Previous entries in the series:
Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 1
The Traditionalist: Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 2
Boomers: Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 3
Steve Warren is the technical lead for z/OS BCPii Design and Development in the IBM Systems & Technology Group (STG). He attended the keynote address at SHARE in Anaheim by best-selling author and Gen Y expert Jason Dorsey. According to Dorsey’s guidelines, Steve is a member of Gen X. He and I discussed his particular perspective on crisscrossing generations in today’s mainframe workforce for the fourth in our 5-part series of Q&As.
In his session at SHARE in Anaheim, Jason Dorsey stressed that today there are 4 generations in the workplace, which is unprecedented in our society. Have you observed this unique situation?
I’ve definitely experienced this phenomenon in the workplace. Because of the longevity of the mainframe (which developed during the 60s and continues to thrive), we have the opportunity for all four of the groups Jason Dorsey identified to be represented in our industry, as we have hired people during most of that time period. I think it’s refreshing to have the different mindsets. If we had only one generation it would be a detriment. Each generation brings something valuable to the table. Being surrounded by only a peer group of my same age doesn’t allow me to experience the value that other age groups bring. Our company wouldn’t be the same without diverse generations. The perspective of different age groups is vital to the success of a project and a company.
Given that no single factor defines any one person or any one generation, in your opinion what strengths do each of these generations bring to the workplace?
Traditionalists? They bring integrity and perseverance to the table.
Boomers? I see a lot of the strengths of the Traditionalists in the Baby Boomers, too. They have a very strong work ethic. In my workplace, Boomers are probably the largest group, and they have years of experience. No matter how smart you may be, there’s no substitute for that practical, “seen it all” experience.
Gen X? In my category, I think we have a good balance between the best attributes of Boomers and Gen Y. We are self-reliant and able to multi-task maybe a bit more than previous generations. We’re risk-takers and results-oriented.
Gen Y? They have fresh ideas. And if they buy into an idea, they can put the pedal to the metal and work extremely hard. They also can multi-task better than anyone.
In Jason’s address, he gave several great recommendations for managing the multigenerational workplace. How would you advise someone from each generation?
Traditionalists? I would have the same advice for Traditionalists and Boomers. With experience sometimes comes inflexibility. For example, my parents are a bit less flexible than I am, and I’m a bit less flexible than my kids. Traditionalists and Boomers should be especially conscious of this tendency. Because of the depth of their experience relative to others in the workplace, they need to be patient with other groups less experienced.
Gen X? We need to learn patience in a different way. Gaining the depth of knowledge that Traditionalists and Boomers have is a long process that takes time. In addition, we might be frustrated that we are not given the reigns as quickly as we would like from the Boomers. We need to realize that the time will eventually come for us to assume the most prestigious roles. At the same time, we need to be patient with our Gen Y colleagues as they work to catch up to where we are now. They face the same long process, and we’re in a good position to coach them through it.
Gen Y? The perception is sometimes that Gen Yers believe that regardless of achievements in the workplace, that they deserve to be rewarded for just showing up. Gen Y folks can demonstrate to others that in the real workforce, performance does matter. In addition, Gen Y can do their best to at least try perceived “old ways” and “old tools” before resisting. They may realize that those older workmates are more savvy then they were given credit for.
Will managing across 4 generations become business as usual? Or do you predict this situation will be temporary?
I think it’s still to be determined. As Jason [Dorsey] said, upbringing is a big influence on any given generation. How today’s Gen Xers and Gen Yers will raise the next generation at home and in business remains to be seen. Maybe the next generations will be raised to take a multi-layered workforce as a given.
Can you give me an example of how you convert generational challenges in the workplace into opportunities?
I know when I started in this business I sometimes felt overwhelmed by all the new terms I hadn’t heard or learned in college. So, when I work with Gen Y colleagues, I keep that experience in mind. I’ll often say: “Stop me when I use any terminology you don’t know yet.” Gen Y brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table, and I don’t want to see that spirit discouraged. In turn, when I work with Boomers, I remind myself to be a better listener, to be patient and keep the conservation going. It’s the best way to benefit from the experience of the generations that came before.
Communications strategist Bob Dirkes attended SHARE in Anaheim and San Francisco on special assignment. Follow him on Twitter @RCDirkes. Follow SHARE on Twitter @SHAREhq.
Continue on to Part 5