The rise of the multi-generational workforce has been the subject of much interest in recent years.  For the first time in our history there are four generations (or five, depending who you talk to) working alongside each other in the U.S. workplace.  Their differing work styles, communication styles, and attitudes to authority are among the topics being closely monitored in C-suites around the country.  With the seeming potential for friction, employers are keen to ensure the generations are collaborating effectively.

Technology

One interesting aspect of this discussion is the generational approach to technology.  The consensus view is that generations have very different attitudes to technology; attitudes which will naturally influence how they work with technology in the workplace.  This viewpoint is summarized in the table below:

 

If You Are A… Age (approximate) You Prefer…
Traditionalist 60 “Let’s have a conversation…”
Boomer 50 “Call me on my cell…”
Gen X 35 “Send me an email…”
Gen Y 30 “Text me…”
Millenial 25 “Facebook/Tweet me…”

 

Some recent studies question this consensus however.  For example, in January 2015 CED magazine conducted a national survey of employees from all generations.  Instead of major differences, they found striking similarities across all the generations when it comes to both training and technology.   Their study chiefly concerned learning and development but researchers have found similar results in other areas as well.

Another recent study, by digital marketing specialist iProspect, revealed that technology and internet usage is as high among the 50+ generations as it is among 30-49 year olds, and noted that “traditional stereotypes contrasting tech-savvy youth with older generation ‘technophobes’ are unfounded.”

There are many competing studies on this topic but there seems little doubt that many members of the older generations have “caught up” with their younger counterparts, at least in the office.

Tips for Information Professionals

How should information professionals think about technology and generational diversity?

  • Get engaged:  Be aware of the strategic imperative around generational collaboration in the workplace and think of ways the information management function can add value to this conversation.
  • Don’t stereotype.  Bear in mind that older workers can be every bit as tech-savvy as their younger counterparts.
  • Be device-agnostic in information delivery.  Ensure that briefings and alerts can be delivered to all devices, however people prefer to consume information.
  • Embrace the trend toward user self-service.  Perhaps the most straightforward means of dealing with generational diversity is to simply encourage users to decide for themselves how best to consume information.  Particularly in environments with high volumes of information requests, knowledge providers are already moving towards a self-service model. As was pointed out in the recent FT-SLA study, “the challenge [for information professionals] is to create an access point, a technology platform, or some sort of enabler for people to get on and do it themselves.”