IT Manager Challenge: Bridging That Generation Gap

IT Managers Need To Start To Change How They Manage The Next Wave Of IT Workers
IT Managers Need To Start To Change How They Manage The Next Wave Of IT Workers

The workplace is a-changing. As more younger workers start to flood into IT departments (ok, “Millennials” if you must) a lot of what used to work from a management point-of-view has stopped working and this is leaving IT managers with more questions than solutions. There are roughly 80 million workers in this next wave and they are hitting IT especially strongly. IT managers had better find a way to bridge generation gap and do it quickly!

What’s especially interesting about this new wave of IT workers is that the greatest probability of conflict in the workplace exists not between them and the older workers (the baby boomers), but rather between them and the wave that went before them – the Gen X/Y crowd who make up most of today’s front-line managers. The reason that there is little conflict between the next wave and the boomers is because the boomers remind this new batch of workers of their parents and so the rules for interaction on both sides are already known quite well. It’s when the Gen X/Y managers try to impose the old way of doing things that conflict can arise.

However, IT managers can take heart in the fact that it is the IT department that might have a leg up on how best to adapt to the next wave of workers. The culture that we’ve built into our IT departments is actually ideally suited to how younger workers choose to view the world. The world of IT has been, out of necessity, built around constant change and because of that has developed an informal culture. Trends like permitting casual dress in the workplace and rapid adoption of new technologies define the IT department and so should serve to match the expectations of the younger generation.

All that being said, IT managers are going to have to make some changes in order to accommodate their new workers. One of the biggest areas that is going to have to change is how workers get trained to do their jobs. Older workers (sorry Gen X/Y, this time this includes you) are used to the classroom experience. However the new wave of workers grew up playing video games and learning as they went along. This means that they have become accustomed to learning in a hands-on experiential style. Before you rip up the textbooks and jump feet first into the new style learning pond, you need to keep in mind that not all of your workers will respond well to this style of learning – your older workers will still want written material to study and a classroom in which to learn it.

The savvy IT manager will realize that the arrival of a new crop of workers with good IT skills actually opens the door to one-on-one mentoring. This type of informal two-way mentoring give the new workers an opportunity to share their knowledge of new technologies and social networking with older IT workers. Likewise the older IT workers can share their knowledge of how the business actually works with the incoming workers.

Yes, once again IT departments will be facing changes. However, with change also comes opportunity. The IT managers who figure out a way to harness the change in order to benefit both the incoming workers and the existing IT workers will be the ones who help their companies to succeed.

Has the next wave of IT workers already started to take over your IT department? Are you starting to see conflicts between these new workers and the existing Gen X/Y managers? Is your company taking any steps to smooth out this change and the conflicts that it brings? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

4 thoughts on “IT Manager Challenge: Bridging That Generation Gap”

  1. As a Millennial myself one of the interesting things that I have found about IT is their reluctance to allow young professionals to use outside applications. I read an article in Business Week that highlighted Unilever and how almost half of their employee’s desktop applications were filled with programs that were not supposed to be there such as Skype, Ebay, and iTunes. Millennials especially are used to researching and communicating through these outside services and I wonder what your thoughts are on allowing them to use this technology.

  2. Brett: you bring up a really good point. I happen to be a big fan of Google’s Desktop (can’t beat that desktop search engine when you’re looking to find that file that you know that you have SOMEWHERE) – but it keeps getting flagged as “unauthorized software” and so I have to remove / reinstall it! I can understand the security risks that outside apps bring to the workplace; however, I think that it’s in IT’s own best interest to investigate and approve / disapprove these outside apps quickly. If they decide that installing them on a work computer is a no-no, then they should at least tell us WHY it’s a bad idea. Otherwise, you just know that we’re going to keep doing it… What do you think?


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