UAH's Pavica Sheldon Factors Digital Natives
& Digital Immigrants into Workplace Diversity |
February 4, 2018
it comes to diversity in the workplace, "a lot has changed," said Dr. Pavica
Sheldon, Professor and Department Chairperson of Communication Arts at The
University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
"Diversity has changed not only with technologies but with world events," she
said. "Younger workers grew up witnessing a lot of social movements (Black Lives
Matter, Occupy Wall Street) and events post - 9/11."
Sheldon said diversity has become more situational. She notes workplace
diversity as a prime example.
"There are currently four generations working together: Baby Boomers
(1946-1964), Gen’Xers (1965-1980), Gen’Yers (Millennials, 1980-1996), and
Gen’Zers (1996-current)," Sheldon said. "All these generations have different
work preferences and skills, especially when it comes to technology. Gen’Yers
make up the largest percentage (35 percent) of the workforce today, and Gen’Xers
follow," she added.
There are four
generations in the workforce today. Multigenerational teams could be an asset to
companies, according to Dr. Pavica Sheldon, Professor and Department Chairperson
of Communication Arts at UAH.
In addition to the four generations in
today’s workforce, Sheldon said, we also have "digital natives" and "digital
immigrants" to consider.
"Digital natives (younger Millennials and Gen’Zers or Zappers) are shaped by
technology from birth. Technology influences how they communicate. They value
speed over accuracy, and digital natives multitask, spending more time on online
social networks compared to digital immigrants. Although criticized for shorter
attention spans and lack of focus, digital natives are very creative. For
instance, they can build apps and games without coding," she said.
Sheldon said competition for jobs between older and younger workers is a real
"Many factors are keeping older Americans working today including jobs and
retirement funds lost during the financial crisis of 2007-2009, plus many Baby
Boomers for now being forced to raise grandchildren because of the opioid
crisis. All these reasons and more are causing many older workers to delay
retirement," said Sheldon.
She went on to say that there are many pros and cons for employers to seriously
consider when it comes to hiring the best person for the job. "Mature workers
can be good mentors. Younger workers, especially Millennials expect a lot of
feedback. They were raised by helicopter parents and therefore need contact,
praise and reassurances. Older workers can help by providing supervision and
While Baby Boomers are more experienced, disciplined and loyal, Sheldon admitted
that employers do have other issues to consider when hiring older workers such
as can they keep up in a tech-savvy world, and there are healthcare and wellness
She said when it comes to young adult workers some are more technically inclined
than others. "Millennials are true techies. In fact, Gen’Xers are not as
tech-savvy as Millennials or even Gen’Zers. Zappers are what we calltech
innate," she said. "Unlike Millennials who communicate by texting, Zappers
communicate better with images."
According to Sheldon research from 2008 showed that younger generations perceive
social pressure from superiors more acutely than do older generations. "Younger
workers have greater respect for hierarchy and authority in the workplace than
older workers. Because they grew up with social media, they are used to some
kind of approval… for instance ‘likes’ on social media.
"Recent research shows that younger workers expect to get more feedback, which
is a good thing as they strive to perform better. The communication style of
younger workers is more direct; they expect honest and open discussion. I see
this in the classroom as well," Sheldon said.
When it comes to hiring young people employers have cause for concern as well.
Particularly challenging in the employment world now is ghosting.
"Millennials, and younger workers are literally walking off the job without
giving notice. Some job applicants go as far as ghosting prospective employers
by not showing up for interviews," said Sheldon.
Documented in generational research, two other traits impatience and short
attention spans caused problems for young adults on the job too, according to
"Young people are used to instant gratification because of technology, and they
expect the same in the workplace. Millennials and other young workers are more
likely to quit their job if they feel dissatisfied or emotionally exhausted,"
she said. "Their communication style is different but I do not think we
necessarily have to look at it as negative behavior."
said soon generational differences in the workplace will be obsolete — the
larger job threat will be advances in robots and automation.
According to a recent McKinsey & Company report by 2030, as many as 800 million
workers worldwide could be replaced at work by robots and artificial
intelligence. Last fall, according to an Interesting Engineering.com article,
Giant Food Stores introduced "Marty" robotic assistants to customers in 17
Pennsylvania stores. Tall and gray with big googly eyes (could pass for Gumby’s
cousin), Marty uses technology to check expiration dates, report spills, debris,
and other hazards to store employees to improve the customer shopping
experience. The grocery chain has announced plans to place Martys in all 172
stores. The article noted too, that Wal-Mart is also introducing robots to its
Sheldon said for now a multigenerational team could be an asset to a company as
each generation brings their own strengths and skills. "Research shows there are
more similarities than differences among generational cohorts. The key is to
‘value’ generational differences."