"Don't trust anyone over 30" captured the essence of the Generation Gap in the 1960s, when college students mobilized to set a bold new tone in American culture.
Echoes of that intergenerational tension resonate in today's U.S. workplace as many younger workers question older colleagues' competence and many older workers question younger workers' commitment. Some call it Generation Gap 2.0.
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 the 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, 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 (also known as Millennials) as the best.
These are among the findings in a new Ricoh Americas Corporation survey of more than 1,000 working adults (aged 18+) conducted online in August by Harris Poll on behalf of Ricoh.
"Although Generation Gap 2.0 doesn't pervade the culture like the original generation gap did, it's no less a real phenomenon," said Terrie Campbell, Vice President, Strategic Marketing, Ricoh Americas Corporation. "It's more of an undercurrent, a subtext, and definitely something business leaders need to manage. It has serious implications for teams, employee training and mentor relationships."
Generation Gap 2.0 is partially the result of different formative experiences. Gen Yers have never known a world without the Internet; rather, the Internet is inseparable from their "real world." For older workers, the Internet is perceived as a layer of experience that augments a real world that often seems more meaningful. Likewise, for younger workers, digital communications are as natural and valid as face-to-face conversations. For older workers, digital communications are often seen as an inadequate, or worse, frustrating substitute for face-to-face interactions. On top of these differences are the perennial variations in the world views of people in different phases of their lives.
Nonetheless, it's unclear how warranted the negative generational stereotypes are. For instance, could younger generations be more committed to their work than they appear? Staying late in the office, for example, is classic Boomer "proof" of a strong work ethic. But it may seem an empty gesture to Gen Y, since 24/7 mobile and home connectivity make it easy to take your work home with you. And, of course, work/life boundaries have blurred: the 9-to-5 workday just isn't the institution it used to be.
And what about the criticism of older generations? Could their technology shortcomings be overblown? By many accounts, Boomers are less immersed in new technology than younger workers. But might older workers simply have a different sense of the value of face time and off-screen interactions? Is it possible that younger people are too immersed in their digital world?
"Boomers and Gen Y clearly have different world views, but we need to be cautious in how we evaluate workstyles," said Campbell. "Perhaps a highly-functioning workplace functions best with a mix of workstyles, much as a winning baseball team needs a mix of good pitchers, hitters and fielders."
Addressing the gap
Diverse world views, workstyles and definitions of "work day" spotlight the need for organizations to focus on developing information mobility. This capability helps employees (regardless of generation or workstyle) access the precise business information they need, in the ideal form on the right device, to complete the task at hand.
"We recommend companies take a hard look at whether their business information is working for employees of every workstyle," said Campbell. "At the same time, companies should configure their mentorship and training programs with generational differences in mind. They need to ensure that older workers have a comfort level with using technology effectively and that younger workers develop the people skills that previous generations have valued. There's a lot for employees to learn from one another."
Ricoh has addressed Generation Gap 2.0 in its own business with a Generational Council. The multigenerational internal committee formally examines workplace challenges and opportunities related to generational differences in workstyle. The council exemplifies Ricoh's belief that every organization can turn generational differences into a strength that can enhance, rather than harm, its overall performance. Learn more about this and other recent surveys.
Methodology: This survey was conducted online within the United States between 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 via its Quick Query Omnibus product. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.