Skip to comments.Technology deepens generational rift in work place
Posted on 01/20/2004 10:05:58 AM PST by qam1
Generational tensions have always existed in the workplace, just as they exist in every other facet of life.
Yet many see a deepening of generational rifts arising from the different ways that different age groups of workers either adapt or fail to adapt, and either embrace or resist the technology now involved in nearly every form of commercial enterprise.
Dr. Gloria Wren, an assistant professor of information systems and operational management at the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola College, has spent a great deal of time studying these technology-related inter-generational tensions and the impact they have on productivity, profits and the human dynamics of the workplace.
In a recent presentation to members of Loyola's Center for Closely Held Firms called "Generational Differences and Technological Change," Wren also offered some broadstroke suggestions for dealing with such tensions and minimizing their impact on a company's bottom line.
Wren's presentation was drawn in large part from a book-length compilation of studies on the subject called Generations At Work: Managing the Clashes of Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Nexters in the Workplace, published by the American Management Association.
"The contention of the book is that we are in a unique time in terms of generational differences" in the workplace Wren said.
What makes the era unique, she explained, is that in today's workplace members of four distinct generations often work side by side.
Complications often arise, according to Wren, because each generation not only has distinct attitudes toward technology, but also unique perspectives on the work ethic, distinctive learning styles, distinct methods of managing and being managed and distinct views on life, work and the relationship between the two.
Citing Generations At Work, Wren defined the four generational archetypes:
>The Veterans (those born from 1922 to 1943).
>The Baby Boomers (1943 to 1960).
>The Generation Xers (1960 to 1980).
>The Nexters (1980 and later).
Veterans, she said, had more a tendency to be "grumpy," "skeptical" or "fearful" when confronted with new technology. "They are also fearful of failing in the eyes of the younger groups," Wren added.
This fear of failure is often complicated by the fact that older workers are often slower to master new computer software and hardware.
Baby Boomers, by contrast, tended to be more self-confident. "They try to keep up with technology ... and they are also not as rule-oriented and much less hierarchial" than Veterans.
Generation Xers, in comparison, "have grown up with computers, so technology is no big deal," Wren added. "And they tend to be very mobile in the workforce. If they find a better opportunity, they're gone."
The Nexters have their own distinct traits. They tend to be a smart, clever, Internet-savvy and optimistic bunch and "they want things to be very fast and interconnected," Wren said. "They'd rather figure things out for themselves. Generally, they feel they don't need to be trained."
Finding ways to accommodate these differences in the workplace and create team work instead of factionalism and conflict will be a greater challenge in coming years, Wren said. She cited Labor Department statistics saying that the American workforce is, overall, not only becoming more ethnically and sexually diverse, but also is getting older.
At the same time, technology will become even more more ubiquitous in the workplace. According to the department, the five fastest growing occupations are computer related.
The anecdotal experiences of the business owners and managers attending Wren's talk often mirrored her observations on generational tensions.
Suzanne Elliott, a human relations manager and MBA candidate at Loyola, says she's experienced such tensions among the 200 employees she manages. "Some of them are just out of high school, some in their sixties, with technical skills all over the place," she added.
"I love the older workers," Elliott added. "They're on time; they work hard; they don't bring the baggage that younger ones bring. But they are much slower at coming up to speed on new technology."
Several younger workers also expressed frustration over having to use clumsy, outmoded computers and software. An intern at a large financial firm lamented that hedge fund information she needed to access on a daily basis was still in a clunky, DOS-based program.
Wren cited a case study that one of her Generation X students did on the company where the student worked, which highlighted how the generational divide can manifest itself.
The Gen Xer said his employer, the Baby Boomer president of the company, still demands that all spreadsheets be compiled by doing the mathematical computations on a calculator, then manually entering the results.
Another Boomer at the company was so apprehensive of information technology that he still insisted on using paper forms long after the rest of the industry has migrated to an electronic format.
The Gen Xer also complained of Baby Boomer coworkers' tendencies to claim computer expertise while repeatedly asking for advice in operating standard office programs.
Others in the audience expressed a more general skepticism of business's headlong rush to embrace "the newest, shiniest and brightest" in technology. The problem, some agreed, is that too many businesses woefully under-utilize their systems, yet continue to buy newer and more expensive versions as they come on the market. The result is often increased inefficiencies instead of better production.
Robert B. Curran, an attorney and partner in the law firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, a sponsor of such Loyola Center presentations, described himself as a member of "The Luddites Club."
"My own personal belief," Curran added, only half joking, "is that the decline of western civilization began with the advent of the fax machine."
Surprisingly, Harsha Desai, a professor of management at Loyola and director of the Center for Closely Held Firms, agreed, at least to some extent.
"Studies I've seen show that outside the banking and insurance sectors, computers have done almost nothing for productivity," Desai said.
To do this, she adds, it is important that more and more companies become "learning organizations" that both require and encourage employees to train in new technologies by incorporating technological objectives into employee performance evaluations while offering rewards to employees who embrace such training and voluntarily take new technology courses.
"A company needs to reward what it wants to see in terms of behavior," Wren says.
Wren offers additional guidelines for easing tensions and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance among different age groups and their attitudes toward technology and preferred methods of learning:
>Use different levels of technology training for different employees. For instance, give employees the choice among taking beginner, intermediate or advanced training on a particular new technology or software program.
"One shoe doesn't fit all," Wren said. "Geeks prefer to figure out (new technology) for themselves, but you may want to use instruction with older employees."
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social aspects that directly effects Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1982) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details.
My field is also evolving so that we need more computer and network knowledge. I was hoping to retire before this last wave hit, but here I am. What is difficult for me is that I have to study hard to keep up, while some of the younger ones seem to absorb this stuff by osmosis.
The only saving grace for me, is we have a very long technology trail with a lot of older equipment. The new turks are not interested in the old stuff, and so do not work on it. I guess they will keep me around until that last old piece of equipment is retired, we me just behind it.
I guess the AutoCAD I using daily has done nothing to speed up my work either. What a yutz.
OK, You beat me to the quote; but first job as an engineer had me doing calculations by adding logarithms (ask your Dad)-- and I've GOT toss in my 2 cents also.
I see two possible reasons that Bob Allen botched so bad. One possibility is that he's a typical mainstream twit who makes up his factoids. The other possibility is that (as Samuel Goldwyn once said) 'nobody knows nottin'-- especially about productivity.
Take trucking: imagine UPS without tracking data or digital signatures --sheesh! Productivity is production per manhour. If we define trucking production as 'freight-ton-miles', and some computer geek figures how to reroute the trucks to make all the deliveries with routes half as long, then our 'productivity' plummets.
Unlike old time manufacturing, the services are notoriously difficult to measure. The Gov't tracks seven different kinds of shoe manufacturing, but classifies Mc Donalds in the same tables as Four Seasons. But like it or not, services are 60 percent of the gdp, 75 percent of employment, and 90 percent of new jobs.
And these 'studies' based on gov't data haven't a clue.
Describes me to a T ... I was using a Selectric typewritter to transcribe my records of trial until about five years ago when my supply NCO refused to purchase any more typewriter ribbons, forcing me to go to computers.
I live by the motto best described by "Oddball" in Kelly's Heroes
Oh, man, I just ride in 'em ... I don't know what makes 'em work.
My first career was in phototypesetting, and I can tell you it was a time-consuming process to set a book--everything had to be keyed in and coded by hand, from original manuscripts. Computers revolutionized the industry, cost me my career, and gave me a new one in networking at almost the same time.
And that's why this "older" person is afraid to enter
The young geeky kid in the next cube said "it would be ok, go ahead and try it."
Based on my experiences with my mom and her computer, they're right.
Not taken into consideration is that any gain in productivity was offset by Nextgenners' feeling they have a "right" to surf the net, download music, etc. while on company time. Even if employers use spyware, new employees' sophistication have found ways to defeat the process, not to mention that so many do it, the turnover rate would be exceedingly high if employers fired all offenders.
(Hey, that doesn't include ME, I'm doing this in a slack time while waiting for responses from other people)
Only for the 1st bunch, their replacements would hear that the company was serious and would refrain.
Don't knock it-- it worked for me for 15 years. Although I never did see a promotion. No problem, I'm doing so much better self-employed with internet work than I'd ever done even with promotions.
That's easy. Hard drive memory goes round and round like Babs Streisand's; RAM memory just sits there like Al Gore's.
As an older "Boomer", I worked with many "Veteran" engineers in my career. I arrived at work one morning to find that one of them, who was an early riser, was sitting at his desk sulking, with his PC protruding precariously from the top of his waste basket. The word "grumpy" doesn't do it justice.
This same engineer, who earned his living at a draftboard in the first half of his career, returned after retirement to do contract work and was more knowledgeable about the use of Excel spreadsheets than anyone I have ever worked with. Somewhere along the line I think it just started making sense to use the new technology.