Posted by: goalpath | June 19, 2009

Tech Etiquette – Corporate Problem or Opportunity?

I realize that none of us could live without our laptops, PDAs, smart phones and copious applications occupying the memory of these devices. There seems to be a digital divide between the younger and older members of the white collar workforce. Many older members of the workforce believe that their younger counterparts misuse these tech gadgets in the workplace breeching workplace etiquette standards.

I am not talking about the self absorbed bozos that insist on taking every call on their cell, and then pretend there is no one else within ear shot. You know the ones. They walk around the office revealing more about themselves and their business than any of us want or need to know.  These are the same guys and gals you run into in the check out lines and restaurants using their outside voice to carry on obnoxious conversations about some business deal or Aunt Mimi’s diarrhea. This type of etiquette abuse is carried out by people of all ages. For these people, I only wish I could get my hands on some sort of device that I could use to transmit an electrical shock to their cell phone in mid conversation. I digress.

A LexisNexis® Technology Gap Survey done by WorldOne Research discusses the etiquette gap between generations when it comes to using technology in the workplace.  The full report can be found at This survey sample was comprised of Baby Boomers (45-63), Gen X workers (29-44) and Gen Y workers (28 and younger). They found that everyone thought technology increased their productivity in the work place. Well, duh…You mean my Toshiba notebook computer is more efficient than my Big Chief tablet and my number 2 pencil?  Sorry, I couldn’t let that observation go by without some comment.

The digital divide starts with the use of online media. 84% of the Gen Y workers think listening to online radio is acceptable versus 63% of their Boomer counterparts. The majority of Gen X workers and Gen Y workers also believe that using music playing software at work is okay (60% and 58% respectively). While only 35% of Boomers believed that it is okay. Almost twice as many Gen Y workers use video playing programs (51%) than their Boomer counterparts.

When it comes to accessing social networks, 22% of the Gen Y workers said that it does not reduce their productivity. Only 7% of the Gen X workers and 0% of the Baby Boomers agree. 62% of Gen Y workers report accessing social networking sites from work, while only 14% of Baby Boomers access social networks in their offices. Twice as many Gen Y workers think it is okay to befriend a client on a social networking site than do Boomers. Similar results were recorded concerning the use of blogs at work. Of course, the Gen Y’ers (aka Millennials) have grown up with these applications and so this shouldn’t be such a big surprise.

Every worker I know complains about the loss of productivity caused by having to attend incessant meetings at work.  Baby Boomers believe that the use of PDAs and Mobile phones in meetings contribute to unproductive outcomes, as well as a decline in proper workplace etiquette. Less than half of the Gen Y workers believe that to be true. 68% of Boomers think that using a laptop or PDA in an in-person meeting is distracting, while only 49% of Gen Y workers agree that there is some distraction. And Gen Y’ers are much more inclined to think blogging about work-related issues is okay. Obviously the biggest divide in philosophies of workplace etiquette will be between Boomers and Gen Y workers.

So what does this mean to the average corporate manager? It means that Baby Boomers have a different view on the uses and abuses of these technologies in the workplace. The Gen Y workers have been using them for most of their lives and are more comfortable with tech gadgets. Gen Y’ers also seem to be more comfortable with multi-tasking aspects of technology. Boomers think the younger set is biting off more than it can chew with regard to multi-tasking and diluting the quality of their efforts. Gen X is left in the middle to act as the go between or diplomat between these two cohorts. Some forward thinking companies have banned tech devices from workplace meetings. Others have set forth sensible guidelines for their use and abuse.

Bottom line, corporate America needs to recognize the digital divide and come up with innovative ways to eliminate the confusion regarding, “what is appropriate and what is not” in the use or abuse of these high tech tools. They must ensure that every employee is made aware of the company’s tech etiquette guidelines. By the same token, if the Gen Y workers have more expertise in certain areas of technology, then the company should publicly embrace it and take advantage of those skills. Remove the source of these technology conflicts and maybe every worker will focus on what’s really important…their personal role in helping their team contribute to the company’s current goals and overall mission.

If you are a Baby Boomer and haven’t joined my web community,, then please consider it. It only takes a minute to sign up. You can participate in polls, forums and discussions on the most pressing issues facing America and Boomers.



  1. I think anytime you are talking face to face with another human being, that you should give them preference. Unless it is an emergency, you should not take a call, or otherwise divert your attention to your handheld device.

    Example: if I am talking to you in person and you suddenly break off to take a phone call, am I within my rights to take out my cellphone and call you, breaking in to your call that interrupted our conversation? Will you tell that caller “excuse me, I have to stop talking to YOU now to take THIS call?” And will you take my call? Moreover, will you get the HINT? And then how ridiculous will we both look, standing 3 feet apart, talking to each other on our phones?

    Or, if you take that call, since you will have virtually left me, can I walk away, physically leaving you?

    Bottom line, an interruption is an interruption. If our face to face conversation is interrupted by another person walking up, at least I can hear what the interruption is about and usually some type of apology is issued by the new entry to the social circle. In a phone call, I don’t know what the interruption is about, who is calling, and they don’t know they are interrupting- so a lot more weight is put on the person I am conversing with. Their apology may come across as insincere due to a distraction:phone call impact ratio…..the greater the anticipated impact of answering the phone call, the more distracted any offered apology may sound. I just become a social ornament to hang in your background, until such time as you once more have time for me. And then you probably expect ME to answer the question of “where were we?”

    Another way to look at this question: do you feel comfortable answering a text or taking a call when your boss is in the room or at the table? Who would have to be present to give you pause? Once you find that threshold, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself why everyone lower than that threshold doesn’t rate. At that point, you’ll know what values you associate to those above the threshold and then ask yourself why those values are important, rather than people themselves.

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