As the hybrid office becomes the new norm, business leaders are beginning to see larger disparities in how different age groups approach workplace technology, processes, and productivity. However, one of the more surprising insights gleaned from the mass work-from-home (WFH) shift since 2020 is that digital natives—defined as those who have grown up under the ubiquitous influence of the internet and other modern information technologies—are not quite as comfortable with technology as once thought. At least not in the manner that most of us had assumed they would be.
There is little doubt that successive generations are more familiar—and more dependent—on everyday technology. Consequently, the conclusions of a recent survey were unexpected: executives over the age of 55 were more productive at WFH than their colleagues under 35 (a.k.a. digital natives). Shockingly, 25 percent of the younger group considered leaving their jobs because of their negative remote work experiences.
Upon deeper investigation, researchers found that the divergence stemmed from differing expectations of company processes between the two groups. Two out of three digital natives attributed their frustrations to a lack of information from their employers. Among the older group, this figure was just one in four. The younger executives were left with the impression that business processes in their current form and format were a waste of time.
While older Americans may be returning to the workforce due to the economic downturn and/or drawn back by the appeal of working from home, leaders should take into consideration the perspective of the younger generation that is struggling with change.
Theory vs. Practice
Businesses were quick to roll out digital alternatives to almost every aspect of work to cater to WFH. It seems now that those solutions come with novel problems of their own. Among the leading complaints from young executives was a lack of transparency to the processes they were compelled to follow. Such employee sentiments are characteristic of organizations plagued by information silos.
Their older counterparts embody the classic “I know what to do, so the why does not really matter” approach to work. It is at distinct odds with digital natives, who value the why equally, if not higher. Leaders should work actively to educate their executives on how their discrete roles and responsibilities fit into the whole.
The Emotion Factor
Another trait of executives over 55 is their lack of a need for constant connection. It seems, though, that younger people accustomed to perpetual digital connectivity found themselves floundering when there was reduced physical interaction, too. Executives in the sub-55 age group reported a greater sense of isolation when working remotely.
Every organization has an obligation to the mental health of its people. The tired “digital happy hour” approach is not the panacea it initially seemed. If a large proportion of your team is struggling in this environment, find out why. Perhaps a more concerted effort at incorporating AI technology into blended communications is the answer.
Among the most effective tactics is upskilling, which is as much an investment in your own organization as it is in the individuals who participate. A 2020 PWC survey of CEOs revealed that such programs increased productivity and also helped to attract and retain talent. In these challenging times, we could all use results like that.
In the end, there has never been a better time for younger individuals to learn from experienced coworkers nor for older ones to discover innovative solutions. Please see my recent article to learn more about effective communication in a multigenerational workplace.