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How IT will change when Gen Y runs the show

The work environment will be reshaped to accommodate flexibility and flat structures when this generation takes charge.

By Mary K. Pratt
August 23, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - 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."

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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

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