This three-part series explores topics and ideas presented in Robert Half’s Examining the Multigenerational Workforce report and is based on insights from Robert Half’s internal experts and thought leaders of different generations. Part One takes a look at technology, with a focus on generative AI, through a generational lens. Check out Parts Two and Three when they’re published. On a typical workday in the United States, over 160 million professionals perform their jobs, teaming up with colleagues on a vast array of projects, products and services. That workforce — the third largest in the world — comprises four different generations, making it among the most age-diverse we’ve ever seen. With employees who range from teenagers to septuagenarians, different perspectives will emerge on everything from performance expectations to the best place to go for lunch. A key issue at the forefront today is the frequent need to adapt to new technology. We’ve all heard the stereotypes: Older workers resist new tech, while younger ones embrace it. This doesn’t tell the real story, though. “There’s always some skepticism about the value of new technology, and it can come from employees of all demographics,” said Gene Kim, Robert Half’s director of permanent placement services. “One reason I love having people from different generations on my team is that they embrace new tech at different speeds — and the variety of viewpoints and technical abilities they bring help make us all more effective with it.”
With generative AI tools like ChatGPT storming onto the scene in the last couple of years, the possibility of revolutionary change feels more palpable than ever. Yes, people from different generations may view it differently, but there is also some consensus about its potential. “We’re inundated with new tech,” said Bryce Brown, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at Robert Half. “Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of new software and hardware tools that promised to make my job easier, revolutionize this and revolutionize that. Results have been varied, but generative AI looks like it could make a big impact.” Robert Half marketing manager Melanie Tanaka said, “I showed ChatGPT to someone on my team when it first came out. She gave it a quick test with something she was working on and her response was, ‘Woah, it’s like magic.’” Gene remarked, “One thing that makes generative AI such a game-changer is how intuitive it is, and that reaches across generational boundaries. Its interface is very similar to what everyone already knows from using search engines. There’s no coding, no major training needed, at least at first. You just type in your question or request and it does what you asked it to do. That’s pretty powerful, and its simplicity makes it easy for just about anyone to learn.” This low barrier to entry from a technical standpoint allows workers from the oldest boomer to the youngest Gen Zer to reap the benefits. “If it can save me or my team 15 minutes here and there throughout the day, that gives us an extra 30, 45 minutes or more,” said Bryce. “Yes, please, give us that extra time — we need that!” Gene pointed out that, beyond the time savings, generative AI has the potential to improve the quality of people’s work. “It shows promise of helping make us better at our jobs in multiple ways,” he said. “It certainly isn’t perfect,” he added, “but new iterations are already bringing significant improvements.”
After the initial awe over a tool with a potential to deliver on its revolutionary promise wears off, different generational viewpoints begin to emerge — especially pertaining to people’s careers. According to Robert Half’s Multigenerational Workforce report, baby boomers are the least concerned about AI’s impact on their career compared with the other three generations. This may be in part because they’re nearing the end of their time in the workforce. “Baby boomers may feel — or may even be banking on the idea — that they’ll be retired by the time generative AI becomes pervasive enough to threaten their jobs in any significant way,” Gene said. “Other generations, who have more workdays ahead of them, are clearly a little more concerned.” The data bears that out. Among Gen Xers in the Robert Half report, 40% expressed concern about how automation and AI will affect their job — a number that rose to 48% for Millennials and leaped to 78% among Gen Zers. “People are facing the question of how AI might affect their job or even their industry,” Gene said. “And that’s a legitimate fear. Baby boomers may have less of that concern, but it’s something that could impact all generations in the workforce.” Introducing Generative AI to your workstream? Put employees at ease and in control.
While it may be too soon to know exactly how generative AI might transform individual jobs or even entire fields, managers can step in to help alleviate apprehension. “Probably the best way managers can help calm the fear of AI is to upskill their teams around using it,” Melanie said. “They need to show employees of all generations how to incorporate it into their work so it benefits them.” Bryce agreed: “Show people of all generations what they can do with AI. Give them information about the tool and how to use it effectively. As managers, it’s our job to help our teams learn more about our industry, our clients, and the technology and tools that are out there and how they can help us do our jobs better.” “Managers can also encourage employees to share their own findings,” Melanie added. “Different people will pick up on different things as they use these tools and can level-up the team’s knowledge base with anything from tips and tricks to new use cases.”
It’s well known that generative AI can get facts wrong. Worse, it can produce what AI developers call hallucinations — nonsensical or completely made-up output that has no logical meaning or basis in fact. And while professionals have different levels of trust in this tech, all need to be on guard against inaccuracy. “You can’t just blindly rely on generative AI to create content,” Melanie warned “You have to do your due diligence to verify the information it puts out — and then correct what isn’t accurate. That means managers and company leaders need to emphasize that generative AI can’t stand on its own — the human element is critical. Guidelines and guardrails need to be in place to make sure there’s continual oversight.” Gene added, “Failure to vet what AI produces at all could be damaging. If customers spot inaccuracies, it can affect trust in your company or brand — especially if it goes viral.” Bryce agreed: “Generative AI shouldn’t be thought of as an autonomous tool that can work its magic without human involvement. This is also true of many other technologies.” As the role of AI in hiring grows, the human element should still hold center stage.
As this and other new digital tools emerge, professionals of all experience levels must be aware of how their industry is evolving. While there’s never a guarantee of job security, being aware of how advanced technology is affecting your field — and taking action — can only help. “Pay close attention to emerging tech,” Bryce advised. “Pay attention to the skills gaps it might create and how you, your team and your company might be able to fill them if you’re ahead of the curve.” Melanie added, “You have to go in with the mindset of, ‘OK, this exists now,’ and take it from there. Learning new tools and figuring out how to incorporate them into your workflows and even management practices can end up propelling your business and your career in new directions.” Need hiring help? Combine the power of AI with the human touch by reaching out to one of our talent solutions professionals.