Generational Issues

Generational issues permeate every – um, generation (I guess that’s by definition). Technology seems to be an obvious reminder of these issues, especially for those of us in IT who are tech support for their parents. :-)

Now that I am a middle-aged middle-manager, I am definitely noticing this more frequently in the work place. It is especially prominent in corporate IT as fresh young folk ride the wave of Web 2.0 and social media into positions of prominence and authority. I should not complain too much, as I suspect that the mainframers thought the same of us client-server people when we rode into town.

PMI’s PM Network penned “The Young and the Restless” in their “The Buzz” column last month about PMs with younger managers.

The upstarts are taking over. Looking to cut costs wherever possible, many companies took an ax to the organization chart, leaving younger (and typically lower-paid) project talent in charge. These days, it’s no longer unusual for veteran project managers to have a boss with a decade or two less experience.

According to a February 2010 CareerBuilder press release, “More Than Four-in-Ten Workers Over the Age of 35 Currently Work for a Younger Boss”. Top complaints from older workers about younger bosses:

  • They act like they know more than me when they don’t.
  • They act like they are entitled and didn’t earn their position.
  • They micromanage.
  • They play favorites with younger workers.
  • They don’t give me enough direction.

PMI quotes Lisa DiTullio, author of Project Team Dynamics: Enhancing Performance, Improving Results, “Be prepared for a boss with high-energy expectations. Younger people work at a fast pace. They may push for more work to be delivered within tighter timelines. They tend to live a 24/7 schedule… and have all the latest gadgets. This makes them nimble and efficient in managing different communications at once.”

ComputerWorld‘s Mary Pratt stated in “How IT will change when Gen Y runs the show“:

Generation X’ers and millennials — those from Generation Y — are now becoming managers, and they’ll take on more of the top positions in the coming decades. As they do, they’ll bring their own philosophies about how the workplace should operate. Expect a more open and flexible work experience, where careers don’t necessarily just advance up the corporate ladder but rather move laterally and possibly down, too, depending on changing personal and professional ambitions and needs.

BNet blogger Penelope trunk says in “Why Gen Y is Better at Your Job Than You Are“:

Young people can find information faster and sort information faster than older people. For example, young people are more likely to use the best tool at the best time: They collaborate on wiki-type tools with ease. They crowdsource. They’re aces with downloading software onto the company laptop to become more productive and efficient. Think about it: Younger people don’t utter the phrase “information overload” because they don’t feel it; they benefit from the plasticity of the brain, which has adapted, over their Internet-based lives to process information faster.

For the IT manager, we will likely have to slightly modify our styles as we interact with a younger/older boss and younger/older employees. While this has always been the case across all professions, maybe it is a little more pronounced in IT today given the recent sea changes in technology and the resulting blending of work/personal lives. Differences are good for us to acknowledge, talk about, and think about. At its very nature, IT is about change, and we have to embrace it whether it is technology or people. We have to strive to subjugate initial negative reactions to something – or someone – different. Besides, as PMI said in The Buzz, “In today’s economy, it all comes down to who can get the job done”, and the end-customer likely cares less about the age of their provider behind the curtain. Harnessing  these different types of contributors is why IT managers exist.