When 4 Generations of IT Collide

By Susan Nunziata  |  Posted 07-13-2010

When 4 Generations of IT Collide

More than seven in 10 IT workers (73 percent) are under age 45 according to a study conducted by IT staffing firm TEKsystems. This age dynamic is likely to impact the way effective IT leaders manage their teams, especially as 60 percent of IT leaders expect to increase spending on IT projects over the next six months. To meet the demand increases for IT projects and the associated talent requirements of these undertakings, 81percent of IT leaders expect to increase or maintain their percentage of temporary workers in the 2Q 2010.

TEKsystems partners with the Inavero Institute to conduct its quarterly IT and Talent Survey. This quarter's survey reflects the perspectives of nearly 1,000 CIOs and IT decision makers in the U.S. and Canada.

The survey reveals the four generations working side by side in today's IT workforce, and the percentage of IT workers theses generations represent:

  • Silent Generation (born 1922 - 1946): 1%
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1964): 26%
  • Generation X (born 1964 - 1980): 52%
  • Millennials / Generation Y (born 1980 - 2000): 21%

Rapid changes in the workplace are effecting how these generations interact. "As organizations are downsizing, merging, acquiring and/or consolidating, they are also eliminating many middle management positions and moving toward flatter organizational structures with more limited upward mobility," says Tania Lavin, TEKsystems Market Research Manager, in a prepared statement. "This trend, coupled with various technological drivers, results in situations where candidates from different generations increasingly compete for the same jobs."

"When considering the strengths and weaknesses across generations, many IT leaders face a trade off," adds TEKsystems Director of Technical Professional Programs, Michelle Webb. "In general terms, the more senior workers tend to offer a stronger understanding of the business, the customer and the organization's political environment. However, given the speed at which IT changes, the younger generations can sometimes offer more technical expertise in the hottest new tools and technologies."

Attracting Talent

Attracting, Retaining Talent

Talent attraction and retention strategies are changing accordingly. The survey reveals that 30 percent of IT decision-makers currently leverage social media to post positions, advertise and perform background checks. Moreover, to retain employees post recession, many companies are exploring more Millennial-based benefits. Forty-two percent say they are increasing professional development opportunities, 40 percent  are allowing more flexible schedules and 25 percent are offering telecommuting options -- compared to only 24 percent that increased compensation.

Yet, each generation brings its perspectives and ideals to the workplace. Research shows that those in the Silent Generation cite respect as a motivating factor. They tend to have a very dedicated work ethic and respond well to messages that reassure them: "Your experience is respected here." Baby Boomers are similar, but tend to seek more personal gratification. They prefer face-to-face meetings and find encouragement from messages that say: "Your contribution is important to us."

What Do Younger Generations Need?

What Do Younger Generations Need?

"The younger generations are not as easy to please, as they require organizations to make significant changes to their employee value proposition," says TEKsystems' Webb. "Moreover, between what Generation X seeks and what the Millennials are looking for, there are some potentially conflicting differences." For example, Generation X tends to be more self-motivated, compensation-driven and individualistic. They prefer to act autonomously, resist authority and appreciate an employer that says: "Do it your way" or "We are not very formal here."

The Millennials, on the other hand, seek a high level of recognition, expect their leaders to teach them new information and strongly prefer a team-oriented environment. They are motivated by messages such as: "You'll be working with a team of bright, creative people" or "Our company values employees who will work together toward a common vision." Another key characteristic of Millennial workers is their desire for greater degrees of work/life balance and effective use of new or emerging technologies.

"Businesses and IT leaders will need to make adjustments to their resource management strategies to accommodate the varied demographics of their workforce," says TEKsystems VP of Professional Development, Matt Hannigan. "You can't expect to manage a new generation by old standards. Leaders will need to be vigilant in understanding what's important to workers, what they expect, what inspires them and what stifles their passion."

Hannigan further says, "Today, IT leaders must not only pay attention to technology trends, business drivers and budgets, they also must recognize and respond to social changes that will undoubtedly affect the dynamics of their workplace." Clearly, times they are a changing. To stay competitive, IT leaders will need to invest the time, energy and resources required to change with them."