Technology: Creating a Great Divide Between Generations

Manage the Division in Your Workplace

Generations in the WorkplaceThere is no point in debating the benefits of technology in the workplace. From email to project sharing software, cloud access to remote connectivity, its obvious businesses are better off with technology than without. But, differing ages, perceptions and comfort levels lead to workplace issues and clashes when technology is seen and used in different ways.

Generational differences are often evident in the workplace and can create challenges, especially when the technology toys come out. When the dust settles, there is often a great divide – not between mac users and PC users, but between those of different generations.

Fact: Technology advances in leaps and bounds, despite the 1949 statement by Sir Charles Darwin: “it is very possible that…one machine would suffice to solve all the problems that are demanded of it from the whole country”.

Fact: Technology is synonymous with business. The two are mutually inclusive and cannot exist without the other.

Fact: Generations work side by side and they are all expected to utilize and optimize the same technology in the same manner to achieve the same level of success.

In my consulting and training with different companies, I collect data, rather unintentionally. From this, I have seen some commonalities amongst the Baby Boomers (in 2015) aged 51 – 68, Generation X aged 35 – 50 and Generation Y aged 13 – 34. My observations are meant to be generic in nature considerate of anomalies.

Generational findings:

All three of these groups agree on the following themes:

  1. Communication is important
  2. Time together is sought after
  3. Respect is key

While this illustrates a common perspective, the dilemma is that each generation’s interpretation of those three points is unique and this impacts workplace dynamics.

Communication is key

Boomers work best with set routines and face-to-face communication.   Gen Xs prefer any means of communication as long as it is efficient and promotes their independence. Gen Ys insist on communication via technology: the fastest available, continuous, non-stop and without boundaries.

Togetherness is important

Boomers like to have everyone together in the same space on a regular, consistent and predictable schedule. They see this time as special and highly interactive. Gen Xs prefer togetherness that facilitates work/life balance. They prefer the connectedness that technology offers because it is efficient while time together is enjoyed when it respects the busyness of life and is planned in advance. For Gen Ys, connecting via technology and in person are both enjoyable.   This generation is highly sociable even though everyone believes they are “on tech” all the time. They believe in talking and interacting without rules, barriers or boundaries and they do appreciate togetherness as a sign of acceptance and inclusion. As long as togetherness is positive (no whiners or complainers) they will stay and engage.

Respect . . . earned or given?

Although the three groups concur about respect being important, they have very different ideas on how it is shown. The Boomers consider taking the time to listen as respect. Although there is a tendency for Boomers to lecture and speak without listening, they feel they should be heard based solely on their age and experience. Gen Xs on the other hand prefer autonomy and freedom to independently manage their roles, responsibilities and tasks. They feel respected when left to manage their own time. Gen Ys believe it is a two-way street with respect given to everyone regardless of age. Their measure of respect is being part of something. To be invited to participate and involved in “something” where everyone’s thoughts and opinions matter, whether on a social level or project/team level.

How each generation sees the three themes of importance to them:

Baby Boomers Generation X Generation Y
Communication Face to face Efficient Technology
Time Together Routine Family balance Continuous
Respect Listen Independence Involvement

With the different technology comfort levels, as well as perceptions around communication, togetherness and respect, the best ways to connect with each generation are generally:

Baby Boomer Generation X Generation Y
Technology Email Most efficient Newest (aka fastest)

Boomers are not crazy about computers or devices and have gotten on the technology train with reluctance and significant apprehension. Their careers and education came before technology so adding it later in life has been frustrating, challenging and a pain in the butt. They are even more opposed because of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy common among them. Boomers tolerate technology because they have to in order to keep their jobs and as a means to communicate with family and friends.

Gen Xs are more diverse when it comes to technology and this coincides with when they were born. The early Xs born 1965 to 1972 can have preferences or feelings towards technology similar to Boomers: They don’t like it, don’t need it and find it more trouble than it is worth. The late Xs had some technology when they were born so they have accepted, adapted and some even (God forbid), liked it and excelled with it. For them, getting on board was more about keeping pace than change of pace and some closely resemble Gen Ys enthusiasm. For these later Xs, there is excitement around technology and what it can do to make life and learning simpler, easier and tasks swifter, contributing positively to work/life balance.

Gen Ys are extremely different from the first two groups because they need technology and excel in its use. That being said, they don’t see it as “excelling”, they simply feel they use technology the way it is supposed to be used . . . continuously. This generation sees technology as essential as oxygen, water and food. Not only was technology present when they were born, but it was also very much prevalent. It has been a natural extension to whatever they were doing – school, activities, sports, social, travel and family. Gen Ys aren’t concerned about the type of device they use, they only measure if it is fast and powerful enough to meet their needs. There isn’t a personal attachment to a specific device, but they must have a device to keep them connected 100% of the time.

It isn’t just generational differences that make technology challenging.   Different thoughts, comfort levels and approaches to technology are individual, regardless of generation, and every employee is given the same technology to accomplish their tasks. Three generations and the individuals within them will react differently to this uniformity because of knowledge, comfort, ease and openness to learning and change.

No wonder collaboration and cooperation can be difficult to achieve when communication, time together and respect are common goals with different expectations and vastly different technological expectations. Look at how the different generations would prefer to communicate:

  • Boomers prefer to walk the 30 feet to discuss something face to face
  • Gen X prefer to email to allow for freedom of time management
  • Gen Y prefer to research it themselves and send links to further subject matter

Ideas for change in the workplace:

When it comes to different generations in the workplace, it is important to stop doing what does not work. In the same way that technology advances, businesses need to get out of the box and create new ways to do things or put a different twist on how some tasks are accomplished. It might be necessary to establish a set of workplace communication guidelines that accommodate generational differences and accentuate individual strengths. Here are two examples showing how to incorporate generational differences and meet technology needs:

When tackling a new initiative or project be sure to:

  1. present the problem (all generations) and the goal/outcome (primarily appeals to gen X) and strike a committee (primarily appeals to gen Y)
  2. request research (from gen Y), subject matter experts (from gen X) and like conditions (from Boomers)
  3. ask for background (from Boomers) or historical information (from gen Y) and best practices (from gen X)
  4. create a set of steps (all generations) and implement the steps (for Boomers) in a gradual or phased fashion (for X & Y)
  5. Hold staff meetings that include:
    • regular schedule – weekly is too often, tri-weekly or monthly is good
    • provision of an agenda early and clarify the intent of each item
      • for information, for discussion, for debate/voting, future plan, etc.
    • train a regular chairperson who can facilitate inclusion and master technology
    • using modern technology to allow different attendance options
      • video conference, teleconferences, webinar style programs, etc.
    • if certain aspects require more frequent meetings, encourage those on a committee or small group basis

Because of differing styles and comfort levels, using multiple methods to meet, discuss and share ideas will acknowledge generational differences and increase respect for individual preferences. Avoiding the one size fits all philosophy when communicating, managing and leading people can create a culture of adapting, complimenting and learning while mentoring. This approach also helps staff recognize different generational preferences and comfort levels to allow everyone to become more inclusive in their approach.

At Pam Paquet & Associates Performance Management we work with companies who are ready to stop doing what does not work. If your staff get bogged down because of generational differences check out our Building Better Bosses Program or contact us at or 604-349-8660. We are ready to help them understand different generations and manage them better.

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