Most businesses have a decent mix of ages in the office, with workers spanning from their early to mid-twenties up to retirement age. This kind of age diversity can be a great asset, but it can create some complications, too.
We’ve all heard the generational stereotypes, but let’s be frank: those broad-brush labels aren’t very helpful. While there may be a kernel of truth in some of them, every employee is unique, and judging with broad brushes creates more problems than it’ll ever solve.
Now, if you’re like most managers and leaders, you already know this about negative stereotypes. But what about positive generational stereotypes?
We see one crop up all the time, and it’s a mistake many employers make with their younger workers.
Put simply: it’s a mistake to assume that all younger workers are good with technology— especially the types of systems and software common in the workplace.
The De Facto Tech Guy
One way this mistake shows up is what we call “de facto tech guy” (or girl) syndrome: when an older employee or even a manager has a tech problem, it’s not uncommon for them to look around and grab the closest young-looking person available.
That younger worker gets pulled into doing “tech support” — and the older or senior worker doesn’t give one thought to the person’s actual job or even whether he or she has the ability to solve the problem.
Some younger workers — the ones who do have the tech skills — may relish this role, as it makes them seem more valuable or distinguishes them from their peers. Even there, it’s worth asking questions about focus: the twenty minutes your de facto tech guy spent fixing Larry’s PC are twenty minutes de facto tech guy is not doing the job you’re paying him to do.
But an even bigger problem is what happens when the younger worker doesn’t have those skills. The shame and discomfort can be a big hit to morale and can even inflame office tensions.
“Digital Native” Doesn’t Equal Tech Genius
It’s easy to look at younger workers and make certain assumptions about their relationship with technology. After all, Gen Z and the younger half of the Millennials are true digital natives: they grew up with technology all around them. They don’t know a world without ubiquitous internet access, they’ve never used the yellow pages, and most rarely look at a paper map.
But being a digital native doesn’t instantly make a person a tech genius.
Some elements come to them intuitively in a way that seems almost like magic. For example, smartphones and social media are like second nature. And those skills do have a place in most businesses.
But growing up online doesn’t automatically translate to workplace tech skills like troubleshooting a PC. And it definitely doesn’t guarantee that someone knows how to use Microsoft Word or Excel properly — let alone any more advanced or industry-specific applications your business relies on.
Addressing Skill Gaps (at All Ages) Is the Solution
So what can be done about this problem?
Change starts at the top, so make sure you and your fellow leaders aren’t making this mistake. Don’t send ad hoc tech questions to younger employees just due to age. Send them to the right people — like your IT partner or a designated IT liaison.
The other element is training, or addressing skills gaps, at all ages. For example, if you would offer training in a particular software solution to an older new hire? Then offer that training to all new hires. A crash course in Teams/Slack etiquette is good for those workers who had to learn the tool late in their career— and those who grew up texting.
That’s it for this week. Need help figuring out this kind of training or setting up systems for who should be answering those tech questions? We can help! Reach out to our team today.