The sizzling job field in the US has a few issues most companies like to sweep under the rug. There's bullying, harassment, and burnout that plagues working professionals' lives.
Perhaps one of today's major challenges is the bias of age.
For one, nearly two-thirds of workers aged 45–74 have seen or experienced it, according to AARP's data.
Then there's the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that receives between 23,000 to 25,000 age-related complaints each year. Some emerge because employers favor younger candidates, while others complain about unexplained termination.
So, at LiveCareer, we decided that a change is in order.
We've set out to explore how Baby Boomers' and Gen Xers' IT skills compare to those of Millennials and debunk the myth that older workers are out of touch with technology.
Tech acumen assessment across 3 generations
For starters, we asked Americans if they consider themselves tech-savvy. Below is a breakdown of each generation's responses:
- Millennials (25–40 y/o): 95%
- Gen Xers (41–56 y/o): 89%
- Baby Boomers (57–75 y/o): 81%
As a follow-up, we asked our respondents how their tech skills compare to those of their team members:
- Inferior: Millennials—2%, Gen Xers—53%, Baby Boomers—46%
- On-a-par: Millennials—5%, Gen Xers—54%, Baby Boomers—42%
- Superior: Millennials—9%, Gen Xers—64%, Baby Boomers—26%
It got really fascinating when we asked the survey takers if they ever grow frustrated with using technology at work.
Only 63% of Baby Boomers said "Yes" compared to 67% of Gen Xers and 72% of Millennials. That's in line with a similar survey from Dropbox, which found that workers aged 55+ are less likely than their younger colleagues to find using tech stressful. On top of that, we found that tech frustration hurts the productivity of 47% of Baby Boomers, 70% of Gen Xers, and 73% of Millennials.
One explanation for it is that senior workers are generally more poised, patient, and self-assured, which helps them weather workplace challenges effectively, a recent Forbes report finds.
At this point, we asked the respondents if they use their own personal device or application for work purposes—known as BYOD or BYOA in tech-speak. Below are the responses:
- Millennials: 86%
- Gen Xers: 82%
- Baby Boomers: 75%
The figures for younger workers are similar to CompTIA's 2013 generation study. Yet, their numbers for Baby Boomers somewhat differ, with only a third of 57 y/o workers—polled by CompTIA—taking advantage of BYOD.
Perhaps, COVID-19 had a role to play in this. After all, our research also revealed that a full 76% of Baby Boomers and 91% of Gen Xers (relative to 90% of Millennials) have become more proficient with tech thanks to the prolonged remote working situation brought on by the pandemic, which blurred the line between work and life.
Lastly, we asked the respondents how much they agree or disagree with the following statement:
"Older people are worse at using technology than younger ones."
Below is a breakdown of each generation's responses (with the percentages indicating agreement and/or strong agreement):
- Millennials: 65%
- Gen Xers: 55%
- Baby Boomers: 42%
As you can see, younger workers are more likely to believe they are superior to their seasoned colleagues when it comes to tech. But it doesn't mean Baby Boomers or Gen Xers are actually less capable, as you'll see in a second.
Technology use in practical terms
At this stage, we decided to put different generations' tech skills to the test. To do it, we asked the survey takers how comfortable they are with using core Microsoft Suite programs, Google Workspace services, and popular videoconferencing and communication tools.
See the responses below:
- Word: Millennials—98%, Gen Xers—97%, Baby Boomers—97%
- Excel: Millennials—94%, Gen Xers—92%, Baby Boomers—98%
- Powerpoint: Millennials—94%, Gen Xers—88%, Baby Boomers—82%
- Outlook: Millennials—91%, Gen Xers—95%, Baby Boomers—91%
- OneDrive: Millennials—91%, Gen Xers—89%, Baby Boomers—77%
- Teams: Millennials—90%, Gen Xers—88%, Baby Boomers—70%
- Calendar: Millennials—96%, Gen Xers—97%, Baby Boomers—92%
- Gmail: Millennials—97%, Gen Xers—98%, Baby Boomers—96%
- Drive: Millennials—96%, Gen Xers—92%, Baby Boomers—86%
- Forms: Millennials—94%, Gen Xers—89%, Baby Boomers—77%
- Docs: Millennials—95%, Gen Xers—93%, Baby Boomers—90%
- Sheets: Millennials—94%, Gen Xers—89%, Baby Boomers—80%
Videoconferencing and communication programs
- Zoom: Millennials—96%, Gen Xers—92%, Baby Boomers—87%
- Skype: Millennials—94%, Gen Xers—89%, Baby Boomers—84%
- Hangouts: Millennials—78%, Gen Xers—82%, Baby Boomers—65%
- Slack: Millennials—82%, Gen Xers—73%, Baby Boomers—55%
Based on the above figures, it appears that older generations are overall on a par with younger ones when it comes to essential productivity software such as MS Word (and G Docs), Excel (and G Sheets), PowerPoint, Outlook, Calendar, and Gmail.
Yet, there's a noticeable drop-off when looking at Google's and Microsoft's cloud-based tools (e.g., OneDrive, Forms) and collaboration apps (e.g., Hangouts, Slack, Teams).
Perhaps, it's a good time for employers to look into providing training (keep scrolling to learn what type of training senior employees seek) on those more advanced tools. After all, older workers might risk being left behind in an increasingly remote and cloud-based world.
Lastly, we also asked the survey takers if they know how to use filters and/or backgrounds in videoconferencing programs—a question inspired by a famous YouTube video where a lawyer shows up to virtual court with a kitten filter turned on.
Below are their responses:
- Millennials: 90%
- Gen Xers: 82%
- Baby Boomers: 52%
As you can see, nearly half of the more senior workers are indeed unfamiliar with filtering and/or background options in popular videoconferencing apps.
Otherwise, however, most Gen Xers and Baby Boomers aren't exactly tech dinosaurs who can't figure out how to send a text or turn on a laptop. And while younger Americans seem to be more fluent with cloud-based and collaborative tools, older workers run them a close second despite the common stereotype.
Workplace vs. IT skills
So far, so good.
Now that we've examined how Baby Boomers' and Gen Xers' information technology skills compare to those of tech-savvy Millennials, we wanted to focus on employers and what they do to help senior workers succeed in an increasingly high-tech environment.
To begin with, we asked the respondents if they feel there's been an increase in new tech use for their line of work recently. Below are their responses:
- Millennials: 89%
- Gen Xers: 86%
- Baby Boomers: 72%
The results are somewhat predictable, as most of us started to rely more on technology after being muscled into nationwide remote work in the infamous spring of 2020.
Moving along, we asked Americans if their employer ever required them to attain a professional tech-related certification or credential. Sadly, a full 57% of Baby Boomers said "No" relative to 37% of Gen X employees and 26% of Millennials.
But—it gets worse:
Nearly 56% of Baby Boomers report they haven't attended any tech-related training (mandatory or voluntary) in the last year, compared to 35% of Gen Xers and 26% of Millennial employees. The remaining employees aged 57–75 who did receive training described it as:
- Effective: 54%
- Very effective: 28%
- Somewhat effective: 13%
- Slightly effective: 2%
- Not effective at all: 2%
Yet, a full 57% of Baby Boomers and 73% of Gen Xers still believe they need more training to be fully confident with using technology.
This could be a signal for employers to channel their resources into providing coaching opportunities, as lack thereof often prompts employees to disengage and look for greener pastures, a recent study finds.
What type of training do different generations seek?
- Online training courses: Millennials—57%, Gen Xers—53%, Baby Boomers—54%
- One-on-one training: Millennials—7%, Gen Xers—13%, Baby Boomers—18%
- In-person group classes: Millennials—35%, Gen Xers—34%, Baby Boomers—28%
As you can see, "online training courses" took the cake across all three generations. That's great news for employers, as they can tap into the power of learning platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, or Skillshare and help employees master new technologies without breaking the bank.
And to help older generations close the gap with the youngest cohort, focus on collaborative and cloud-based tools since this is where they need a boost the most.
As our last question, we asked American employees if the prospective employer's level of tech-savviness is important when they evaluate a job offer. Below is a breakdown of each generation's responses (with the percentages indicating agreement and/or strong agreement):
- Millennials: 66%
- Gen Xers: 65%
- Baby Boomers: 61%
So, if your business is still using Netscape and 56k modems, you might be due for an upgrade if you want to attract tech-savvy job candidates.
Stacking it all up
Without a doubt, new technologies enter our lives at a breakneck pace.
But it doesn't mean senior workers can't adapt to new systems or are technologically illiterate. In reality, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers can be just as tech-savvy as Millennials, particularly if companies spend enough time and effort to provide them with quality training.
So—here are four takeaways for businesses that will hopefully shrink today's blatant age discrimination:
- Only 63% of Baby Boomers grow frustrated with technology, compared to 67% of Gen Xers and 72% of Millennials.
- A full 75% of Baby Boomers use a personal device or application for work, just barely falling behind Gen Xers (82%) and Millennials (86%).
- Nearly 76% of Baby Boomers and 91% of Gen Xers have become more proficient with using tech thanks to the prolonged remote working situation brought on by the pandemic.
- Yet, 56% of employees aged 57–75 haven't attended any tech-related training in the last year.
We surveyed 981 unique respondents via a bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. The study was created through several steps of research, crowdsourcing, and surveying.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses of "neither/uncertain/unknown" not being presented.
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- AARP, "Perceptions of Age Discrimination in the Workplace"
- CompTIA, "Generational Research on Technology and Its Impact in the Workplace"
- Dropbox, "Collective Creativity Survey"
- Hannon K., "10 Reasons To Hire and Retain Workers 50+"
- Lemov P., "What It Takes To Win An Age Discrimination Suit"
- Rao M.S., "Innovative Tools and Techniques to Ensure Effective Employee Engagement"