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Technology deepens generational rift in work place
The Jeffersonian ^ | 1/15/03 | Bob Allen

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."


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News
KEYWORDS: babyboomers; generationgap; genx; technology; workplace

1 posted on 01/20/2004 10:05:58 AM PST by qam1
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To: qam1; ItsOurTimeNow; PresbyRev; tortoise; Fraulein; StoneColdGOP; Clemenza; malakhi; m18436572; ...
Xer Ping

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.  

2 posted on 01/20/2004 10:07:59 AM PST by qam1 (Are Republicans the party of Reagan or the party of Bloomberg and Pataki?)
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To: qam1
>The Generation Xers (1960 to 1980).

I'm a Generation Xer? But I don't WANT a tongue stud!
3 posted on 01/20/2004 10:13:13 AM PST by Land of the Free 04
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To: qam1
"Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social aspects that directly effects Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1982) "

Surely people born in 1982 aren't Gen-Xer's!
4 posted on 01/20/2004 10:21:22 AM PST by ryanjb2
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To: qam1
"Studies I've seen show that outside the banking and insurance sectors, computers have done almost nothing for productivity," Desai said.

Because as we all know, the fastest way to publish a book or a newspaper is to set type by hand. And legal pleadings should be typed on a Selectric, each reinventing the wheel.
5 posted on 01/20/2004 10:22:09 AM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: qam1
I am on the early edge of baby boomers. I am also in a highly technical field. When I entered the field there were changes about every two years, pleanty of time to adjust and learn. Now changes are coming about every six months. Not near enough time to get used to something before something even newer arrives.

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.

6 posted on 01/20/2004 10:32:27 AM PST by CIB-173RDABN
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To: Xenalyte
And the slide rule is the best tool when you want to build a building or launch a rocket.

But actually I have been at a company where newer software has made things worse, Usually because the management (full of baby Boomers)had no clue and just picked the product based on what they thought looked the coolest and/or which salesman brought them the most beers.
7 posted on 01/20/2004 10:36:44 AM PST by qam1 (Are Republicans the party of Reagan or the party of Bloomberg and Pataki?)
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To: qam1
And don't forget that abacus . . . beats hell out of that HP 12c.

You're right about management throwing money at technology and thinking the company will become magically productive, though.
8 posted on 01/20/2004 10:40:50 AM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: qam1
Older people seem to be afraid that they will "break" new technology if they experiment with it. They also seem to be unwilling to learn new terminology which makes it difficult to explain technology.

The only way to learn is to explore the functions of new equipment and learn the terminology. It is immensely frustrating to try and explain new tech to someone who won't even learn the difference between RAM memory and hard drive memory.
9 posted on 01/20/2004 10:41:47 AM PST by MediaMole
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To: qam1
"Studies I've seen show that outside the banking and insurance sectors, computers have done almost nothing for productivity," Desai said.

I guess the AutoCAD I using daily has done nothing to speed up my work either. What a yutz.

10 posted on 01/20/2004 10:45:35 AM PST by Professional Engineer (Which side of Olympus Mons has the trout streams?)
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To: Xenalyte; qam1
"Studies I've seen show that outside the banking and insurance sectors, computers have done almost nothing for productivity," Desai said."

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.

11 posted on 01/20/2004 10:47:32 AM PST by expat_panama
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To: MediaMole
"It is immensely frustrating to try and explain new tech to someone who won't even learn the difference between RAM memory and hard drive memory."

And, therein lies your problem. RAM is memory; hard drive is storage, NOT memory.

I'm a boomer and been doin' this for over 30 years.
12 posted on 01/20/2004 10:54:47 AM PST by DustyMoment (Repeal CFR NOW!!)
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To: Xenalyte
Yeah, and we will completly ignore, Dell Computers while we are at it. Allright? All right. And the automotive industry (manufacturing), and grocery store check out lines, and yeah.

I wonder what these studies were?
13 posted on 01/20/2004 11:02:29 AM PST by NotQuiteCricket
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To: MediaMole
Older people seem to be afraid that they will "break" new technology if they experiment with it. They also seem to be unwilling to learn new terminology which makes it difficult to explain technology.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why Xena's Mom - a librarian with a master's degree - still uses AOL.
14 posted on 01/20/2004 11:05:40 AM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: DustyMoment
Yup, ya got me.
15 posted on 01/20/2004 11:05:40 AM PST by MediaMole
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To: NotQuiteCricket
Yeah, and we will completly ignore, Dell Computers while we are at it. Allright? All right. And the automotive industry (manufacturing), and grocery store check out lines, and yeah.

Oh, how I wish our Apple IIe were still alive. I'd set up Xena's Mom's AOL on that . . . somehow . . . and put up with the beotching for the humor.
16 posted on 01/20/2004 11:09:55 AM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: qam1
"Veterans, she said, had more a tendency to be "grumpy," "skeptical" or "fearful" when confronted with new technology."

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.

17 posted on 01/20/2004 11:10:46 AM PST by BlueLancer (Der Elite Møøsënspåånkængrüppen ØberKømmååndø (EMØØK))
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To: qam1; Marysecretary
THANKS,

MARY--PING--praying for your family . . .
18 posted on 01/20/2004 11:12:14 AM PST by Quix (Choose this day whom U will serve: Shrillery & demonic goons or The King of Kings and Lord of Lords)
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To: Xenalyte
BTW, I have a good red IBM Selectric that merely needs cleaned and serviced . . . anything better to do with it than to send it to the trash dump/landfill? Seems like such a waste.
19 posted on 01/20/2004 11:14:45 AM PST by Quix (Choose this day whom U will serve: Shrillery & demonic goons or The King of Kings and Lord of Lords)
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To: Xenalyte
Because as we all know, the fastest way to publish a book or a newspaper is to set type by hand.

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.

20 posted on 01/20/2004 11:18:56 AM PST by Agnes Heep
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To: MediaMole
Older people seem to be afraid that they will "break" new technology if they experiment with it.

And that's why this "older" person is afraid to enter
C:/format
C:/u/autotest

The young geeky kid in the next cube said "it would be ok, go ahead and try it."

21 posted on 01/20/2004 11:28:17 AM PST by ASA Vet (Don't ask me, I'm a AFQT group VI.)
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To: MediaMole
Older people seem to be afraid that they will "break" new technology if they experiment with it.

Based on my experiences with my mom and her computer, they're right.

22 posted on 01/20/2004 11:33:39 AM PST by Modernman (Providence protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America- Otto von Bismarck)
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To: expat_panama
"Studies I've seen show that outside the banking and insurance sectors, computers have done almost nothing for productivity," Desai said."

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.

23 posted on 01/20/2004 11:42:39 AM PST by cport
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To: ASA Vet
My mother has had a PC for about 4 years and uses it daily. The only things she can do with her computer is check email and list items on Ebay. Otherwise, she's clueless. She's has the machine for FOUR YEARS ! She can't copy and paste, save files, install programs, nothing. Amazing.
24 posted on 01/20/2004 11:53:44 AM PST by IDontLikeToPayTaxes
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To: cport
Also not taken into consideration was "posting to FR from work."

(Hey, that doesn't include ME, I'm doing this in a slack time while waiting for responses from other people)

25 posted on 01/20/2004 11:57:07 AM PST by thulldud (It's bad luck to be superstitious.)
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To: cport
the turnover rate would be exceedingly high if employers fired all offenders.

Only for the 1st bunch, their replacements would hear that the company was serious and would refrain.

26 posted on 01/20/2004 12:16:35 PM PST by ASA Vet (Don't ask me, I'm a AFQT group VI.)
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To: thulldud
(Hey, that doesn't include ME, I'm doing this in a slack time while waiting for responses from other people)

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.

27 posted on 01/20/2004 12:42:53 PM PST by expat_panama
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To: MediaMole
someone who won't even learn the difference between RAM memory and hard drive memory.

That's easy. Hard drive memory goes round and round like Babs Streisand's; RAM memory just sits there like Al Gore's.

28 posted on 01/20/2004 1:05:56 PM PST by meadsjn
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To: qam1
bump
29 posted on 01/20/2004 1:11:53 PM PST by VOA
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To: IDontLikeToPayTaxes
She's has the machine for FOUR YEARS ! She can't copy and paste, save files, install programs, nothing. Amazing.

Actually, that's about what I've seen with most friends over age 50.
But what is even more AMAZING is when people are in a workplace situation where
there is a "carrot and stick" set of incentives to leave the old IBM typewriter
behind and break on through to using a computer.
I saw this resistance to improvement in a group of clerical support staff at a
major university science department.
I think the boss threatened to break the knuckles of the luddites...but politics
eventually dictated putting up with the B.S. until the slugs took retirement.
(I don't like outsourcing...but it's too bad that boss couldn't threaten that
with that band of foot-draggers!)
30 posted on 01/20/2004 1:22:27 PM PST by VOA
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To: qam1
From the article: Veterans, she said, had more a tendency to be "grumpy, ..."

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.

31 posted on 01/20/2004 11:33:05 PM PST by William Tell
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