Hyperlinks and buttons have very different UX suitability.
- Hyperlinks are suitable for space constrained situations (e.g. inline text, toolbars, or menus) or situations where buttons would be too intrusive (see this for example).
Hyperlinks are also popular in consumer (non-expert) applications where a designer wants highlight more important call-to-action buttons (e.g.
Buy now) and avoid other onscreen buttons competing for attention:
See this stackexchange question for more details
- When space or visual clutter is not constrained, buttons are usually a better solution than hyperlinks because they are much easier to use with mouse or touch interfaces. Fitt's law explains why. This is as true for younger workers as it is for older workers!
- Buttons tend to be more suitable for expert/technical applications where productivity and accuracy is more important that how an interface looks. Here's a wireframe for a fictitious technical application where buttons have been color coded and sized according to frequency of use....productivity here is more important than appearance:
- As a result, good technical interfaces tend to employ large, clear, and well organized buttons for frequently used commands, with less important commands relegated to hyperlinks, menus or toolbars to save space.
If your UX team has shifted controls to hyperlinks just for the sake of more modern looks, then that is a failure of UX design intent.
If they are doing it for ergonomic reasons (to save space for other larger controls or important information displays) then there may be a reasoned tradeoff. Another common reason for a shift to hyperlinks is preparation for a mobile version of the software (where space is a premium).
One easy way to tell whether this was a good design decision is to ask yourself and your team of users:
Will this interface help me do my job faster or more accurately once I learn the interface?
You have to set aside the learning curve for the sake of intellectual honesty (it's a one-time effort).
If the answer is NO, then your UX team has made the interface worse, not better, and by definition the design has failed.