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Digital tools cause intergenerational conflict at work, research suggests

Email remains the most popular application for 70% of all workers

Digital communication tools are causing conflicts between different generations at work, according to research from digital transformation provider the Adaptavist Group.

The majority (90%) of teams who were surveyed reported conflicts over digital tools, with 60% acknowledging that these disagreements hamper productivity and collaboration.

The study also found that 43% of teams reported misinterpretations of tone or context through digital communications, 33% reported mismatched response time expectations and 33% reported confusion over digital expressions like emojis.

The majority (53%) of people identified as belonging to Gen Z envy older colleagues' confidence in speaking on the phone.

However, 65% of Gen Z employees claim that older colleagues struggle with technology. Just under half (47%) of Gen Z employees believe that older workers slow things down with dated techniques.

Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of the Adaptavist Group told HR magazine: “Navigating communication across generations can be tricky due to unique experiences, working styles and subconscious biases about the different generations. 

“Miscommunication stems not just from varying generational behaviours but also from misunderstanding tone and context; this is especially challenging when working remotely. Technological advancements exacerbate the challenge, and lack of organisational support only adds to the issue.”

Read more: Ageism blocking benefits of an intergenerational workforce

While Gen Z leads AI adoption at 32%, 12% of workers over 50 years old are leveraging AI platforms more than any other tool. However, 67% worry that AI may widen generational divides, and 70% believe it may accelerate Gen Z's workplace ascendancy.

Haighton-Williams said HR can improve digital collaboration by providing training to employees of all ages.

He said: “To bridge the communication gap, organisations should provide training and support to help employees of all ages become proficient with various communication tools and mediums. Encouraging open dialogue and actively listening to employees perspectives can help identify areas for improvement. 

“Promoting a culture of respect and inclusivity, where diverse communication styles are valued, can pave the way for effective collaboration across generations.”

Eliza Filby, a historian of 'generational evolution', added that HR should encourage collaboration on different generations’ strengths.

She told HR magazine: “HR can create initiatives such as ‘skill swapping’ that bridge that generational skills and knowledge gap.

“I’ve worked with companies who have had their Baby Boomers teach their Gen Z'ers telephone etiquette and their Gen Z’ers teaching their Boomers social media etiquette skills. 

“This is a really good way of bringing people together face to face in a hybrid working environment but also ultimately learning from each other and creating key cross generational bonds which is critical in a multi generational workforce.”

The Adaptavist Group surveyed 4,000 knowledge workers across the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Germany.

Read more: Boomers, millennials, Gen Z: Do generational labels do more harm than good?