3 Ways Technology Both Widens and Bridges the Generational Divide at Work
APRIL 03, 2017
This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on March 24, 2017.
What do an iOS developer, a social media intern, a UX designer and a big data architect have in common? Just ten years ago, their job titles were rare or didn't exist at all.
Today, these titles are a dime a dozen for young professionals. In 2008, there were zero big data architects on LinkedIn; in 2013, there were 3,440. Given the sudden rise in titles like this, it may not come as a surprise that nearly 70 percent of parents admit they don't have a clear understanding of their children's jobs.
The rapid evolution of technology has led to a surge in the use of digital tools in the workplace and, in some cases, has created entirely new industries. But it's also created a gap between generations.
Here, we explore three ways the evolution of tech has changed the relationship between employees of different generations, and how companies can embrace both the unique opportunities and the unique challenges of a multigenerational workforce.
1) Technology Changes the Way Generations Communicate
More than 74 percent of millennials feel that new technology makes their lives easier, compared to just 31 percent of Generation X, and 18 percent of Boomers.
Younger generations simply have a different outlook when it comes to technology, and that translates directly into their attitudes at work. For example, younger workers may come to meetings armed with their smartphones to take notes, or find information using the Internet or Twitter. Older workers, on the other hand, tend to stick to a notepad and pencil. These choices can be perceived as rude or antiquated, depending who you ask.
As more companies move away from email as a primary mode of communication and towards digital tools like Google Hangouts and group messaging applications, this divide can quickly grow. For Simon Rakosi, co-founder of management training software company Butterfly, the true tipping point in workplaces embracing technology has been the normalization of tools such as Slack.
"Slack is truly the embodiment of the millennial generation's view on work culture. It's fast, it's instant and it has personality," he says. "For people who have been in the workforce for decades, Slack might be a jarring transition away from emails and memos."
However, while the moms and dads of older generation workers may have a different approach to communication, it doesn't mean this gap can't be closed. There are many ways HR leaders can ease the transition into new technologies, such as mentoring programs to encourage cross-generational knowledge sharing.
2) Technology Creates a New Set of Workplace Skills
The rise of technology has also created a demand for tech skills: A study from Manpower Group found that 39 percent of U.S. employers have stated that they have difficulty hiring new employees because of a lack of available talent.
When they do find talent, it's typically in the younger employee. The median age of workers at successful tech companies is well below 35. Elizabeth Gibson, editor and messaging strategist at EZ Landlord Forms, says she confronts this skills gap everyday with her clients. The landlords she deals with are either tech-savvy or only have hard-copy expertise.
"Generation is the single biggest predictor for difficulty," she explains. Gibson says the company is bridging this skills gap by simplifying forms to make them as intuitive as possible.
But while older generations may find themselves puzzled by the buzzwords and language their children use to describe their jobs, that doesn't mean their kids are performing job duties beyond their reach or understanding. Remember: Every generation has experienced change and can learn new skills.
3) Technology Affects the Perception of Work-Life Balance
Younger generations of workers place a high value on creativity, innovation and flexibility in the workplace, which can lead to tension with older generations who may appreciate the more traditional work model—putting in time and paying dues, and then going home for the day.
As mobile and remote workers become a larger part of the workforce, companies are embracing digital collaboration and communication models that make remote work more effective. While younger workers perceive this technology as a perk allowing them to be productive from anywhere, older generations may see these trends in a more negative light.
To combat this, companies should position benefits like remote work and tech-driven communication tools as policies that value every generation's flexible needs: A young millennial may have a side-gig they want to work on in the evening, a Gen Xer might need to pick up their kids from school and Baby Boomer may need to care for an aging parent. By putting forward policies designed to serve everyone, companies can take advantage of diverse talent and actually use technology to bridge many of the gaps it has created.
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