Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

Different generations have always clashed about how to approach work and use various tools and technologies. But in an era of mind-bending and unrelenting change, the challenges–and the gulf between generations–have grown exponentially. As more and more young workers push the envelope on consumer devices, including smartphones, and organizations rush to adopt collaboration tools, social media, location-based services, cloud services, virtualization and other systems, many CIOs find themselves reeling.

“People bring radically different assumptions and preconceived notions into how they view technology and its role in the workplace,” says Andrew McAfee, associate director and principal research scientist of the Center for Digital Business at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

“Conventional thinking has always been that the younger workers adapt to the tools and systems an organization already has in place. But this business model no longer applies. The rules are being rewritten on the fly.”

Welcome to the new workplace. For CIOs and other business leaders, it’s an era filled with risk and opportunity. Those who take too conservative an approach–severely restricting devices and software–may make an organization less attractive to young workers, while inhibiting overall productivity. On the other hand, embracing new tools too eagerly can result in security and compliance risks, IT headaches and disenfranchised workers.

Amid the chaos, it’s critical to sort through the tangle of issues and develop a road map for dealing with these new and difficult times. “There are many myths, misconceptions and stereotypes to sort through,” says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College. “Smart organizations attempt to understand the underlying issues and ensure that various age groups aren’t marginalized or excluded from the process. Workers of different ages have different things to offer to an organization.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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