The Digital Divide may be a matter of mind over matter, not age versus youth
TPerception vs. Reality
he science known as demographics often produces a tendency to categorize people by age-groups into pigeonholes which predetermine their destinies. Even the slightest subconscious stereotype puts labels on our workforce and divides them into categories, assigning them immutable characteristics of different generations. Boomers always behave this way, Gen X’ers invariably do this, and the GenY or Millennials are once again up to that. Intergenerational squabbles are beginning to emerge into the limelight to create a different kind of friction, exacerbated by legacy thoughts and new speeds of technologies. According to some recent research from the Ricoh Americas Corporation, many older workers are questioning their younger colleagues’commitment to the job, while younger workers are skeptical of the competence of older workers.
For example, in the survey of more than 1,000 working adults age 18 and over conducted by Harris Poll, nearly seven in 10 workers (69 percent) say younger workers are frustrating when it comes to work ethic. In large part, that perception seems to come from a failure on the part of younger employees to adopt that time-honored badge of the Boomer work ethic,‘staying late at the office.’
However another poll has found that the institution of the 40hour workweek is now a thing of the past for the vast majority of American workers. In fact, this survey, conducted by collaboration software and services provider PGi, revealed that 71 percent of American workers say they take work home at least one day per week. And 60 percent rely on technology to automate processes to be more productive.
Thus with work/life boundaries blurring and the demise of the 9-to-5 workday, staying late at the office may just not be as meaningful to GenY. After all, they’re connected 24/7 anyway and seem to have no trouble taking work home.
Born on the Web
Who are today’s teachers in life? Remember, life much like work is a process of continued education. Ricoh survey results also found that 48 percent of workers say it’s the younger employees who are the new professors on the edge of today’s technologies.
Is the digital divide among generations a result of different life experiences? Remember, GenYers have never known a world without the Internet. For them the online world is inseparable from their“real world.”Older workers, on the other hand, are more apt to see the Internet as a layer of experience – albeit a valuable and useful layer – that augments their real world.
In like manner, digital communications are as natural and valid as face-to-face conversations for younger workers, while their older compatriots may find digital communications an inadequate, or worse yet, inferior substitute for face-to-face interactions.
Referring to the divide as Generation Gap 2.0, Terrie Campbell, vice president, strategic marketing for Ricoh Americas Corporation, notes that while this new technology-driven, age-sensitive rift “doesn’t pervade the culture like the original generation gap did, it’s no less a real phenomenon.”
And like the original Generation Gap of the 1960s, in addition to the changes wrought by technology, Generation Gap 2.0 brings with it the usual perennial variations in the world views of people in diverse phases of their lives – differences in family status, career choices, financial situations, to name a few.
Leaders today need to be cognizant of signs of a generationally challenged work environment. “It’s more of an undercurrent, a subtext, and definitely something business leaders need to manage,”Campbell says.“It has serious implications for teams, employee training and mentor relationships.”
While different generations have varying world views, work ethic and definitions of success, Campbell cautions,“perhaps a highlyfunctioning workplace functions best with a mix of workstyles, much as a winning baseball team needs a mix of good pitchers, hitters and fielders.”
Studies don’t always answer how we should run our businesses. However new and more open perspectives might contribute to greater successes. BT