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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

This Is Millennials’ Most Embarrassing Secret

May 04, 2015

Today’s young adults are establishing their careers, but their lack of technological prowess is costing their employers big-time. Yes, you read that right. In spite of growing up having the Internet in the palms of their hands, these so-called “digital natives” have a yawning knowledge gap that’s not apparent until they get into the office.

“Most Gen Ys grew up accustomed to using social media and texting for communicating and collaborating and haven’t had to use email or spreadsheets extensively,” explains Chris Pope, senior director of strategy at technology services company ServiceNow.

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And unfortunately for them, programs like Outlook and Excel are the technologies most companies in America still rely on to get stuff done. Being able to summon a car, book a table or send a birthday gift with the tap of a finger is great, but this kind of streamlined experience isn’t the norm in most workplaces, and young workers just can’t deal. “Many are only introduced to those tools when they enter the workforce and have to change their natural way of engaging to better match the way everyone else in the enterprise is working," Pope says. "In many ways, Gen Y have to go backwards to use less efficient technology in the office than they use in their personal lives."

And millennials' technology problem isn’t limited to functions like emailing and creating spreadsheets. Researchers have found that a lot of young adults can’t even use Google correctly. One study of college students found that only seven out of 30 knew how to conduct a “well-executed” Google search.

“When it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy,” an article in Inside Higher Ed says about the study. “They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources.”

Not knowing how to use the most common tools for basic business and administrative tasks is staggeringly expensive for companies. A survey from ServiceNow of more than 900 managers finds that ServiceNow finds that American companies spend a collective $575 billion a year on administrative overhead.

“Busywork is pervasive,” Pope says.

Managers spend an average of 15 hours a week on administrative busywork — everything from making and following up on requests for technical support to submitting purchase orders. Completing these mundane tasks is often a drawn-out affair, requiring five to nine different contacts in 40% of cases. What’s more, less-adept younger workers are likelier to have more of these tasks assigned to them just by virtue of the fact that they’re the “low man on the totem pole,” Pope says. Millennials spend 43% of their time on administrative work, far more than baby boomers. “They may have to pay their dues with a greater number of administrative tasks than more senior managers have,” Pope says.

Pope says the best way for young workers to handle this is to look for tasks they can automate, since manual data-entry, follow-up and the like is both time-consuming and prone to errors. “The more you can bypass the manual aspects of work, the more productive you can be,” he says.

Read next: Are Millennials Really Lazy at Work?

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Do Not Email First Thing in the Morning or Last Thing at Night “The former scrambles your priorities and all your plans for the day and the latter just gives you insomnia,” says Ferriss, who insists “email can wait until 10am” or after you check off at least one substantive to-do list item.Chris Pecoraro—Getty Images
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