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4/4/2012
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5 Rules For Managing IT Baby Boomers

As millennials and baby boomers continue to mix in IT shops, pay attention to your management strategy for IT veterans.

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Labor statistics reveal that nearly 80 million baby boomers will exit the workforce in the next decade. But until then, battles between older IT professionals and their 20-something counterparts are likely to continue in IT shops across the country.

After all, baby boomers--Americans born from 1946 to 1964--differ in many ways from today's always-connected, fast-paced millennials. And boomers aren't particularly eager to step aside and make room for today's college grads. Plummeting real estate values and eroded 401k plans have forced older workers to cling to their jobs while the younger generation awaits opportunities for advancement.

But while experts on multigenerational workplaces offer sound advice on how to manage millennials, IT managers would be wise to get a better understanding of their veteran workers.

Just ask Bruce Tulgan. Founder of management training firm Rainmaker Thinking and an internationally recognized expert on multigenerational workplace trends, Tulgan offers some rules for keeping older IT workers happy, along with advice on how to recognize signs that a generational storm might be brewing.

1. Offer acknowledgement. The offspring of hands-on helicopter parents, today's millennials are known for demanding loads of attention from their colleagues and IT managers. While baby boomers aren't likely to crave the same accolades, IT managers shouldn't mistake their silence for self-confidence.

[ For more advice on managing multigenerational workgroups, see 6 Ways To Stop Baby Boomer, Millennial Conflict. ]

"The older and more experienced workers often feel that they've started out their careers paying dues, climbing the corporate ladder, doing what they were supposed to do, keeping their mouths shut, and waiting for the boss to notice them," says Tulgan. That's all the more reason for IT managers to publicly recognize and reward baby boomers for superb performance.

2. Eliminate the notion of entitlement. One of the most common complaints you'll hear from baby boomers is how millennials feel perfectly entitled to on-the-job perks. "A lot of older and more experienced IT workers feel as if the rules of the game have changed," says Tulgan. "Along come these young upstarts and they start making demands from day one. You say, 'Welcome aboard,' and they say, 'When do I get a raise, I don't want to work on Thursdays, and can I bring my dog to work?' The older, more experienced people say, 'Where do they get this attitude?'"

One of the ways IT managers can eliminate any perception of entitlement is by establishing clear boundaries and employee expectations. Baby boomers need to be reassured every once in a while that the same rules and boundaries apply to everyone, regardless of age.

3. Watch your Ps and Qs. Baby boomers have had decades to refine their interpersonal skills and workplace habits. Not so for fresh-out-of-college millennials. As a result, says Tulgan, "Sometimes baby boomers feel as if millennials don't know the basics of manners in the workplace and don't follow a lot of norms." One solution is to pair baby boomers with millennials in a mentorship program. This way, boomers gain a greater understanding of the younger generation's work habits, while millennials take a crash course in professionalism.

4. Pay it forward. Too often, baby boomers view millennials as coddled and privileged workers who get special treatment in exchange for their skills and expertise. To rid baby boomers of this notion, Tulgan says, "Managers need to roll up their sleeves and start trading special rewards for special performance only." After all, he says, "pay-for-performance is a very powerful business practice." And it will reassure baby boomers that rewards aren't doled out based on squeaky wheels but on professional accomplishments.

5. Mentor many. With retirement around the corner, it's easy for baby boomers to start adopting a more laissez-faire attitude toward certain tasks. "Sometimes older, more experienced IT professionals begin coasting," warns Tulgan. As a result, Tulgan recommends that IT managers stay on top of their more seasoned workers and continue to "engage with workers of all ages."

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