Managing a Multigenerational Workforce: Closing the Gap

A starting point for navigating this brave new world, Boston College's Pitt-Catsouphes says, is to recognize and respect differences while avoiding stereotypes. "It's important to understand that people have grown up in different eras and have different ways of thinking about work and technology," she says. "But it doesn't mean that older workers can't learn new systems and that every young person is a technology guru."

MIT Sloan's McAfee argues that the consumerization of IT isn't going away and that eschewing it--and turning off younger workers--puts an organization at a distinct competitive disadvantage. "Executives must alter their thinking and modify their ideas and expectations--even though this is the opposite of what many of them believe," he says. "In many cases, Millennials are on the right track with the way they want to use technology in their jobs. They're holding a flashlight to the future." (For a look at how one company is addressing mobility in the workplace, see "Connecting a Multigenerational Workforce.")

It's critical for organizations to address multi-generational challenges, Accenture's Curtis says. First, he recommends developing a well-reasoned and balanced technology policy and ensuring that employees read and understand it. (For a look at how one company addressed this issue, see "Policy Matters at Unisys.") "Unfortunately, many companies lack policies, or they're entirely incomprehensible or unreasonable," Curtis says. "It needs to be in plain language rather than legalese. Employees must know why various provisions are important."

Second, it's critical to provide training to workers--particularly older employees who may be well-versed in using email and Web tools, but are lagging in areas such as social media and crowdsourcing. Many younger workers, Curtis notes, solve problems by integrating colleagues and friends into the process. As a result, some organizations have latched onto the idea of younger workers reverse-mentoring older workers. At the same time, younger workers can gain a greater appreciation for the business and security issues that prevent the unrestrained use of personal technology.

Finally, it's important to rethink security and threat management. Clinton Smith, manager of IT risk and compliance for professional services provider Grant Thornton LLP, argues that organizations must focus on opportunities as well as risks. "It's critical to protect the data rather than the device," he argues. "Trying to build the ultimate padlock is both impractical and inefficient." Consequently, some organizations are focusing heavily on endpoint security and a more holistic protection model. Others, such as IBM, are building app stores with approved software.

Yet, in the end, there's no way to build airtight rules and policies that guarantee security. Nor can we assure that every application, method and technique used by younger workers benefits the organization. Savvy CIOs, Curtis says, recognize that the tech genie is out of the bottle and the physics of the 20th century no longer apply. Forward-thinking CIOs view the situation with open eyes and an open mind, and they embrace the opportunity to innovate.

There's certainly no turning back. "Executives might find younger workers and the way they use technology somewhat challenging," Curtis concludes. However, "they're guiding the way to the future of work. They can serve as intelligent critics. They can provide enormous insights. Wise business leaders listen to them and learn from them."

This article was originally published on 06-30-2011
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