How IT will change when Gen Y runs the show

Kristine Harper thinks she and her millennial colleagues will run things better when they're in charge.

"Our generation will be a little bit more fun, encouraging, flexible, positive. There'll be fewer meetings, more networking, more teams," she says.

Flextime will be ubiquitous, and managers will support employees in their efforts to balance work with other interests. Good jobs will be those that always challenge. A day's work will be measured by results, not hours at the desk.

Make no mistake: The workplace that this 27-year-old software developer envisions a decade out won't look like the typical office of the 20th century. "If I were a manager in the future, I would focus on increasing motivation and community in the workplace," she says. "I would try to emphasize the importance of employee get-togethers outside of [work] to promote a stronger sense of community and friendship. I think when you feel strongly about the workplace and the people involved, there is a sense of motivation that comes with that."

Generation X'ers and millennials -- those from Generation Y -- are now becoming managers, and they'll take on more of the top positions in the coming decades. As they do, they'll bring their own philosophies about how the workplace should operate. Expect a more open and flexible work experience, where careers don't necessarily just advance up the corporate ladder but rather move laterally and possibly down, too, depending on changing personal and professional ambitions and needs.

"We want to be successful in our jobs, but just in a different way. It doesn't mean being in our office every day 9 to 5, it means getting your job done, whatever your job is," says Harper, who works in research and development at Neon Enterprise Software in Sugar Land, Texas, and is project manager of zNextGen, an offshoot of the IBM user group Share for young professionals.

Fulfilling the Dream

Workforce consultants say this expectation of flexibility and accommodation signals a new way of working, built on what the previous generations have pushed for.

Gen Y workers "don't see career paths in the traditional sense. They're looking for companies that are much more flexible," says Celia Berenguer, co-author of the June 2009 report "Catalyst for Change: The Impact of Millennials on Organization Culture and Policy," from Monitor Co., a Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy. "The traditional development and training processes are probably the least effective for millennials."

How to recruit the IT managers of the future

Organizations with a keen eye on the future of their businesses are already working hard to recruit next-generation leaders. As vice president of information systems and computing at the University of Pennsylvania, Robin Beck spends plenty of time thinking about the best ways to attract and groom new talent.

"We believe flexible work arrangements, strong benefits, training programs and interesting work all help with both Gen X and Gen Y," she says.

Beck says workers want different things from their jobs depending on who they are and where they are in their own lives. Some value flextime, others job security. Everyone wants interesting and meaningful work.

Jeff Schwartz, global and U.S. talent leader at Deloitte Consulting, says most organizations need to better accommodate individual needs if they want to successfully recruit the best young workers.

Most IT organizations, Schwartz says, lack a targeted, aggressive recruiting strategy. Instead, they rely on the company's overall brand and word of mouth, which isn't particularly effective, he adds.

Moreover, companies need to "create targeted programs for different generations of workers," he says. Deloitte's research has found that millennials, particularly those in IT, are looking for "opportunities to work with senior staff and company leaders," says Schwartz.

"A hallmark of this generation is its desire to change positions regularly to gain experience in a range of roles throughout the organization," he says. "You can address this desire by working with Gen Y employees to identify their deep-rooted skills, interests and knowledge, find their best fit in the organization, and craft the job design and conditions that help them perform."

— Mary K. Pratt

Carol Phillips, president of market research firm Brand Amplitude and an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame, has studied millennials and what drives them. "They need frequent bite-size promotions, and things can't be ambiguous. You have to tell them where the goal line is. They need it more than past generations," she says.

Because these younger workers are so hands-on, giving them real-world experience is the best way to groom them for leadership roles, Phillips says.

"You can't lecture to this group. They get bored so easily. They learn best by doing. The way they learn is by figuring it out," she says. "So give them tasks that stretch them a bit but that they're still able to do."

Susan Donovan, senior director of application development and support at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Arlington, Va., already sees these influences.

At 39, she's a Gen X'er. She says a key characteristic of her generation and the millennials is the need for flexible work schedules "so you can be a mom, an employee and a manager."

But younger workers also want more than flexibility, she says. They want interesting work that keeps them engaged. They want to keep up their learning. They want the freedom to push boundaries and try new strategies and technologies without fear of reprimands for getting it wrong the first time.

"They do care about the work, they just don't want to be on the same project year after year after year," Donovan says. "So we need to personalize what projects people are on."

"We like to learn and advance our understanding of things, and when we have a job that allows us to do that, that's a big deal," says Deric Abel, a Linux administrator at America First Credit Union in Riverdale, Utah.

Abel, 29, says one of his friends, a network engineer, recently left a job in part because he felt that he was boxed in and spending too much time in meetings.

That mentality translates into how Abel says he'll manage people as he moves into positions with more authority -- which he's on track to do. He says he would add more flexibility by, for example, allowing IT workers to choose their own operating systems for their desktops. He wants to add flextime and off-site work options. He envisions being a boss who's more of a facilitator than a manager.

Dawn Augustino, 44, an IT technical director at the University of Pennsylvania, has similar notions about the future of the IT workplace. She sees an organization where ideas and results -- not the number of years on the job -- earn people promotions.

She also wants to foster an environment in which workers can promote their ideas throughout the organization, and where they can try new strategies and feel comfortable bringing problems to her as the boss.

"It will be very flat," she says, adding that she already manages that way.

Jeff Schwartz, global and U.S. talent leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP, says next-generation leaders will also have a more global perspective. They'll be more comfortable with diversity, seize the latest technologies and look for results-oriented work environments that put the value on the job done rather than the hours worked, he says.

"The X and Y generations have come up in world where you have more options," says Schwartz. "Hopefully their leadership and management style will evolve to take advantage of some of these complexities."

This story, "How IT will change when Gen Y runs the show" was originally published by Computerworld.

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