which way to turn the wheel and to back up. After he did so, the car gained the necessary traction. He smiled, gave me a thumbs-up, and drove off. The whole situation made me smile and I thought about what you had taught us in last year’s seminar and how right you are!”

Example number two: A couple of weeks ago, I chatted with a colleague about her son, Scott, who is in his early twenties. He has always longed to explore the world and so far has traveled or lived in about ten different countries. A couple of months ago, he impulsively found himself in the main train station in Zagreb, Croatia, not knowing a soul and not speaking a word of Croatian. So, what to do? After considering his situation for a minute or two, he walked to the center of the station’s great hall and yelled, “Does anyone speak English?” After a couple of attempts, several people walked over and asked how they could help. Admittedly, the average soul might not have the courage to do this. But in all his traveling, Scott has learned a few principles: 1) There’s no such thing as a dumb question; 2) It generally doesn’t matter what other people think; 3) Given the opportunity, most strangers will come to your aid if asked.

So, what’s the insight here? Age has little, if anything, to do with how well a person makes decisions. Sure, I’ll stipulate that the older you get the more experience and perspective you can draw from. But I’ve known people late in life who still struggle to get outside their comfort zones in order to achieve marginally better outcomes. If you’re trying to improve your decision making, make more decisions and focus less on what other people might think. You WILL make mistakes. But failure is where most wisdom is developed. You’ve probably heard that said. Take it to heart.

If you are supervising others, regardless of age, compel them to make the decisions you know they are capable of making. Support them when they make mistakes and process what they’ve learned. But for heaven’s sake don’t save their butts, unless the consequences are dire. If you save someone from harm or hardship once, they’ll expect you to do it again and again. That’s human nature. The more times you save them, the harder it will be to withdraw that help and compel their self-sufficiency. For many reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. But ask yourself – even if you believe all this, how often do you practice it?

Dressing for Decision Success

Keith, a colleague of mine, tells the story of going to work in a retail store where the staff seemed to wear whatever was most comfortable, regardless of appearance. After a couple of weeks of trying to fit in by wearing casual clothes, it dawned on him that doing the opposite might be the better strategy. Without saying anything, he just started wearing a sport coat, tie and dress slacks to work. At first, his co-workers chided him about what he was wearing. He absorbed these jibes with good nature and focused on serving customers.

But then an interesting thing happened. Those entering the store began to approach him, before anyone else, to ask questions. After a few weeks, he was selling more product, simply because he had more opportunities. This was a good thing because everyone was paid a base wage plus commission. In time, his co-workers noticed this and began to dress better as well. Keith had not said anything. He wasn’t in charge. He didn’t start out to set an example. He just recognized the value of looking the part.

As much as it is tempting to dress down in today’s super-casual world, you will generally find that the best decision-makers resist this. They recognize the value of appearing successful. Sure, there are a few Mark Zuckerbergs out there with their hoodies and jeans. But they are anomalies. Paying attention to physical appearance has always been a way to contribute to personal success. I can’t count, for instance, the number of times I have been upgraded on a flight, or even been squeezed aboard an oversold flight, because I arrived at the gate in a suit. It is only natural to pay attention to the best-dressed person in the room. Even when they’re dressed casually, successful people look the part. Why? Because they recognize the impact that personal appearance has on others.

So, take stock of how you dress the same way you should take stock of the decisions you make. The best decision makers are also the best dressers. Don’t believe me? Check it out yourself.

Empathy and Smart Decision Making

Like most people, I have become wary of the customer service in most establishments these days. Maybe it’s because of our impersonal communication. Perhaps it’s because so many people feel overwhelmed with their own worries. Maybe it’s due to a lack of effective hiring and training. Whatever the reason, customer service has become more of an adventure.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised when dropping off my wife’s car at the autobody shop this week. Jack greeted me with a smile and asked how he could help. After I told him, he said, “May I offer you a cup of coffee?” I declined, but he pointed to the Keurig machine in case I changed my mind.

Then he said, “This must be a pain in the neck for you.” I told him it wasn’t that big a deal, but was a bit time consuming. He assured me he’d do everything he could to minimize the headaches. Then he spent about 45 seconds explaining how the process worked and asked what questions I had. I had none at that point, so he walked me out to the car. He took about 15 minutes to assess the damage and build an estimate on his tablet. As he did so, he narrated what would need to be done, from disassembly to re-assembly to paint and polish. That put my mind at ease. I would not be leaving the car in the “black hole” of auto-body repair.

When he was finished, he told me he would be taking a few days of vacation and that Gary would be covering for him. But rather than just telling me, he called Gary over for a couple of seconds so we could shake hands and I could put a face to a name. You may wonder why I’m making such a big deal out of this twenty-minute encounter. Two reasons. 1) It has become increasingly unusual. 2) It didn’t take any extra effort. Jack offered me coffee. Let me know that he empathized with me and introduced me to Gary since he was going on vacation. Would I recommend Jack and his team to someone else? I have already.

Over the years, I have dealt with numerous body shops and service firms. Pretty much all have been competent and stayed with the budget. What sets Jack and his team apart is that he has developed an empathy for his customers. He has learned to anticipate the emotions associated with dealing with decisions, such as spending thousands of dollars in repairs and with leaving your car with a bunch of strangers.

How about you? Do you and your colleagues empathize with your customers and anticipate their concerns? If so, do you communicate that clearly so they know you understand those concerns? It doesn’t require a lot of effort to do so. But it can make all the difference in the world when you’re asking customers to make big, expensive decisions.

What Do You Do with Decision-Deficit Disorder?

I have grown fond of coming up with self-explanatory alliterations that describe some of the behaviors employers are now dealing with in today’s workplace. These include menu-driven thinking, safe-decision syndrome and now decision-deficit disorder. This week’s inspiration was inspired during a conversation I had with a colleague who was lamenting the reluctance of many young people to take initiative and act independently.

Now, before the under-thirty crowd goes off on me for making an unfair generalization, allow me to explain my reasoning. You see, I believe that the responsibility for decision-deficit disorder rests on the shoulders of the previous generations that fostered it through their social practices. This coupled, with some evolutionary changes within the marketplace, has allowed many of those entering the workplace to come of age without being compelled to develop the skills and confidence necessary to thrive in everyday business environments.

Many, but certainly not all, of those born from the early nineties forward have been raised in an environment where conflict is abhorred by those around them. They have come of age in an environment of bully-proofing, safe spaces, helicopter parents, and other euphemisms that seek to shield them from the discomforts generally associated with life. At the same time, we have informed them, as a society, that they are entitled to anything they want, any time they want it with a click of a mouse or the touch of a screen.

Is it any wonder then, that many entering the workplace possess a skewed set of beliefs about how they, and everyone should be treated. The workplace has, and always will be, an amalgam of personalities and conflicting beliefs and priorities. Yes, there is a never-ending series of policies and regulations put in place to correct the perceived injustices suffered by one individual or another, one group or another. But while all of these policies are well intentioned, few are truly enforceable. The end result is that many young people end up thinking, “That’s not fair,” when they don’t receive the treatment to which they believe they are entitled. This, by itself, fosters a sense of disillusionment and fear that making mistakes or failing to do or say the right thing will result in the humiliation they’ve been conditioned to dread.

A second part of this equation is the road that many of today’s young people travel, or don’t travel, on their journey into the adult workplace. Historically, those coming of age took on their first paid employment during their mid-teens. This was through babysitting, mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, busing tables, working in fast-food and the like. But in the past two decades, three phenomena have conspired to alter this right of passage.

First, a number of these jobs have disappeared due to technology and changing consumer tastes. (Think newspapers.) Second, many of these entry-level positions have been assumed by adults. Lawn care, for instance, is now handled by a service, rather than the kid next door. So-called entry-level positions in food service are now filled by those in their twenties and older. (As a fast-food manager, who would you hire for $15 per hour – the 16-year-old with no work experience or the 27-year-old supporting a family?) Finally, there are the teenagers themselves and their beliefs about work. College-bound students are encouraged travel abroad during the summer, obtain internships and other experiences to polish their resumes. Then there is the dismissal by some, about the value of working at an early age. As a freshman engineering major asked me recently, “I’m going to be an engineer. What would a fast-food job possibly teach me about engineering?”

So, how does all this relate to decision-deficit disorder? To put it bluntly, young people who delay their entry into the workplace, postpone their development of the basic skills and understanding essential to thriving in ANY job. If you don’t develop these skills as an adolescent, you will have to develop them upon entry into a professional position in your early twenties. But then you will be saddled with developing not just those basic skills, but the skills of the professional-level job for which you have been hired. Is it any wonder then, that managers complain that so many of their young contributors lack “common sense?” When I’ve asked managers to explain what they mean by common sense, they describe the lack of these basic work skills and the confidence to use initiative on the job.

Is there a solution to all this? Yes, but it has to take place on a granular level. Our policy makers can’t enact common sense skills regulations. Employers can’t implement company-wide decision-making and take-initiative policies. It is up to individual supervisors to teach their young hires the critical thinking and problem-solving skills essential to contributing in a meaningful way.

The good news? Take comfort that when compelled to do so, most of these individuals come up to speed quickly. We just have to stop enabling them with policies and practices that reinforce their beliefs about avoiding discomfort and any sort of failure. Begin today. Whether they know it or not, this generation is depending upon you to help them to do so.