Employees everywhere are continuing to adapt to new working environments as the focus shifts to a digital-first way. Technology is constantly evolving, and digital natives are used to constant change and upgrades. However, now that multiple generations are working together, we’re starting to see larger disparities in how different age groups approach workplace technology, processes, and productivity.
While technology should play a major part as the workforce transforms, it’s important to understand how it affects employees’ roles and their goals to be efficient and make an impact.
Understanding the generational tech divide
One thing that wasn’t taken into consideration with the increase in automation efforts during the pandemic was employee age. A recent survey showing the use of technology and workforce productivity revealed that executives 55 and up have fared better than their digital-native counterparts (under 35). Despite being more tech fluent, 55% of executives under 35 reported difficulty working from home because of poor company processes, enough to make one in four want to quit their jobs. The study also showed there are distinct differences in how each generation evaluates business processes. Two-thirds of young executives said there’s not enough information provided on processes, while only a quarter of those over 55 agreed with this. Other recent studies have confirmed that processes are impacting younger workers the most, with many becoming frustrated and seeking help for mental health issues.
The challenges facing multiple generations highlight the need to better align investments in people, processes, and technology for companies to thrive in the future. For example, 61% of the digital natives said processes made their job more challenging during COVID, whereas only 36% of the 55+ generation found challenges when working during the pandemic. Young executives were also more exasperated with business processes, with a third saying they wasted their time. Leaders must rethink key processes that may not be intuitive to digital natives and thereby negatively impacting their mental health, motivation, and loyalty.
The impact of AI in the workforce
While automation and AI in the workforce can result in greater output, business agility, and resilience, IT leaders need to assess which technology is best and understand how it’s impacting employees.
Companies were quick to implement digital workers last year, for example, but a lack of focus was given to the impact of the overall work processes that frustrated digital-natives and affected their motivation and productivity. Young employees have high expectations of how IT systems operate and how they assist them. Two-thirds of young executives questioned said there’s not enough visibility of the progress of processes. On the other hand, only 25% of older executives agree with this. Organizations should foster a culture of transparency and democratize process understanding among all workers interacting with systems and applications.
While some see younger executives’ expectancy as an entitlement, what they really want are the tools they need to do their job efficiently, and stay connected with others, inside and outside of work. People between the ages 19-34 and 35-54 have reported that they have felt isolated working from home, suggesting leaders need to pay more attention to fostering a better community among a remote workforce and offering access to wellness services for self-care or to talk about stress and anxiety, for example. Transitioning your organization into a digitally focused workplace should not forgo the importance of human connections. AI-enabling technology should support the need for improving blended communications and productivity, even in a remote and distributed workforce.
With the biggest challenge during the pandemic being decreased motivation for young executives, companies should also consider how they can help employees balance their WFH life through new programs, training, and upskilling. For example, leaders can provide benefits for parents that can be used toward childcare or home-schooling to alleviate stresses at home. In terms of upskilling the workforce to bridge the digital divide, companies can focus on promoting more citizen developers by advancing career development and training. While there isn’t just one solution in upskilling and training, companies should learn to anticipate the right skills for the future -- such as NLP, AI and automation, operational ML, and low-code skills that are currently in-demand. For example, an investment bank recently set up a Center of Excellence dedicated to coaching teams on how to deliver new products more quickly. In a recent PWC survey, 93% of CEOs who had introduced upskilling programs said they increased productivity, helped attract and retain talent, and delivered a resilient workforce.
It’s important to remember that the purpose of implementing digital initiatives and new technology is to increase adoption of it across your entire enterprise. Staff are expecting positive, long-term change from their leadership and the survey feedback provides insights into why businesses need to reimagine every aspect of their operations and processes to move their business forward and help all generations embrace new tools.
Bruce Orcutt is Vice President of Product Marketing at global Digital Intelligence company, ABBYY. Bruce works closely with customers, partners, industry analysts, and product engineers to increase their understanding of the content and processes flowing within their business systems to improve customer engagement and accelerate transactions and revenue.