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Mind the generation gap in the workplace

Three colleagues of different ages listening to a business presentation

Half of companies (51%) now employ three or more generations. How should businesses navigate the multigenerational workplace?

Clear digital communication guidelines and support for collaboration across generations are needed to help diverse age groups work together effectively, according to a new study.

'Digital Etiquette: Mind the generational gap' uncovered differences in communication styles and attitudes to technology between younger and older workers.

Conflicts over digital tools were reported in 90% of teams, with 60% acknowledging that these disagreements hamper productivity and collaboration. Among the issues identified were misinterpretations of tone or context (43%), mismatched response time expectations (33%) and confusion over digital expressions like emojis (33%).

The report was produced by digital transformation specialist The Adaptavist Group based on a survey of 4,000 knowledge workers (including ICT professionals, physicians, pharmacists, architects, engineers, scientists, design thinkers, public accountants, lawyers, editors and academics) across the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Germany.

Shared desire to be seen as individuals

The digital divide extends to generational working styles, with 53% of Gen Z employees envious of older colleagues' phone confidence. At the same time, however, 47% of this younger cohort believe that older workers slow things down with dated techniques and 65% claim that more senior colleagues struggle with technology.

Both Gen Z (57%) and older workers (40%) are adopting more digital tools, but email remains the number one application for 70% of all workers across generations.

For almost a quarter (24%) of all employees, AI is now the most used tool. Although Gen Z leads adoption at 32%, 12% of workers over 50 years old are using AI platforms like ChatGPT more than any other tool. However, 67% of employees worry that AI may widen generational divides and 70% believe it may accelerate Gen Z's workplace ascendancy.

Beneath perceived generational stereotypes, such as labelling Millennials as 'lazy' and Boomers as 'bossy', the research found a shared desire among all workers to be seen as individuals. And more than half recognise the value in generational diversity, including its potential to boost creativity and productivity (60%).

"Often, we deploy stereotyping around age in a way we would never do around sexuality, gender or race," commented Dr Eliza Filby, historian of generational evolution. "In this individualistic age, it is not surprising that we are starting to reject such a reductive approach. Instead, understanding and unpicking differences can generate a better workplace if we make an effort to comprehend each other's unique perspectives and understand someone born in a different time."

Tech skills, soft skills

The traditional workplace model of trickle-down knowledge is being disrupted and the different generations have something to learn from each other, Dr Filby believes.

For instance, digital-native young people are armed with tech skills they can teach their elders, and older workers often have essential soft skills that younger colleagues need to master. Skill-swapping helps workplaces get away from a culture of age stereotypes and ageism.

Successfully managing an intergenerational workforce is not about boxing people into generational categories, but recognising there may be areas of difference and starting a conversation. Give all generations a say in how you can be more productive as a multigenerational organisation.

"With an ageing workforce and upwards of four generations in today's workforce, managing and leveraging generational differences is essential for any forward-thinking business," Dr Filby said.

Posted by Fidelius on April 2nd 2024

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