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Tech shame explained: Everything you need to know

Combat tech shame at work and create an inclusive culture. Address knowledge gaps, provide training and foster open communication to boost productivity and engagement.

Recognizing and addressing tech shame is critical for businesses and employees to prevent embarrassment in the workplace. Generation Z was raised on technology, but not all technology is the same. Using a printer or fax machine is a task not everyone has done in their lifetime, and not knowing how to do so can cause shame.

Tech shame can affect anyone, but Gen Z workers get hit hard because coworkers think they know how to handle all technology since they grew up with it. But that's not always the case. Older technology can cause younger workers trouble.

Older employees turn to the tech-savvy younger generation for technical help, but these generations may have just as many questions. Tech shame causes them to keep their struggles to themselves for fear of embarrassment.

What is tech shame?

When faced with a technical issue at work, an employee may experience tech shame, which is a personal sensation of inadequateness or embarrassment. When employees are unable to use any type of technology -- such as office printers, software or desktop computers -- they feel condemned by their coworkers.

Remote workers also face tech shame through proximity bias, which describes the tendency for management to favor employees on site versus in remote locations due to being physically present. Remote workers rely on tech and cannot watch and learn from coworkers, so they are often left to figure things out on their own.

Generations most affected

One in five young office workers feels judged when experiencing technical difficulties, compared to one in 25 older counterparts, according to an HP survey. Accordingly, Gen Z employees are 10 times more likely than their older colleagues to experience tech shame.

One in five young office workers feels judged when experiencing technical difficulties.

When surveyed, Gen Z graduates said technical skills are the top reason they feel unprepared to enter the job market, according to a report from LaSalle Network. Some job tasks require technology beyond social media and videos that require training, such as using software, creating presentations and participating in online meetings. Other offices use technology that younger workers don't have experience with, such as fax machines, photocopiers and phone systems.

But there are other groups equally susceptible to tech shame. Employees who took an extended break from their jobs -- such as those on extended parental leaves -- experience tech guilt because they think they fell behind on technological developments.

Effect of tech shame

If businesses and employees don't address tech shame, it can negatively affect a company. Areas that face the long-term effects of tech shame including the following:

  • Culture. If an employee is too uncomfortable to share issues with technology, they may be hesitant to share other feelings in general, leading to a toxic culture. A culture of fear and isolation can be cultivated through tech shaming. Lack of transparency can also make it hard to manage a workforce without knowing job issues.
  • Engagement. Technology is vital to remote work, and it can set the tone for employee experience. If an employee has a bad relationship with technology, they will have a bad employee experience trying to get their work done.
  • Reputation. If employees talk to clients using conference tools, such as Teams or Zoom, they need confidence to use the technology. If employees don't feel comfortable using technology, it can affect the reputation of a company.
  • Profit. Employees need to use tools such as presentation or meeting software for a company to grow. If someone fears or lacks confidence in the necessary technology, they will miss opportunities.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion. Tech shame creates silos, and some employees have an unfair advantage in terms of visibility and productivity.

How to prevent tech shame

Tech shame exists, and it may go beyond a select group. It can be a challenging issue for both businesses and employees. But there are ways to help prevent tech shame in the workplace.

1. Stay in contact

Keep talking and stay in contact with employees. Regular check-ins should include questions about software and tools to make sure employees are comfortable with them. Ask what the company can do to make their jobs easier, and don't assume employees know how to use any tool. Be honest with personal struggles so employees do not feel alone.

2. Choose the right tools

Some platforms are easier to use than others. Consider updating old technology to more intuitive systems. Using outdated systems may make it more difficult for employees to learn.

3. Offer education and training

When onboarding new employees, train employees on all needed tools, including a printer and fax machine. Don't assume that someone knows how to use them. Include guides for all processes -- such as converting files to other formats -- so employees don't feel ashamed to ask questions. Also remember to go over all technology during onboarding for remote employees so they are not left to figure it out on their own.

4. Create an open culture

People are typically reluctant to share their tech troubles, so companies need to take a proactive approach. This means companies need to reach out and make sure employees feel comfortable with all technology. It is hard to identify tech shame, so be sure to be proactive and offer training.

5. Provide mentors

Provide employees with a mentor that can give them insight beyond their manager. A mentor can be a go-to person if the employee feels uncomfortable talking to their manager or co-workers. Mentors are there to provide support on all levels of an employee's career, and employees may feel more comfortable asking a mentor for help with technology.

Learn more about starting an inclusive mentorship program.

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