3 Ways Technology Influences Generational Divides at Work

Used smartly, new tech can help resolve many of the same differences it's helped magnify -- including gaps in communication, skill sets and work-life balance.

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By Kim Cassady • Mar 3, 2017 Originally published Mar 3, 2017

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What do an iOS developer, a social media intern, a UX designer and a big-data architect have in common? As recently as 10 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. (It might not come as a surprise that nearly 70 percent of parents admit they don't have a clear understanding of their children's jobs).

Technology's rapid evolution has led to a surge of digital tools in the workplace. In some cases, it's created entirely new industries. But it's also created a gap between generations. If companies hope to address the challenges of a multigenerational workforce, it's critical for leaders to embrace these differences as opportunities.

1. Technology changes the way generations communicate.

More than 74 percent of millennials believe new technology makes their lives easier, compared to 31 percent of Generation X and just 18 percent of Baby 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 might bring their smartphones to take notes at meetings or find information online or via social apps such as 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 whom you ask.

Related: 4 Ways Businesses Can Bridge the New Generation Gap

This divide quickly can grow as more companies move away from email as a primary mode of communication and toward digital tools like Google Hangouts and group-messaging applications. For Simon Rakosi, cofounder of management training software company Butterfly, the true tipping point has been the normalization of tools such as Slack. Companies use use the instant-messaging platform to enable real-time communication among employees.

"Slack is truly the embodiment of the millennial generation's view on work culture," Rakosi says. "It's fast, it's instant, and it has personality. For people who have been in the workforce for decades, Slack might be a jarring transition away from emails and memos."

That doesn't mean this gap can't be closed. There are many ways leaders can ease the transition into new technologies. Mentoring programs, for example, can encourage cross-generational knowledge sharing in both directions.

Related: The Generation Gap at this IT Firm Has Nearly Disappeared. Two Staffers Explain How.

2. Technology creates a new set of workplace skills.

The rise of technology also has created a demand for tech skills. A study from Manpower Group revealed a lack of available talent has caused 39 percent of U.S. employers difficulty in hiring new employees.

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 every day 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.

Older generations may find themselves puzzled by the buzzwords their children use to describe their jobs. But the confusion around language doesn't mean their kids are performing job duties beyond their reach or understanding. Every generation has experienced change and can learn new skills.

Related: 7 Ways to Help Your Employees Become Better Problem-Solvers

3. Technology affects the perception of work-life balance.

Younger workers place high value on creativity, innovation and flexibility in the workplace. That can lead to tension with older generations who may appreciate the more traditional work model -- putting in time, 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. Younger workers perceive this technology as a perk that empowers them to be productive from anywhere, but older generations may see these trends in a more negative light.

Related: Age and Experience Don't Matter. Mindset Does.

To combat this, companies should position remote work, tech-driven communication tools and related benefits as policies that value every generation's flexible needs. A young millennial may have a side-gig she want to work on in the evening, a Gen Xer might need to pick up his kids from school, and a Baby Boomer may need to care for an aging parent. Putting forward policies designed to serve everyone allows companies to take advantage of diverse talent and use technology to bridge many of the gaps it has created.

Kim Cassady

VP of Talent at Cornerstone OnDemand

Kimberly Cassady is the Vice President of Talent at Cornerstone OnDemand. In this role, Kimberly drives all internal talent initiatives for Cornerstone’s more than 1,600 global employees, including talent acquisition, talent operations and compliance, learning and development, global engagement, compensation and benefits, and facilities and administration.

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