Is there a ‘generational war’ playing out in workplaces?


A report has warned that a “generational war” may be playing out in offices as divides grow between younger and older workers over communication styles and attitudes to technology. 

Half of employees (50 per cent) over 50 said they were annoyed by younger colleagues’ lack of traditional tools such as pens, while just under half (47 per cent) of Gen Z employees felt that older workers slowed things down with “dated” working techniques. 

Almost seven in 10 Gen Z workers (65 per cent) said senior colleagues struggled with technology, and 22 per cent of Gen Z workers said there had been a rise in workplace inequities between the generations.

Eliza Filby, historian at Generational Evolution, told People Management: “The generational gap in today’s workplace is wider than ever before. We are dealing with up to four generations working in the same environment, each with vastly different values, expectations and communication styles.”

She added that “this collision of generational mindsets is shaking up the traditional corporate culture in unprecedented ways”, meaning that “bridging this divide in how work itself is perceived is a massive challenge”.

The Digital Etiquette: Mind the generational gap report, which surveyed 4,000 knowledge workers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Germany, discovered that the majority (90 per cent) of teams reported conflicts over digital tools, with three in five (60 per cent) admitting that these disagreements impeded productivity and collaboration.

Of the 1,000 respondents in the UK, 11 per cent said their teams often had conflicts because of different preferred tools or platforms used, while nearly half (46 per cent) said they sometimes had tensions over differing technology use.

In the study 43 per cent of teams reported misinterpretations of tone or context in digital communications; 33 per cent cited mismatched response time expectations; and a further 33 per cent reported confusion over the use of emojis.

But the report also suggested there could be greater room for collaboration between generations, as more than half (53 per cent) of Gen Z workers said they envied older colleagues’ phone confidence.

Matt Stephens, founder and co-CEO of Inpulse, told People Management that “the rise and rise of generational tension continues”, adding that he was “not surprised” by the findings.

“We see the same challenges when it comes to the way in particular Gen Z related to and communicates with boomers. It’s like they are talking two different languages, combined with the cultural filter they hear each other through,” Stephens said.

Millennial managers – the generation between Gen Z and boomers – can act as a “bridge” between the generations and act as “interpreters” if any miscommunications arise, he suggested.

“Millennials typically are also more willing to go further to understand something, whereas Gen Z, currently, while saying they are the most open generation, seem to be less willing to explore, be curious and give the benefit of the doubt,” Stephens continued.

“Helping younger employees understand both that it’s OK to disagree without falling out or leaving, and that relationships require effort and understanding rather than immediate cancelling will help,” he said, adding that it was also vital to help boomers navigate “what seems to be a moral maze because values and norms at work have changed”. 

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