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The Clash Of Ages: How Technology Divides Workers

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The Clash Of Ages: How Technology Divides Workers

The Clash Of Ages: How Technology Divides Workers

The Clash Of Ages: How Technology Divides Workers

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105751918/105776620" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Further Reading

  • Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got From The Company Man, Family Dinners, And The Affluent Society To The Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, And Economic Anxiety by Dalton Conley
  • Not Everyone Gets A Trophy: How To Manage Generation Y by Bruce Tulgan
  • Keeping The Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions In Turnover To This Generation – And What To Do About It by Joanne G. Sujansky and Jan Ferri-Reed

Read the All Tech Considered blog, for more on how technology is creating clashes between generations of employees in the workplace.

If you're a boss, what do you do about employees who love to tweet, text and social network throughout the day? It's a question companies are grappling with as the generation gap threatens to create a communications divide.

Eric Pro, a 19-year-old electrical engineer at Aquas Inc. in Bethesda, Md., takes a few seconds out from his workday to send a quick text message on his T-Mobile Sidekick. He says he's in trouble with his girlfriend and he's trying to smooth things out.

While Pro may be worried about how things stand with his love interest, recent studies show real tensions are rising between Gen Y, or 20-something employees; Gen X, or 30-something workers; and their older, less tech-savvy, baby boomer bosses.

Culture Clash

"I'm old-school, but I am willing to learn," says 56-year-old Carmen Larsen, the president of Aquas, an engineering and IT company. Larsen says she typically reaches for a phone before a keyboard. But her daughters, who work with her, help with the learning curve.

"People go out of the office to take a cigarette break for 10 minutes, people take coffee breaks and people take Facebook breaks," says Emma Evans, Larsen's 19-year-old daughter. "It's kind of become built into our way of life."

In fact, 62 percent of Gen Y workers say they engage in social networking from work. That's according to LexisNexis, an online information service. The results of LexisNexis' Technology Gap Survey show vastly different attitudes about appropriate technology use among various generations in the work force. And this is creating a clash of cultures — especially during meetings.

Debate Over Multitasking

"You can have Gen Y-ers who are busy looking at their BlackBerrys. They've got their laptops flipped open, they're engaging in social networking right during the course of a meeting, and you have a boomer rolling their eyes, not understanding it," says Michael Walsh, the CEO for LexisNexis U.S. Legal Markets. "Two-thirds of boomers that were surveyed indicated that they felt that use of devices, technology — such as e-mail, social networking, the Internet, etc. — contributed to a decline in office etiquette."

Meanwhile, Gen X-ers are caught between having to manage and bridge the gap.

Walsh says the generational divide is most intense in Fortune 500 companies because senior management is typically made up of baby boomers. But it's also an issue that small companies like Aquas — with just over 30 employees ranging in age from 18 to 68 — have to contend with.

Social Networking's Reach

According to a workplace study on social networking and reputation risk by consulting giant Deloitte, nearly three-quarters of employees surveyed say they think it's easy to damage a company's reputation using social media.

Companies are cognizant of the far-reaching impact employees can have on their brand through social networking and other online activities. In April, when two Domino's pizza employees posted a video online showing one of them sticking cheese up his nose and sneezing on food, it sent shock waves through the corporate world.

Still, Deloitte's study also found that more than half of employees say their social networking is none of their employer's business.

Sharon Allen, chairman of Deloitte's board, says employers shouldn't put too many rules and restrictions into place: "We do believe as well that the ability to touch base with friends and family during the course of the day allows them to have a better mix of work and life."

Like it or not, technology is blurring the lines between work and leisure. In his book Elsewhere, U.S.A., New York University professor Dalton Conley even coined a term for it: "weisure."

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