How can HR handle technophobes in the workplace?

Disciplinary action over a refusal to embrace technology should only occur in extreme cases

How can HR handle technophobes in the workplace?
The ever-increasing cultural diversity in today's workplaces, coupled with the sheer speed of technological change, means that there are a wide range of attitudes, approaches and abilities when it comes to handling technology at work. It is likely, then, that in any given organisation there will be a number of individuals who struggle with various aspects of technology, from computers themselves to software, platforms and mobile devices.

But what is the best approach for HR managers to take when dealing with those who are either reluctant, or indeed downright refusing, to embrace technology?

“We are experiencing technological advancement at an ever increasing rate of change and the vast majority of us will have software and gadgets we are currently unfamiliar with,” says Pauline Tarrant, HR consultant with specific experience in the tech sector.

“This creates a variety of comfort levels, or technophobia, with new technology and it cannot be assumed that the generation currently entering the workforce are all tech-savvy. People or organisations who fail to take an open-minded approach to technology may find themselves irrelevant in the near future. Technological advancement is not a fad and thankfully most workplaces and most employees realise this and Luddism is not widespread.”

Tarrant believes that HR must make efforts to fully understand what is holding someone back from grasping the technology at hand, as they may have a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed. People learn and understand different processes and skills at different speeds, so managers must be patient before launching any disciplinary action, at the risk of destroying that employee’s confidence.
That said, it is true that sometimes disciplinary measures might be necessary.
“Disciplinary action up to and including dismissal is something that is only warranted if someone is incapable of performing the requirements of their role, or refuses to use technology,” Tarrant tells HC Online. “Before exploring this option, full training needs to have been offered to the employee along with the opportunity to discuss their reasons for refusal. This could reveal that the new technology requires modification.

“Occasionally a reallocation of duties may be considered for an otherwise star performer in a team but this would be the exception rather than the norm. Within a situation like this it is also important to understand how much technology has changed the role, if the nature of the role has been substantially changed then this may trigger a redundancy situation.”
Interestingly, a struggle to get to grips with new technology systems can actually precipitate positive steps in workplace camaraderie and harmony. Tarrant points to an example from her experience of technophobia positively disrupting a mentoring program that was in place. In this scenario, mentors were typically older employees mentoring younger employees, yet the introduction of new devices such as tablets meant that soon the process was reversed, with younger employees ‘mentoring’ the older employees with this new technology.

“This turning of the tables helped promote a new level of mutual respect in the relationship and has led to several technophobes becoming tech champions.”
However, technophobia doesn’t always have such a happy outcome, with the potential for reduced productivity just one of the risks HR managers should be aware of.
“There are also less positive examples where technophobia has driven employee resistance to technology, resulting in project delays and reducing efficiency gains of new technology in the workplace,” says Tarrant.


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