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Workplace Generation Gap

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Understand the generation gap in the workplace

In the 1960s college students changed American culture forever with the saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30." The intergenerational tensions that exist today are more of an undercurrent — dubbed Generation Gap 2.0 — but even an undercurrent can have a big effect on teams, employee training and mentor relationships. A study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Ricoh turned up these findings:


  • Nearly 7 in 10 workers (69 percent) say younger workers are frustrating when it comes to work ethic.
  • Nearly half of workers (48 percent) say younger employees usually have to help older ones at their place of employment use technology.
  • When workers are asked to identify which generations make the best mentors for teaching the tasks they are responsible for at work, they generally choose their own generation. In fact, those 18-34 (27 percent) are three times as likely as those ages 35-44 (8 percent), 45-54 (4 percent) and 55-64 (5 percent) to cite Gen Y as the best.


The survey was conducted online within the United States from August 1-5, 2014 among 2,014 adults, ages 18 and older, of whom 1,034 are employed full time, part time or self-employed, by Harris Poll on behalf of Ricoh.


Examine the findings

Gen Y and Boomers appear to view commitment and competence differently, but look below the surface. For example, Boomers may stay late at work to demonstrate their work ethic. Gen Y, on the other hand, may not value staying late because 24/7 connectivity makes it easy to work from anywhere.

And the criticism of older generations? Well, that's worth questioning, too. Technology shortcomings might be overblown. By some reports, Boomers are less immersed in technology than younger workers*, but perhaps that's because they have a different sense of the value of face time. It's possible that younger people are too immersed in their digital worlds.


Compare formative experiences

You see how the lives of Gen Y center on the Internet. It's their "real world." For them, digital communications are as easy and natural as face-to-face conversations. For older workers, the Internet augments the real world. And digital communications are inadequate, even frustrating, substitutes for talking in person. But just like a winning baseball team needs a mix of good pitchers, hitters and fielders, a high-functioning workplace needs a mix of workstyles.

Be proactive about addressing Generation Gap 2.0

Workers of all ages have one thing in common. They need information in the right form on the right device at the right time to do their jobs. Make this easy for your workers, and you'll bridge gaps. And when you design mentorship and training programs, strike a balance between tech expertise and people skills — employees can learn from each other.

You also might consider setting up a generational council or committee. You can bring multiple generations together to talk about challenges and opportunities. Get workers of all ages involved, and you'll be on your way to turning generational differences into strengths that enhance overall workforce performance.

*Source: Pew Research Internet Project, “The State of Millennials,”http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/07/13/the-state-of-millennials-slides/