Gen­er­a­tionally Chal­lenged

The Dig­i­tal Di­vide may be a mat­ter of mind over mat­ter, not age ver­sus youth

Business Traveler (USA) - - WORLD WISE - By Ross Atkin­son

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

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