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Press Release

Study reveals AI is widening generational divides in the workplace

Thu 14 Mar 2024

The Adaptavist Group’s latest research, ‘Mind the generational gap’, has highlighted significant concerns over artificial intelligence (AI) exacerbating intergenerational tensions in workplaces.

Surveying 4,000 knowledge workers across the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and Germany, the study explores the dynamics of up to four generations working together and the impact of digital tools on their collaboration.

AI at the Forefront of Intergenerational Workplace Challenges

Dr. Eliza Filby, a historian of generational evolution who collaborated on the study, pointed out the unique relationship each generation has with technology, from gramophones to Alexa.

“With an ageing workforce and up to four generations in today’s workplace, managing and leveraging generational differences is essential for any forward-thinking business,” said Filby.

However, she raised concerns about the integration of AI, like ChatGPT and Claude, into everyday tasks and its potential to foster distrust and make older generations feel outdated.

“Every age group has grown up with tech that feels native. But it is also inevitable that every generation struggles with new technologies that can feel alien. Just watch Gen Alpha integrate ChatGPT into their homework and share AI-generated deepfakes, which means they will not trust anything—they will have habits that make Gen Z feel old,” added Filby.

The digital toolbox keeps expanding, with only 7% reporting a reduction in tools. Both Gen Z (57%) and older workers (40%) are adopting more tools, signalling an across-the-board increase in engagement. However, one sign of a quality tool is longevity—email remains the number one application for 70% of all workers across generations.

The research indicated that while AI is rapidly becoming a common tool in the workplace, adopted by 24% of all workers and leading with 32% among Gen Z, there is a looming fear. A notable 67% of respondents worry AI may increase generational divides.

A staggering 90% of teams report conflicts over digital tools, with 60% acknowledging these disagreements hamper productivity and collaboration. Meanwhile, 70% believe AI could fast-track Gen Z’s ascendancy in the workplace.

Bridging the Digital Communication Gap

Digital communication misunderstandings are widespread, with 90% of teams reporting conflicts over digital tools, affecting productivity and collaboration. Misinterpretations of tone or context, varied response time expectations, and confusion over digital expressions like emojis underscored the need for clear digital communication standards.

The study also shed light on differing perceptions of technology and working styles across generations.

While more than half (53%) of Gen Z workers envy the older generations’ ease with phone confidence, half of older workers are frustrated by younger colleagues’ reliance on digital over analog tools.

Nearly half (47%) of Gen Z perceive older workers as slowing down processes with outdated methods, and 65% claim more senior colleagues struggle with technology.

“Managing the multigenerational workforce is more crucial than ever as AI enters our lives and poses a greater risk of driving a technological wedge and dehumanising interactions between the generations,” said Filby.

Overcoming Stereotypes and Emphasising Individual Contributions

Despite these challenges, there’s a strong opposition to generational stereotypes like ‘lazy’ millennials and ‘bossy’ boomers, with 82% of participants advocating for an end to such categorisations.

“There are some timeless ways to bring us all together. For instance, while face-to-face interaction is a point of anxiety for many, and something we are doing less in a hybrid workplace, we all crave connection, and it can be the best way to alleviate intergenerational conflicts,” said Filby.

The study revealed a recognition of the value of generational diversity, with 56% seeing it as a means to enhance creativity and productivity. However, concerns about ageism and the potential exclusion based on age persist, especially among older employees.

“Often, we deploy stereotyping around age in a way we would never do around sexuality, gender or race. In this individualistic age, it is not surprising that we are starting to reject such a reductive approach.

“Instead, understanding and unpicking differences can generate a better workplace if we make an effort to comprehend each other’s unique perspectives and understand someone born in a different time,” added Filby.

Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of The Adaptavist Group, called for enlightened leadership to address these issues.

“The challenge for employers is to create a culture that values individual contributions, encourages cohesive teamwork, and respects generational diversity without resorting to stereotypes. This demands agile and enlightened leadership committed to bridging the digital divide,” said Haighton-Williams.

This research underscores the critical need for strategies that bridge the digital divide, promote understanding across generations, and leverage the strengths of each age group in the evolving landscape of AI and digital tools in the workplace.

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