The Clash Of Ages: How Technology Divides Workers 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. Recent studies show tensions are rising in the workplace between Gen Y, Gen X and baby boomers.
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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

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There has been a communications breakdown in offices across the country, and it has to do with too much communication. A new generation of employees in their 20s is tweeting, texting and chatting via Gmail and Facebook all at work.

As NPR's Joshua Brockman reports, this has many older managers scratching their heads and scrambling to define what tech is appropriate in the workplace.

(Soundbite of beeping)

Mr. ERIC PRO (Electrical Engineer, Aquas Inc.): It's a bunch of crazy noise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROCKMAN: Was that a text message you received?

Mr. PRO: Yeah.

(Soundbite of beeping)

Mr. PRO: I was actually getting in trouble from my girlfriend, so…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROCKMAN: That's Eric Pro, a 19-year-old electrical engineer. He's taking a few seconds out from his work day to send a text. While Pro may be worried about how things stand with his girlfriend, 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.

Ms. CARMEN LARSEN (President, Aquas): I'm old-school, but I am willing to learn.

BROCKMAN: That's 56-year-old Carmen Larsen. She's Pro's boss and the president of Aquas Incorporated, an engineering and IT company based in Bethesda, Maryland. Larsen says she typically reaches for a phone before a keyboard. But her daughters, who work with her, help with the learning curve.

Ms. EMMA EVANS: People go out of the office to take a cigarette break for 10 minutes, people take coffee breaks and people take Facebook breaks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROCKMAN: Emma Evans is Larsen's 19-year-old daughter.

Ms. EVANS: It's kind of become built into our way of life.

BROCKMAN: In fact, 62 percent of Gen Y workers say they use social networking at work. That's according to LexisNexis, an online information service. The results of its Technology Gap Survey show different generations of users have vastly different attitudes about appropriate technology usage at the office. And this is creating a clash of cultures — especially during meetings.

Mr. MICHAEL WALSH (CEO, LexisNexis): 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.

BROCKMAN: Michael Walsh is a top executive with LexisNexis.

Mr. WALSH: Two-thirds of boomers that were surveyed indicated that they felt that use of devices, technology — such as email, social networking, the Internet, et cetera — contributed to a decline in office etiquette.

BROCKMAN: According to a survey by consulting giant Deloitte, 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.

Ms. SHARON ALLEN (Chairman, Deloitte Board): 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.

BROCKMAN: Like it or not, technology is blurring the lines between work and leisure. NYU professor Dalton Conley even coined a term for it - weisure.

Joshua Brockman, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And while we're on the subject of weisure, our regular tech contributor Omar Gallaga has been looking at a new generation of mobile Wi-Fi adaptors that let you log in on the go. You can read more on the All Tech blog - that's at npr.org/alltech.

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