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The Changing Face of Mainframe Computing

Generational differences are reshaping the workplace

9/5/2012 4:22:03 AM | Editor’s note: This article is based on content initially published in the SHARE President's Corner blog.

“For the first time, there are four generations in the workforce,” said keynote speaker and best-selling author Jason Dorsey at the August SHARE conference in Anaheim, Calif. Event attendees representing each of those generations filled the room for Dorsey’s speech: “Crossing the Generational Divide: Leveraging the Power of Generations for Your Strategic Advantage.”

When Dorsey polled the audience from the stage, about half indicated they were baby boomers, the group his organization, the Center for Generational Kinetics, defines as people born between 1946 and 1964. However, Generation X—those born between 1965 and 1976—and Generation Y—born between 1977 and 1995—had strong showings, too, with each group representing about a quarter of the attendees. Even “traditionalists”—the generation born before 1946—made their presence known with about a dozen in attendance.

The impromptu survey demonstrated the changing face of mainframe computing and highlighted the fact that SHARE participants cope with cross-generational challenges in the workplace day in and day out. As the generation that grew up with mainframe computing, boomers are the largest group working with the technology. As this multitude of boomers ages, Gen X is anxious to take the reins of the mainframe, just as the ranks of Gen Y are beginning to swell. For many in Gen Y, their new mainframe jobs are their first jobs, even while more and more traditionalists remain in the game, whether for economic reasons or love of career.

While the generational evolution of mainframe technology from traditionalists to baby boomers to Gen X to Gen Y clearly is building momentum, no one claims the progress is all smooth sailing. Dorsey said the pains of generational transition make sense, as each group can hold different mindsets based on regional traditions and the influence of parenting styles applied to them.

Each generation tends to hold differing views of measuring success, Dorsey explained. Because many traditionalists remember the austerity of the Great Depression and the trauma of World War II, they tend to be comfortable with “delayed gratification,” he said. Boomers “define work ethic” with metrics and believe “there are no shortcuts,” according to Dorsey, while Gen Xers are “natural skeptics” who believe “actions speak louder than words.” Gen Y workers, he said, usually are “outcome-driven” and crave reinforcement for “ongoing progress.”

So, the same situation—such as infrequent communication from one’s boss—might draw vastly different reactions from the different generations.

Traditionalists (who often times may be the boss) could see a lack of discussion as just “getting on with business,” Dorsey said. “But if your boss is not talking to you and you’re a boomer, you’re probably thinking you’re doing a good job.” That’s because Boomers prize independence and initiative. On the other hand, Gen X’s desire for constructive criticism and Gen Y’s fondness for continual positive feedback and verbal support could lead those workers to conclude a quiet supervisor is a disapproving boss.

In closing his address, Dorsey focused on helping SHARE participants cope with one of the trickiest cross-generational challenges in today’s workplace for traditionalist, boomer or Gen Xer: Welcoming Gen Y to the fold. He offered three strategies for attracting, training and leading Gen Y talent:

1. Create a social brand.
Use social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to find and engage Gen Y talent—before and after hiring. Dorsey demonstrated the speed and ease of social channels by asking the crowd to pull out their smartphones and “like” his Facebook page in less than 30 seconds.

2. Make the first day of work “unforgettable.”

Instead of ordering business cards after a Gen Y employee arrives at the office, have a box available the first day, Dorsey suggested. For orientation, assign another Gen Y employee of the same gender to give a tour. “Gen Y workers will ask more questions that way,” he said.

3. Provide specific examples of performance.

“Gen Y lacks real-world experience,” Dorsey said. So, bring skills-transfer to life with pictures and video. Not only is a generation awash in texting and tweeting comfortable with digital media, audio and video scale rapidly from one to many. “Record it once and share!” Dorsey quipped.

As an example of his point about specific examples, Dorsey offered the definition of the “business casual” dress code. Traditionalists may view business casual as wearing dress slacks with a dress shirt but leaving the jacket and tie in the closet. Boomers and Gen Xers may share similar ideas about acceptable business dress—i.e., khakis and a polo shirt—because the evolution to business casual occurred largely during their careers. But Gen Y? Jeans, T-shirts and even flip-flops all fall into the realm of possibilities.

Dorsey’s advice for resolving the differing perspectives: “Take out your smartphone, snap a picture of someone in acceptable business casual dress” and text, post, email, etc., to staff as a way to “record it once and share.” He said workers of any generation have something in common their first day on the job: “We all have something to learn.”

Communications strategist Bob Dirkes attended SHARE in Anaheim on special assignment. Follow him on Twitter @RCDirkes. Follow SHARE on Twitter @SHAREhq.

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