Are there generational differences in expectations of work technology use after hours?

Extracts and summary of the research: 'Technological Tethering, Digital Natives, and Challenges in the Work-Family Interface'.

Research Authors: Andrew D. Nevin and Scott Schieman (2020)

Key quotes from the research:

  • ‘…mobile technologies have facilitated the extension of traditional working hours, reflective of workers being “technologically tethered” to their jobs while at home so that they are more accessible than ever to their employers … constant connectivity has become normalised in today’s society and ingrained in organizational cultures by fostering unrealistic expectations of worker availability, which has contributed to current norms of excessive job contact, multitasking, and working overtime’.
  • ‘…the modern worker represents one who is technologically tethered, that is, restricted by traditional separations of physical work and home environments while being digitally available for job contact and monitoring at all times … through technology, fast-paced work demands are “no longer bound by time and space” and have begun to transcend fixed work schedules … often workers cannot choose to disconnect from their devices, which reduces their autonomy and ability to cope with work stress’.
  • ‘…widespread expectations have emerged about the ability of digital natives to better manage technology-based tasks in the workplace and to handle increasing communication demands via work extending technologies.’

Summary of the research: 

‘Digital Natives’, i.e. those who have grown up using technology on a daily basis, are thought to be better more digitally intelligent and have superior digital skills than older ‘Digital Immigrant’ workers. 

This stereotype has been popularised by the media, who showcase them as needing constant stimulation, being more tech-savvy and more likely to use tech to learn and communicate with others. This has led to the perception that they are more likely to adapt to workplace tech demands, better at multi-tasking and more likely to seek out tech-centric roles.

However, the analysis of this research concluded that there was no difference in the generations in terms of their ability to cope with workplace technology use after hours.

Structural ageism assumes that older workers are less able to adapt to newer technologies, however, this study refutes that sentiment and suggests this assumption instead leads to discriminatory experiences amongst digital immigrants and can lead to reduced productivity. 

The study showcases that neither digital natives nor digital immigrants are able to cope with their workplace tech-tethering, which is synonymous with the modern workplace. 

Digital Natives are not better at balancing their various life roles and are as likely to either cope or struggle with role multitasking and constant workplace connectivity. 

The study did confirm previous findings that women are more likely to experience higher levels of role conflict through after-hours work tech use.

It also confirmed that those in higher status roles were more likely to subscribe to the ‘ideal worker’ norms that encourage overwork, increase work hours and workplace technology use after hours. These workers need both a more individualised and a more active commitment to work-life balance strategies. 

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