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Fast Risers

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 12-12-2007 Print

Waiting for a promotion or choice assignment feels like purgatory to many millennials. "They are looking for a career path with shorter steps," Cornelio says. "That becomes a big management issue: You have to be more open to the idea that people will not stay in the job for five years just because that's what people used to do, but you also have to manage expectations and not set them up to fail."

The trick is to understand the expectations of talented younger workers while getting them proper experience and not alienate older workers who came up the traditional way in the process. Lincoln has tailored its development program to accommodate the interests of the people it hires out of college, paying more attention than it once did to their preferences as they rotate through a variety of job functions to see different parts of the company and allow the company to evaluate them in various roles. So far, says Cornelio, there has been little pushback from people who were assigned to jobs in a more traditional, top-down way, but that may change over time. "It's a developing phenomenon, the realization is just coming to people that there is a difference."

Mike Orren, 35, felt tension between his fellow Gen Xers and younger workers at the online publishing company he founded, Pegasus News. "The Xers were not as demanding or expectant of raises or options, and the millennials were like, 'I've been here 15 minutes, can I put vice president on my card?' It's not that we were being so elitist or hierarchical about it, but it just seemed so different from what we were used to." Things got really weird when some 20-something workers wanted to bring their parents into the mix. One guy showed up for a performance review with his mom and dad in tow, and another wanted his father to sit in on his stock-option negotiations. Orren wasn't having it. "That just annoyed the crap out of me," he says. "It's not appropriate."

Schneider stresses that his emphasis goes beyond newer technologies like video and online training to the goals of the training itself. "We know we have to change the way we handle knowledge transfer and training," he says. "You used to train people for 10 or 20 years on the job; now it's more about recruiting and retaining them. You have to prepare for knowledge transfer. We know we have to use documentation in different media, not just the written word." Many companies are moving away from traditional, seniority-based career paths and focusing on performance and potential, Erickson says. That benefits workers of all ages—at least the good ones—and creates an unprecedented mix of age groups working together. That means managers must recognize generational differences to head off potential conflicts and leverage the benefits. Younger workers, she says, like jobs that they don't already know how to do. "They love to be thrown into situations where they don't know how to do something, then network with others to learn how to do it."

The word "entrepreneurial" comes up a lot in conversations about Generation Y. "They have entrepreneurial aspirations, they want to get away from structure," Erickson says. "Businesses tend to push people into specialties, out on a limb, but I recommend that corporations create lateral opportunities that give people multiple options and keep them comfortable, keep them challenged and interested."

And keeping them interested is an art. A senior manager told her that one of his Gen X managers couldn't figure out what to do with a Gen Y worker who finished an 18-month assignment in four months. The answer: Give him another job to do. It sounds obvious, but a lot of companies are not taking the hint. Younger employees may believe they can get a week's worth of work done in 25 hours instead of 40, but find it is socially awkward—and unrewarding—to do so. The result, says Erickson: "A lot of Ys tell me they are bored out of their minds."


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