Be Mindful Of IT Workers' Age Groups

Apr 25, 2008 (08:04 PM EDT)

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In most companies, the policies and practices used to motivate the workforce were established with older generations, the traditionalists and baby boomers, in mind. However, the mind-sets of the younger generations, Generation Xers and millennials, are markedly different. IT leaders need to craft the cultures of their organizations to ensure that all technology workers have the highest motivation levels.

Traditionalists, born between 1900 and 1945, are comfortable with a command-and-control managerial style primarily because they believe it was effective in World War II. The baby boom generation was born between 1945 and 1960 and, unlike their parents, witnessed the vulnerability of authority through events such as Watergate and the Vietnam War. As a result, they began to see authority as unreliable or misguided, which caused them to be distrustful of most command-and-control hierarchies. However, they still accepted a chain of command in the workplace.

Gen Xers were born between 1961 and 1976. Unlike the generations before them, almost half of Gen Xers spent time in single-family homes where the parent was often working, so they became independent, self-reliant survivors. And Xers generally lack reverence for authority because they've seen many authority figures falter, so they place a relatively low value on the hierarchical status of an individual. They're the first generation to insist on independence in the workplace, the freedom to do things their own way with minimal rules and bureaucracy, and they're repelled by command-and-control management structures.

Finally, millennials, who were born between 1977 and 1992, are the most highly confident generation. They were conceived at a time when, because of the widespread availability of birth control, their parents had a choice, so they grew up in families that had fewer children and greater resources. They've lived in an age where many social authority figures have stumbled, so they're reluctant to rely on the authority of others. They're attracted to and motivated by organizations where they're listened to and where there's an inclusive style of management that allows them to contribute to decisions.

Jacquelyn Barretta is CIO of Con-way, a provider of logistics and supply chain services. Con-way was No. 1 last year on the InformationWeek 500, a ranking of the most innovative users of IT.

Photograph by Jupiter Images

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