Digital communication tools are a constant source of workplace strife

A new poll of 4,000 knowledge workers in the UK, US, Germany and Australia suggests that digital communication tools are a constant source of strife in the workplaceA new poll of 4,000 knowledge workers in the UK, US, Germany and Australia suggests that digital communication tools are a constant source of strife in the workplace, especially between different generations of people. The poll from the Adapatavist Group, Mind the generational gap, was co-authored by Dr. Eliza Filby, a Historian of Generational Evolution. With half of companies now employing three or more generations, the report claims to reveal a pressing need for clear digital communication guidelines to support effective collaboration and workplace efficiency among diverse age groups. While highlighting areas of intergenerational friction, it also revealed large areas of mutual understanding and cooperation.

Dr Filby says, “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. Every age group has grown up with tech that feels native, from the gramophone to the telephone to Alexa. But it’s 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’ll have habits that make Gen Z feel old.”

  • Lost in translation: 90 percent of teams report conflicts over digital tools, with 60 percent acknowledging these disagreements hamper productivity and collaboration. Digital communication is also rife with confusion—misinterpretations of tone or context 43 percent, mismatched response time expectations 33 percent, and confusion over digital expressions like emojis 33 percent all underline the need for clearer digital communication standards.
  • Bridging the digital divide: This divide extends to generational working styles. While 53 percent of Gen Z envy older colleagues’ phone confidence, half of workers over 50 years old are annoyed by younger colleagues’ lack of traditional tools like pens. Additionally, 47 percent of Gen Z believe older workers slow things down with dated techniques, and 65 percent claim more senior colleagues struggle with technology.
  • Digital toolbox or bloated tech stack? The digital toolbox keeps expanding, with only 7 percent reporting a reduction in tools. Both Gen Z 57 percent and older workers 40 percent are adopting more tools, signalling an across-the-board increase in engagement. This rise could represent increased innovation or a bloated tech stack from adding new tools faster than needed. However, one sign of a quality tool is longevity—email remains the number one application for 70 percent of all workers across generations.
  • AI: digital gift and generational rift: AI is the tech on everyone’s lips, and the hype is real. AI is now the most used tool for almost a quarter 24 percent of all workers. While Gen Z leads adoption at 32 percent, 12 percent of workers over 50 years old are leveraging AI platforms like ChatGPT and Claude more than any other tool. However, underlying this growing usage is deep concern – 67 percent worry AI may widen generational divides, and 70 percent believe it may accelerate Gen Z’s workplace ascendancy.
  • The human element prevails: Beneath perceived stereotypes labelling millennials as “lazy” and boomers as “bossy,” there’s a shared desire among all workers to be seen as individuals. A significant 82 percent oppose such categorisations, believing workplaces should stop supporting generational stereotypes. Furthermore, 56 percent recognise the value in generational diversity, highlighting its potential to boost creativity and productivity 60 percent. The study reveals 45 percent worry generational labels lead to damaging stereotypes, and 40 percent fear potential exclusion from being categorised by age. Older workers, in particular, express discomfort with age-based classification – 81 percent of workers 65+ and 65 percent of those aged 55-64 say dividing generations is problematic. It’s evident that ageism is a major concern, especially for more experienced employees.

Dr. Eliza Filby says, “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.”