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04 May 2016

Does the generation gap really exist in the workplace?

The average workplace doesn’t connect very well with future generation of employees: the app generation. These are the findings of a recent study on the impact of the arrival of a new generation of employees in the workplace. There appears to be a large gap between the expectations of young people and the reality with which they will soon be confronted in the workplace. The question is, should organisations be worried about this?

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It cannot be denied that there are great differences between the various generations in the workplace. The older generation grew up without computers and had to teach themselves these digital skills, while the youngest generation is growing up with a smartphone attached to their hand and is constantly online. Some articles even claim that the brains of these so-called millennials have evolved and that they are much more capable of multitasking. The common denominator of these articles is that a dichotomy is emerging in the workplace and that organisations must adapt to contemporary standards, as otherwise the latest generation cannot be fully productive.

I have my doubts about this: our brains took millions of years to evolve to who we are now. Are we really supposed to believe that thanks to the introduction of technology it only took one generation to evolve further?! This is impossible from a biological perspective, so for me it’s primarily a question of learned behaviour. As far as I am concerned, the millennial generation is not a question of age, but of mindset. Despite their ‘delay’ compared to the youngest generation, older employees are perfectly capable of teaching themselves new skills. It may just take them a bit longer because they did not grow up with the internet and digital “possibilities”. The youngest generation will soon be bringing these skills along to the office, even though that office may still be designed for the skills of the current generation. Will this create problems later on?

The same study mentioned above also states that it’s not for nothing that 50% of Europe’s current labour market believes that the technology they have in the workplace is inadequate. Technology in the workplace frequently lags behind technology we use in our daily lives, and that’s why we plead for modernisation. This is so much to do with age, but rather with daily ease of use. The more often you use certain technology, the better you learn to work with it.  My father used to muddle through the sending of a simple text message on his first cellular phone; today, you can’t tear him away from his smartphone.

The study also showed that there is a large difference between the expectations of young people and  workplace reality in terms of technological tools that confront them. They tend to see the smartphone as an essential tool for performing their work. This doesn’t really matter, because once they start working they will soon notice that they can’t do everything with that phone and some tasks require other tools. Getting used to technology is therefore a two-way street: the millennials will also have to learn other skills in order to function at an optimal level.

Of course, organisations must be mindful of changes in employee needs. It is still important to facilitate the best possible work environment, regardless of the employees’ ages. For example: the smartphone plays a central role in my son’s life, but my father is working hard to catch up with the younger crowd. Why couldn’t office workers do likewise? I believe that the generation gap is not as big as it is often purported to be.

Vincent Henricks
Product Manager Integrated Services Management