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Entries in Generations (1)

Monday
Apr052010

The Next Generation

This is a post about the generational differences in IT staff work habits. First, there needs to be a disclaimer. This is not about age…this is about work ethics and habits, and generational differences in the IT environment.

As a father of two twenty somethings, there are differences in how we think, how we act, and what we do in the office environment. So, to distinguish between the two groups, I’ll draw parallels to fathers/mothers and children.

As a father, my first set of IT jobs required a suit and tie. Even my summer job as a computer operator required me to wear a tie, with the jacket hung smartly on the back of the chair. In those days, computer printers were BIG, with 132 hammers noisily pounding on a rapidly spinning chain requiring oiling similar to a chain saw. Big, noisy, and oily. A machine’s machine.

Today, casual is the order of business. Not business casual, either. It amazing staunchly conservative financial services companies now allow shorts. Why not? We have laser, ink jet or ion deposition printers…operating quietly in the halls and on desks of many businesses. Having to load the paper or replace the ink/toner cartridge is something akin to a messy task. Come on kids, when was the last time you oiled the printer?

My peers have a work ethic definable as “old school.” They “do what it takes” to get the job done, even if it means serious personal sacrifice and long hours.

The newer crowd tends to work their assigned hours, and often little more. They’ve seen their parents toiling long hours, and missed their moms and dads at different events. They’ve also see companies where layoffs were once never considered reducing headcounts to achieve financial targets. The next generation has said they are going to keep their priorities straight.

The day a large financial services firm fired a large number of people for sharing a piece of pornography (“the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life” commented the hip HR person) is engrained in my mind. Pornography has no place in the workplace, and this firm was (appropriately) stamping it out immediately. “Company resources may only be used for legitimate company business,” was the mantra.

Yet a 23 year old recently commented her internet access being restricted at work was ‘harassment.’ “How can I find another job if I don’t have internet access? I’ll simply die without Facebook.” While Facebook and pornography may not be the same thing the concept of “internet access as an entitlement” vs “internet access as a company resource,” is an interesting dichotomy.

Of course, this brings up the whole topic of social media. Yes, I had sausage and eggs for breakfast and catfish for dinner, and can tweat this to the world immediately posting on my Facebook or LinkedIn pages. While an innocuous tweat arguably of little interest anyone, I’ve noticed parents using Twitter to comment on their lives in intriguing 140 character tweats. And obviously my perception of the importance of tweats is misguided since now Google is indexing all this vital information. Most parents are somewhat cautious in what they tweat because they have lived through the Watergate era.

The young’uns use Facebook to post the immediate details of their lives, and do so in gory detail for all their “friends” to see. It’s like Facebook has become a psychiatric journal for all to see and comment on. “After last night…I have NO idea how I am going to survive the pub crawl on Saturday lol,” is an example of a self incriminating statement from Facebook.

Larger companies have little discussed portions of their firms mining this data. It’s arguably no different than clipping services from years ago scouring the papers for executive and company names on police blotters and news columns, with the exception of being self reported and self published.

So generations change, and I’m not my Dad and my kids are themselves. Who has it “right” or at least better? What are the tensions between the two styles? How can the two work together well?

Each group brings unique perspectives to the environment, and we should work to accept the best of all worlds and move forward together. Parents often have wisdom, and children just don’t know what can’t be done and therefore often surprise be exceeding expectations.

The truth is I’m OK with smart business casual, and think shorts in the office environment are a little too casual. Working to get projects completed on time is a good thing, and let’s not mess up our family lives. Company resources are just that, company resources. And I’m OK if you want to share the intimate details of your life, and respectfully suggest you do so either with a smaller, intimate group or with the decorum appropriate for an auditorium of people.

That’s my perspective. What’s yours?