Technology advances have had extreme impacts in the workplace over the past several decades. Advances in the smallest details of day-to-day work activities impact individuals as well as work teams and the organization as a whole. The ability of an organization to recruit and maintain workers with even the most basic skills required to do their jobs has a direct impact on the organization’s ability to compete with others in the same industry.
Technology advances impact every aspect of the workplace. Recent advances include such changes as using spreadsheet software instead of calculators and adding machines, word processing software in place of handwritten documents, e-mail in place of written letters and digital record keeping in place of file cabinets. Advanced enterprise systems have increasingly replaced older legacy systems.
One challenge associated with technology advances in the workplace is the “brain drain” associated with losing knowledgeable workers who simply haven’t kept up with technological advances. Dr. Gary Small, the co-author of “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,” has analyzed the gap between what he refers to as “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” Natives tend to be younger workers who have had access to advanced technology since they were children, while immigrants tend to be older workers who are more comfortable with face-to-face interactions than electronic interactions. Small says it is important for employers to understand that both types of employees bring their own unique contributions to the workplace.
Engagement and Retention
Technology advances have the potential to impact engagement and retention in the workplace. Workers who lack the basic skills required to perform day-to-day tend to also lack the self confidence required to fully engage with the organization and their work. As technology advances, some workers will naturally fall behind their peers. Older workers may believe it is not economically feasible for them to take the time to update their skills to keep up. Digital immigrants may be lacking vital skills, which creates boundaries to the employee’s success. All of these factors may impact the ability of the organization to retain high-quality employees, which ultimately has an impact on the bottom line.
Ongoing employee development is essential to ensure workers maintain the skills required to keep pace with changing technology. It is also important to conduct assessments of basic skills to identify knowledge gaps that must be filled in order for workers to keep up with their peers. For example, a digital native who does not know how to do a simple task such as copying and pasting cannot be expected to keep pace with a generation of workers who learned this specific task in grade school. It may never occur to an employer that a worker does not understand this most basic concept. Yet, similar skill gaps exist throughout the workplace and must be identified before workers can be expected to maintain the minimum skills required to fulfill their duties.