Today’s average workforce is made up of four generations of workers. By this time next year, however, that number will rise to five generations – with employees across a wide age spectrum working side by side for the first time in history. Fast-forwarding to 2025 and millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce.
While different generations share similar drives such as career ambitions, reports into multigenerational workforces including CompTIA’s 2018 research, highlight concerns around a rapidly growing technological generation gap.
These studies emphasize that in 2019 there's a huge disparity in attitudes towards technology. Baby Boomers (aka “digital immigrants”) typically get their news from TV, read a book to relax and – gasp! – still post letters. On the other hand, hyperconnected Generation Z (who spend an average of five hours a day on their phones) consume current affairs via trending hashtags, browse their Instagram feeds to unwind and prefer Whatsapp to keep in touch with friends.
With technology accelerating at an ever-increasing rate, the difference in digital literacy and ability between generations has never been starker. But what exactly is the definition of the technological generation gap? And what implications does this have for that most crucial of locations where all generations coexist – the workplace?
What is the technological generation gap?
From smartphones and tablets to apps and social media, society is ambushed from all sides with technology. Naturally, all generations embrace it differently, with younger “digital natives” generally being more connected, more switched-on and more tech literate than older age groups.
According to Pew Research, 92% of Millennials (born 1981–1996) own smartphones, compared with 85% of Gen Xers (born 1965–1980) and 67% of Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964). In terms of tech behavior, older generations tend to use their phones mostly for making calls, whereas for younger generations, a phone is their digital window to the world. Phones are used for social media, going online, texting, emailing, playing games, listening to music, and recording and watching videos.
The daily media consumption of different generations also vastly differs. Gen Z and Millennials favor streaming and online services, with 46% of teens saying they use Netflix compared to 31% of those aged over 16. Furthermore, 16-24s spend 30% of their downtime watching TV or video, compared to 40% of time spent on these activities by the average UK adult. Boomers spend a whopping 344 minutes a day watching regular TV, significantly more than any other age group.
Size also matters more depending on your decade of birth. Younger generations prefer smaller screens sizes, opting for a smartphone as their go-to tech, while Generation X and technology newbies - the Boomers, are going bigger, owning more desktops and tablets.
Always in the front of the queue for the hottest tech, younger generations see technology as an integral part of their existence, and since few Millennials and Gen Z can remember a time without social media, they’re more fearless and carefree when it comes to technology. So much so, that a LivePerson report revealed 65% of Millennials and Gen Z interact more with each other online than they do in the real world.
Don’t lump Gen Z and Millennials together though, there are measurable differences between each young generation and technology that they use. Marketo has established key contrasts; Gen Z has five screens, communicates with images, creates things, is future focused and a realist, while Millennials have two screens, communicate with text, shares things, are focused on the present and are optimistic.
Fundamentally, these behaviors and preferred technologies combine to create a technological generation gap, where employees, shaped by their personal experiences, demonstrate different levels of ability (and willingness) to adopt new tech. Constantly chasing the next update or device, switched on Millennials and Gen Z are quick to lap up the latest apps, games, and platforms, while Gen X and Boomers are generally slower to embrace technology - both at home and in the workplace.
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The technological generation gap in working life
Catering for the diverse digital habits and capabilities of each generation is key for managing the generation gap in modern work life and attracting multigenerational talent.
To working Millennials, technology means flexibility. From cloud-based platforms to video conferencing, they’ve embraced the freedom of remote working and the change in work culture that technology affords them. How a company embraces technology is so important to this tech generation that 71% say it influences whether or not they take a job at the business in question.
Gen Z, who are currently entering the workforce, are even hungrier for sophisticated enterprise tech. According to a Dell report, 80% want to work with cutting-edge technology to satisfy their tech-literacy skills - rated by 73% as good or excellent.
Arming your team with the latest tech solutions to appeal to younger generations does however yield tricky generation gap problems, especially when older employees are expected to keep up with the pace that comes naturally to their younger colleagues.
CompTIA revealed half of Millennials felt older workers are too rigid and set in their ways. Echoing concerns around a workplace divide, nearly half of Gen X workers said their older employees were not as technologically skilled. Boomer’s views on younger generations are equally damning; two-thirdsonsider Millennials as disloyal, and six in ten felt younger employees seemed entitled.
It’s easy to see how generation gap issues in work life can result in workplace tensions and hinder vital processes of team collaboration. Add to this the issue of different levels of tech adoption, and you’ve got potentially worrying effects of the generation gap on productivity, culture, and output.
Solutions for bridging the technological generation gap
Despite the reality of the digital divide, the generation gap in modern work life can be overcome with the culprit itself - technology. Technology chosen and adopted in the right way can be used as an enabler rather than a divider by smart businesses.
When introducing any software or platform into your technology stack, consider all levels of ability within your workforce. Although AI powered programs are now designed to eliminate much of the training process (with automatic prompts or videos guiding users through its features), not all employees will feel confident with this digital guide. Offering regular and interactive training sessions for those who need it, plus easy access to technical support will make sure employees are on a more even tech-powered playing field.
Educating your workforce on the benefits of a tech-first workplace can also shift negative perceptions around adopting new platforms and even incentivize employees to get on board with innovative and evolving enterprise technologies. Just as Millennials enjoy the flexibility of remote working, the long list of benefits associated with cloud-based software applies to all age groups. Baby Boomers can also forgo their daily commute to fit work around their commitments, such as spending more time with their family. They too can be happier and more productive as a result of tech-enabled mobile working. Technology should empower all users and isn’t exclusive to younger generations.
Choosing software that is complex in its backend but user-friendly in its interface, also ensures even the least tech-savvy of workers can easily benefit from tech solutions. If a system is too complex, even younger generations will start operating outside your intended infrastructure.
Templafy is extremely intuitive for users yet combines advanced cloud and AI technologies to automate the process of document creation (cutting the time it takes to produce documents, emails, and presentations by up to 50%). Accessible from any device - whether it’s your Millennial preferred smartphone or Baby Boomer desktop, Templafy seamlessly integrates directly into Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook - so users never have to leave the Office platform to search for content or templates. Employees get all the benefits of maximized productivity and full compliance from within the document they’re already working on.
Templafy also integrates with the document management systems and digital asset management software your firm is already using to create one centralized asset library, full of pre-approved assets such as images, logos, and best practice templates. With this in place, every member of your team has access to the same resources (rather than wasting time hunting around search engines or reusing dated style elements).