When was the last time you didn’t use a computer at work? For most of us, that’s hard to imagine – for many, it’s almost impossible. With the influx of Gen Y and Gen Z employees, the modern workplace is flooded with those who have grown up alongside the likes of Google, the iPhone and witnessed the birth of social media. But what about those who aren’t so fluent in the language of the digital age? What can older employees learn from Gen Y and Z – and do they have valuable lessons to pass on? In this blog we look at how different generational values can learn from each other to become more efficient and balanced workers.

A recent study by AAT revealed that “the majority of older workers [over 55s] did not believe computer skills would help them in their current job” whilst a staggering “1 in 10 have never used a computer.” For those who feel their smartphone is basically an extension of their arm, this sounds almost unbelievable. This study is worrying news. It’s not just research making this a hot topic either; hitting the big screens in September of this year was Robert de Niro in ‘The Intern’ playing a 70 year old retired businessman who goes back to work in a seniors employment scheme at an online fashion firm. De Niro has to adjust to the dramatic level of change technology has brought to the world of work and finds fault with the ‘always on’ culture that his Gen Y colleagues have no problems with.

So what are the merits of reskilling older workers and equipping them with more than just the basics of IT? As we’ve explored in a previous blog, the focus for dealing with older, more experienced employees needs to be about creating a working environment which encourages their potential. Despite the clear benefits of experience, talent retention and attraction and the fact that workplaces will need to adjust to a burgeoning ageing population, reskilling remains a major issue for older workers. Mark Farrar of AAT noted that “older generations are faced with the greatest barriers when it comes to reskilling” as training is often aimed at those already well versed in computer skills. Age UK has spotted a gap in the market for millennials to volunteer to train older people in IT and has created a best practice guide for employers.

There are, of course, things that younger workers can learn from their more mature counterparts. Whilst millennials find it hard to switch off from work, with access to emails 24/7, older workers are less likely to be engaged in the company’s ‘always on’ culture. Up to now, their experience tells them they don’t have to reply to emails on weekends, whilst “the younger generation don’t think twice about getting an email on a Saturday, because that’s how they’re used to communicating” notes Gavin Aspden. Gen Y and Z should take note that being ‘always on’ isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, recent research by Gallup revealed that nearly half of workers who 'frequently email for work outside of normal working hours’ reported experience increased stress levels compared with the 36% experiencing stress who never email for work outside of their hours and that ‘using mobile technology for work [is] linked to higher stress’. A greater division between work and life makes for a better balanced lifestyle.

So can we gain a better understanding of an efficient, yet less stressful way to work from older employees? There’s certainly room to listen to cross generational experiences and advice in particular with the upskilling of older workers in IT, where retraining will inevitably broaden their potential to succeed in an ever increasing digitalised world of work.

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