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Generation gap trap: are we falling prey to age-related stereotypes?

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One informed observer says we need to concentrate on getting people of all ages to work together and learn, not worry about the perceived attitudes of Millennials versus Baby Boomers or anyone else.

There's been no shortage of analysis about the differing views on work and technology by members of various generations and sub-generations, and we've covered some of that here (and here) at SmartPlanet.

But at least one informed observer thinks its all meaningless chatter.  Luis Suarez, a social computing evangelist at IBM, says it's "time to move on" beyond the stereotypes we've been tagging onto these generational groups. There are plenty of baby boomers immersed in social networking, and there are also plenty of millennials who don't seem to get the online experience (as reported here at SmartPlanet last month).

Forget about generational divides, Luis says -- "It’s the balanced mixture of working styles the ones that are going to shape up and define 'The Future of the Workplace.' Not the generations."

Here are some conventional stereotypes about the incoming Millennials:

  • They either don’t care about or won’t obey corporate IT policies: If you're over 40, think about it: did you think all that much about corporate policies when you were 25? Luis also points out that every business is different, and some are far more collaborative, and thus gain buy-in from both younger and older employees. "If you engage your employees, whatever the generation they may be coming from, to shape those policies, I can guarantee you they will respond back! In fact, they would go the extra mile to make it work not only for them, but also for you."
  • They have entirely different view of privacy than previous generations: Yes, probably, "but that doesn’t mean that privacy is dead for them," Luis says. "They still have it, pretty much like us, it’s just that they are re-defining it to meet their needs, just as much as we did, each and everyone of us, when we had the opportunity and the chance to do so.... Eventually, it’s all about striking for that balance between that need to know and that need to share, while trying to get the job done."
  • They have little use for corporate email as a major collaboration tool: Actually, today's youths don't have a monopoly on disdain for today's overloaded, time-consuming, productivity-killing email processes.

The bottom line is we're all in this together, younger or older.  We've all got much more important things to worry about than who of what age likes Facebook better, Luis adds. And, we have a lot of work ahead of us: building a strong, multi-generational workforce that can help organizations meet the challenges of a hyper-competitive global economy.


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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure