Dropbox workforce study reveals older workers better at tech than millennials

The idea that older workers struggle more than their younger colleagues with technology has been debunked by a comprehensive new survey by Dropbox which looks at tech usage and adoption in the workplace, and its impact on productivity, creativity and happiness.

Ipsos MORI surveyed 4,073 information workers online between 17th November 2015 and 18th January 2016 in the US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands and Australia. For the purpose of the survey, an information worker was defined as someone who uses mobile computing and/or a desktop computer or computer at their office/place of work.

The independent study reveals workers in the 55+ age group used more tech devices, reported experiencing fewer tech related problems and far lower levels of tech-induced stress than workers in Gen X and Y age groups.

This ties into recent research from Dr Ruth Williams from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health who says age discrimination is rampant in Australia, with research showing a quarter of job seekers aged 45 to 64 remain, on average, unemployed for more than a year, compared with only 15 per cent of those aged 44 or younger.

This is particularly concerning, considering Australians aged 45 and over intend to work longer than they ever have before, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The results highlight some commonly held misconceptions about age and technology- in fact 45 percent of respondents (and 57 percent of 18–35 year olds) still view older colleagues as slower to adopt new technology. These misconceptions could potentially lead to managers wrongly attributing age as a factor in tech adoption and usage, and even discrimination against older workers in some cases.

The results highlight the gulf between perception and reality when it comes to how tech and older workers are viewed in the workplace. Answers to the survey questions showed the main differences within the survey were not based on age, sector or seniority but had much more to do with tech usage and working style.

Dropbox managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Charlie Wood says the survey results redress some commonly held misconceptions about age and technology. These misconceptions could potentially lead to IT managers wrongly attributing age as a factor in tech adoption and usage, which may even lead to discrimination against older workers in some cases.

“IT managers and colleagues might be making assumptions based on someone’s age when in fact that person is very comfortable with using tech solutions and adopting the right ones for them when they deem it necessary,” Wood says.

“The focus on age is something that’s just not borne out by what we see in the survey, where workers aged 55+ are using as many or more devices in their work as their younger colleagues.”

“In addition to that, they seem to be managing those devices very well, which indicates maybe young workers could learn a thing or two about how to incorporate tech into their work routine in a more seamless manner,” he said.

The survey found 45 percent of of all respondents held the view older colleagues are slower to adopt new technology than younger ones, with 57 percent of 18–35 year olds holding this view.

Countering this, only 17 percent of people aged 55+ reported having problems with tech compared to 33 percent of the number of 18-35s. Additionally, 16 percent of the 55+ age group find their experience of using technology at work stressful whereas 35 percent of the 18–34 year old age group do.

Rather than factors such as age, Wood says it is more useful to think about tech usage and adoption and how it affects productivity, creativity and collaborative practices at work by looking at workers across four key categories:

  1. The non-flexible, non collaborating worker
  2. The non-flexible, collaborating worker
  3. The flexible, non-collaborating worker
  4. The flexible, collaborating worker

The survey results found ‘flexible, collaborating workers’ were the happiest, most productive and most open to new technology among all those surveyed.

“In the 21st century it is refreshing to know that it is not how old you are, what sector you are in or how senior you are which governs how productive, creative or happy you can be at work; it is the technology you have access to and attitudes towards flexible, collaborative working which determine these matters,” Wood says.

Key findings from the survey:
  • Collaborative and flexible workers are the happiest
  • Collaborative and flexible workers are the most creative
  • Productivity — every segment believes that digital technology and online collaboration tools will help or greatly help workers to generate new business; be more innovative; find creative solutions; and work more collaboratively
  • Changing face of teamworking — sitting physically next to colleagues at the same desk is a thing of the past
  • Smartphone is the tool of choice for collaborative and flexible workers
  • Small businesses seem to be more flexible and collaborative
  • Popularity of Dropbox as collaboration tool
  • Problems with multiple devices – CIOs need to get better at making cross device management a more seamless experience
  • Age is not a factor when it comes to technology adoption