7 Ways the Generation Gap Divides the Office

Technology can be the great divider at the office.

ByABC News
December 26, 2012, 7:52 AM

Dec. 26, 2012 — -- intro: Generational divides are nothing new. In fact, Robert Wendover, managing director of the Center for Generational Studies says you can trace it back to comments Socrates made in 400 B.C.: "[Our youth] have contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders."

What makes today's divide unique, however, is technology's influence in the workplace. Below you will see how this gap plays out in the office, and what the generations can do to get along better.

quicklist:title: "Do you read?" text:

Rachel, a 26-year-old editorial assistant in publishing, was interested in taking on more responsibility at work. When she talked to the managing editor, in her 60s, about editing more pages in the magazine she literally had to explain why she was qualified by listing the books she's read. "I had to restrain my eyes from rolling out of my head," Rachel said. There's an assumption that because people are online so much they're not literate. On the flip side, Maria, 36, an ad sales director will never forget when a junior co-worker asked: "Does "Tweeting" something count as "saying"?" Huh?

Reality check: According to a survey by Lee Hecht Harrison Company, 70 percent of older employees are dismissive of younger workers' abilities, and 50 percent of Gen Y workers are dismissive of older workers' abilities.

If everyone just remembered Aretha Franklin's plea to show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, chances are tensions would ease up. Remember, bees like honey.

quicklist:title: "I don't do word processing." text: When Ashley, 31, a real-estate lawyer on Wall Street, was trying to explain to her superior, in his 50s, how to save a document on his computer, he got easily frustrated and explained that he doesn't "do word processing." "It just annoyed me that he didn't even try to figure things out," says Ashley. "He expected the younger people on staff to handle anything computer-related for him."

Danielle, 26, a magazine editor, had a similar problem when an intern asked her how to fill out a FedEx form. "What's so difficult about following directions?" she wondered. "Just read the form."

Reality check: Wendover suggests that the biggest thing both generations can do to get along is "show insatiable curiosity." Grant yourself the serenity to understand the difference between what others can teach you and what you can teach yourself.

quicklist:title: "I remember when cut and paste involved a glue stick." text: When KC, 30, was an art assistant, her directors — typically in their 50s — recalled the days when "you literally had to paste paper together to make layouts." Though KC couldn't imagine working without a computer, comments like this would get, pun intended, old.

Reality check: That whole "when I was your age" thing can be eye opening but not when it becomes a crutch. #workplacefail

In an article for the New York Times, David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, wrote: "Our attraction to a world of infinite possibility, information and complexity is here to stay. The challenge is how to participate productively in this new and turbulent world, and not be paralyzed by it."

quicklist:title: "We're friends on Facebook." text: Edgar, 43, and a social media marketer, hears this a lot from the younger generation.

"They think because they're connected with someone online that there's a real relationship there," he said.

This can be harmless of course until it comes to networking and expecting favors from someone you've never really spent time with in person.

"I literally had a co-worker ask me why I would waste my time going to events when I could just 'friend' people online," he said.

Reality check: It's true, recent college graduates are pretty green, but they're hungry for mentors. According PricewaterhouseCooper's 14th Annual Global CEO Survey in 2011, 98 percent of Millennials believe working with a mentor is a necessary component in development. In fact, they ranked training and development three times higher than cash bonuses as their first choice in benefits.

Rather than ignore an online request for help or guidance, suggest that you meet over the phone or in person instead. Teach the benefits of old-fashioned networking by doing.

quicklist:title: "What's a browser?"text:Even people who work online aren't immune from running into a technological divide. Kaitlin, 27, and producer at an e-commerce site explains: "Someone in our merchandising department (in her 50s) noticed a problem on our site so I asked her what browser she was using. She looked at me blankly and said: 'just a regular one.' She clearly had no idea what a browser is."

But when it comes to more antiquated forms of communication, those in their 20's may have a difficult time of it. For instance, when Andrea was working as an editor in chief she asked an intern to fax something for her. The girl's response: "I don't know how. My father usually does it for me."

Reality check:Thanks to something known as "helicopter parenting" it's the belief of many Gen Xers that kids today struggle with doing things on their own. In an article for The Huffington Post, titled "Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids," Mickey Goodman interviews experts on how society got this way and what parents can do to teach their kids some independence.

One piece of advice from her article that applies to both generations: It's OK to fail and it's OK to admit you don't know something. Just learn and move on.

quicklist:title: "I was thinking I should learn Photoshop." text:Alie, 31, is a designer for a popular handbag line. The creative director of the team is over 50 and keeps telling Alie he's "thinking about learning Photoshop."

"It's just funny to me because we don't even design in Photoshop," says Alie. "But yeah, it would be great if he took the time to understand at least half the programs his own team uses!"

Reality check: According to the LexisNexis Technology Gap survey, 49 percent of Gen Y use photo-editing programs at work versus 28 percent of Boomers.

In an article for U.S. News, career columnist Ritika Trikha advises that everyone keep their skills current, especially boomers. To get a leg up on the younger competition, she recommends: "Show employers that you're eager to adapt and keep learning by seeking out certification and classes on the latest software, database, or whichever application bolsters efficiency in your field."

quicklist:title: "I couldn't find the Internet." text:Margaret, 31, and a marketing director, couldn't understand why her boss, 45, wasn't online during a recent business trip in L.A., especially since she had just returned from the same trip and had no problem. "She said to me: 'I was trying to do Linksys, you know, that Internet that is free everywhere. I get it at home, but it wouldn't connect at the hotel.' I didn't have the heart to tell her that Linksys is not some U.S.-wide free WiFi network, and she's been stealing her neighbor's Internet."

Reality check: "I couldn't find the Internet" is officially the new "the dog ate my homework."

Not only is it important to understand the internet in the workplace, but it's also important to understand when it comes to personal security. According to an article by Fox Business, boomers are the main target of scammers who prey on their lack of understanding. A good way to bridge any age gap in the workplace is to build relationships based on what you can teach each other.

According to Wendover, "The reality is that most of what makes the world go round is based on the collective wisdom of those who have come before. If older people reach out, young people are more likely to embrace the relationship over time."