Printer Friendly

Leveraging generational work styles to meet business.


Since the 1960s, when the term "generation gap" was first coined to describe the differences between the WWII population (the Silent Generation) and its offspring (Baby Boomers), generations have been learning how to co-exist. Pop culture is rife with attitudes and preferences based on generational differences--consider the Queen of Soul vs. the King of Pop. In the workplace, however, the differences can be muted, with changes developing below the radar.

Today, Baby Boomers, Generation X (Gen X), and Generation Y (Gen Y) are trying to iron out the ripples in the workplace caused by their generational differences. How work actually is accomplished is influenced by their varying expectations, methods, and use of technology tools.

Records and information management (RIM) is affected by these generational influences, too, as RIM practices, expectations, and technologies mature and change. Organizational management styles and attitudes about how work gets done are in a state of flux, perhaps more than ever before, punctuated by the integration of these differences and other technological advancements.

In tandem with the changing dynamics in the generational landscape, the very nature of information is changing as well. Now, more than ever, it is regarded as a key resource for doing business and delivering services. As a result, it's important to consider generational differences and how they may affect an organization's ability to function effectively, particularly with regard to RIM. Developing strategies that bridge generational gaps can help ensure a productive RIM environment.

This chart provides a distillation of Gen X's and Gen Y's experiences, ideas, and values and conveys further suggestions for working with the younger generations.

Snapshot of Three Generations

To understand the gaps that exist in today's workplace, it's helpful to take a glimpse of each generational group and the context in which its members grew up.

Baby Boomers

* Born 1946-1964 during Post-WWII

* Characterized by social change and increasing affluence

In contrast to their predecessors, Boomers grew up in a time of affluence. As a group, they were the healthiest and wealthiest generation to that time, growing up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.


Boomers tended to think of themselves as a special generation; different from those individuals that had come before them. The assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, who represented their liberal beliefs, deeply affected them and fueled their fire in rejecting or redefining traditional values.

This generation's business and government RIM practices focus on physical, centralized, and institutionalized paper filing. Boomers have significant respect for institutional information; and they view technologies used for managing matters of record as "artifacts" of the organizational culture.

Generation X

* Born 1965-1976 during the later years of and after the Cold War

* Characterized by the expansion of mass media and the advent of technology

Gen X grew up in a very different world, where divorce and working morns created "latch-key" kids out of many in this generation. This led to traits of independence, resilience, and adaptability. In the workplace, this translates to a need for autonomy; they don't want supervisors looking over their shoulder.


At the same time, this generation expects immediate and ongoing feedback, and it is equally comfortable giving feedback to others. Other traits include the ability to work well in multicultural settings, a desire for some fun in the workplace, and a pragmatic approach to getting things done.

Gen X saw their parents get laid off or face job insecurity. Many of them also entered the workplace in the early '80s, when the economy was in a downturn. Because of these factors, they've redefined workplace loyalty. Instead of remaining loyal to their organization, they have a commitment to their work, to the team they work with, and the boss they work for. While Gen Xers take employability seriously, they are not attached to a career ladder. They can move laterally, stop, and start again.

To Gen Xers, records and RIM practices are just two of many forms of institutional information to draw from within their organizations. File rooms have combined with computer-based information as repositories for all manner of records and data. With the high benefit and expense of computing technology, this information has become a source of power and control within organizations. This, in turn, creates a potential conflict between Boomers, who value institutionalization, and Gen Xers, who perceive information as an essential tool for enabling their work.

Generation Y

* Born 1977-1998 during globalization

* Characterized by the rise in instant communication technologies

Gen Y was raised at the most child-centric time in our history. Showers of attention and high expectations from parents foster a great deal of self-confidence.


This generation is typically team-oriented, banding together to socialize rather than pairing off. They work well in groups, preferring team over individual endeavors. They re good multi-taskers, so expect them to work hard. They expect structure in the workplace, acknowledge and respect positions and titles, and want a relationship with their boss. This doesn't always mesh with Gen Xers' love of independence and a hands-off style.

New to the workplace, this group is perhaps the most in need of mentoring. The good news is they respond well to personal attention. They appreciate structure and stability, therefore mentoring Millennials (yet another moniker for Gen Yers) should be more formal, with set meetings and a more authoritative attitude on the mentor's part.

RIM practices in this era have moved well beyond the physical world. Both the information and the records being created by the information explosion--as well as the tools, applications, and systems used to manage them--have created an expectation that all institutional information and records should be instantly available.

At the same time, the increased burden of meeting legislative compliance mandates has dramatically increased the complexity of managing electronic and physical records. Gen Y workers and citizens have such a high expectation of instant access to information and records--not just the records themselves, but the data or information within those records--that the available tools and technologies have yet to meet their demands.

Technology Gaps

One of the most noticeable gaps among these generations pertains to technology, which certainly affects the RIM community on both sides--those individuals who are responsible for maintaining records and information and those individuals who access the information.

Boomers are on the late end of the technology adoption curve, having grown up long before the rise of technology. However, they have made much progress in familiarizing themselves with and using modern technology and the Web. They have even developed online social communities, especially for their contemporaries. This is supported by a December 2008 TV Land study, "More and More Baby Boomers Embrace Technology" (, that reveals Boomers use technology primarily for entertainment and keeping connected with others through new gadgets.

Boomers tend to have a limited view of technology's role in optimizing workplace efficiency; they tend to look at business systems as discrete integrated solutions designed to meet a specific need. As technology systems continue to evolve, this generation must be open-minded about exploring the latest technology solutions.

Gen X saw the inception of the home computer, the rise of video games, and the use of the Internet as a tool for social and commercial purposes. They are technologically savvy and competent at managing the technology and themselves to get the job done. Gen Xers use technology to support lifestyle needs as well (e.g., purchasing goods, communicating).

Gen Y, also known as Thumbers for how fast they thumb their cell phones or PDA keypads, have a unique familiarity with technology that vastly exceeds their predecessors.

According to "Social Media Optimization Blog" by David Wilson in an August 2008 post, tech is embedded into everything Gen Yers do, making them the first "native online population." They are early adopters of new technologies; they adapt to change more quickly than Gen Xers and eons faster than Baby Boomers. They assume technology can be adapted to meet their practical needs ahead of the actual technology development. They tend to anticipate new technologies and accept and adopt what becomes available without hesitation--provided it enables them to meet their objectives in personal and professional environments.

Gen Yers are more intimate with the interactive and collaborative technologies that are ever-present in their educational, social, and professional lives. Concurrent management of large, complex social networks is routine for this group. They are comfortable with, and even prefer, learning via interactive technology experiences outside of a traditional classroom.

Managing, Mentoring for Differences

All three generations embrace technology to increase workplace efficiency. However, employers must be aware that Gen Y digital natives may grow impatient with the applications that are the lifeblood of many corporations; applications they might consider "tired." Finding ways for these systems to provide the value these workers anticipate and expect within their terms--unified, electronic, and mobile--will enable and encourage them to participate more fully in the organization.

Unique generational perspectives about information may also influence RIM practices. Knowledge management (KM) was conceived as a Boomer management initiative, and Gen Xers were foot-soldiers. Social media, on the other hand, is being spawned by Gen Y, with Gen Xers serving as mentors, while they move into middle and senior management, according to "Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War" by Venkatesh Rao ( and Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gap by Rob Salkowitz. Gen Yers openly share their ideas as part of their team mentality and are willing to find and try new approaches to attain objectives.

In summary, the current generational mix in today's workplace is changing the way we view management of information--one of an organization's most precious resources. As these new attitudes permeate the RIM community, it's important to be prepared to mentor, educate, and manage the unique mix of employees to bridge generational gaps. If an organization recognizes and manages these generational differences, employees will be more engaged and the organization will likely ensure a more effective RIM environment.

Generation X

Born 1965-1976

51 million

Accept diversity



Reject rules

Killer life--living on the edge

Mistrust institutions


Use technology


Latch-key kids

Friend = not family

Mentoring Dos

* Casual, friendly work environment

* Involvement

* Flexibility and freedom

* A place to learn

Generation Y

Born 1977-1998

75 million

Celebrate diversity



Rewrite the rules

Killer lifestyle--pursuing luxury

Irrelevance of institutions


Assume technology

Multitask fast


Friends = family

Mentoring Dos

* Structured, supportive work environment

* Personalized work

* Interactive relationships

* Be prepared for demands, high expectations

Source: The Learning Cafe and American Demographics enterprisingmuseum 2003, and "Generation X and the Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations" by Diane Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef in August 2004 Law Practice Today.

A Peek into One Organization's Generational Differences

Dianne Bell, records coordinator for the Suwannee River Water Management District in Florida, is very much aware of the generational technology gap and labels it as "stubborn." She manages hundreds of thousands of permits, maps, engineering drawings, legal contracts, and other public records and has noticed distinct differences among how her co-workers prefer to work with those records.

"Engineers like paper, especially the older ones (Boomers)," she explains. "They want something they can hold in their hands when they go out into the field. But once some of the younger ones find out they can access documents from their PCs, they fall in love with our automated record management system and use it every opportunity they can get."

For Bell, a technology system that manages both paper and electronic records helps bridge that gap and offers something for all employees. "It's so nice to have one system in place that works just as easily and efficiently with paper records as electronic ones," she said.

References for Navigating the Generational Divide

Here are some informative websites that can provide ongoing insight into the future of RIM:

* The leading trade publication for chief information officers.

* Maintained by Don Tapscott (born 1947), a Canadian speaker, author, and consultant based in Toronto, specializing in business strategy and organizational transformation. He provides insight into how Gen Y accesses and uses information via computer.

* Maintained by Chris Meyer and Stan Davis, authors of Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy. Provides information on how "connectedness" and the easy flow of digital information are changing major institutions.
COPYRIGHT 2010 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Simons, Neil
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Previous Article:How do your organization's risks stack up? Lessons learned from the financial meltdown.
Next Article:Killer surf issues: crafting an organizational model to combat employee internet abuse.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |