If you were born between 1966 and 1980, you belong to Generation X. You grew up without a cell phone and still remember retro phones with a bone-shaped receiver. You listened to audio game cassettes in your childhood and at some point, there was a Commodore 64 or Amiga 2000 in your room. You still accessed the Internet over a whistling phone line and you accepted computer games in pixel format. Their values were characterized by financial security and career advancement with a great motivation to achieve something. Generation X has a high level of education, but in IT in particular, there are also many career changers and dropouts who’ve made it to a well-paid developer job without any higher education. In order to afford a materially secure life, they work career-oriented and do a lot of overtime. Status occasionally takes precedence over a desire for professional fulfillment. Instead, they think pragmatically and push their comfort zone to the limit – even if the job sucks after more than 30 years. In this generation, work and private life are strictly separate, although Generation X also likes to work extensively in the home office – and not just since the coronavirus.
Generation X’s IT staff had their working environments changed completely because of new mobile requirements and clashed with Generation Y. Suddenly
- internet computing was possible anytime, anywhere,
- web-based applications and tools became the central object of collaboration,
- mobile applications dominated technical development,
- virtual knowledge transfer in real time replaced classic in-house training,
- video conferences reduced the number of business trips,
- necessary information and research were available at any time via the web,
- collaboration, content, and communication merged into a single entity,
- social networks became a standard part of communication,
Many IT people from Generation X appreciate progress and change. But for others, the pace is a little too fast and the purpose of social networks is not clear to them.
Generation Y, people born between 1981 and 1995, entered the professional and developer world when mice in the office no longer required the exterminator but state-of-the-art development platforms. This generation is characterized by a great urge for freedom and self-realization. Millennials love a self-determined life and enjoy their free time. The motto is: work anywhere, anytime. Work-life balance by working in their home office or in a café, in the morning, only in the afternoon, or even sometimes at night. In terms of education, many of them have an academic background. There are still many career changers in this generation in particular, who have developed into real luminaries even without a degree.
And then came Generation Z, also known as “Generation YouTube” and “digital natives,” who were born after 1995. They are first generation to have lived in the digital age since birth. Today’s teenagers and young adults don’t know a world without the Internet, smartphones, and 24-hour online status. Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are firmly part of everyday life. Role models are no longer movie stars, but influencers and YouTubers.
Generation Z IT workers are looking for ways to make the world a better place. But this also makes them less optimistic and significantly more security-oriented than Generation Y. They usually don’t trust marketing messages because they already know Google and co.’s tricks. A look at this group’s working lives shows that the quest for security has become apparent again. In complete contrast to Generation Y, digital natives actually want fixed working hours, permanent contracts, and a secure job. Private life and work are strictly separate from each other, and overlapping is to be avoided. Accordingly, work-life blending is low. They are reconnecting with Generation X on traditional values. In their private lives, they attach great importance to having a stable family and marriage. However, they are less loyal to their employers, mainly due to uncertainties caused by globalization. A solid education or degree is particularly important to this generation. When it comes to their careers, it’s clear that they want to work creatively and enthusiastically to achieve their goals. They strive for freedom and independence. Many start their own business immediately after graduation. Above all, their dream job must be fun.
Generation Z’s expectations of working with others are correspondingly high. Generation X is often more conspicuous for its demands of self-fulfillment. They are career-hungry and willing to work overtime. The younger generation, on the other hand, increasingly relies on regulated working hours, mobile working and, above all, a lot (!) of free time. There’s a preference for clear structures. They are less likely to contradict authority and prefer avoiding direct confrontation. Instead of discussing problems face-to-face directly, they withdraw and rate their employer online, which sometimes leads to people blowing off a lot of steam.
Which generation currently scores well with IT employers? In the past it was often a trend to send older employees into early retirement to replace them with younger, less expensive graduates. But today companies can hardly afford to do without experienced IT staff due to the skilled worker shortage. It’s all in the mix. Employers today are increasingly focusing on diversity: experienced IT employers, along with young developers and career starters. Everyone gets a chance. But sometimes, it’s not easy for different generations to get along in their daily work. Conflicts are common. They arise because people’s expectations and approaches clash, and often no one is willing to compromise and find a solution together. Generation Z is considered to be extremely non-committal. Whether it’s dating or a new job, decisions are just an interim status – until something better comes along. That can make Generation X furious. Reliability, stability, and security are also what Generation Y wants. Already, the first problems are arising.
Of course, conflicts don’t just affect generational divides. They mostly result from different personality types and ways of communicating. Simply put, people just don’t understand each other. While every generation uses its own colloquial language with new words dominating daily speech that the older generation can somehow still get used to, every personality type also uses its own language and subconsciously expects to be addressed similarly. That makes things complicated. This isn’t about words and body language, it’s about much more. It’s about the way we address people, the frequency, the interest in communication or an exchange at all. One person needs facts and data, structures, and evidence for their work and above all, their sense of well-being. Another communicates in a more emotional way and brings up the facts only as a secondary issue. While some people tend to be annoyed by too much sentimentality and beating around the bush, others need to feel that they are interested in them, their character, and their work is valued.
Different expectations quickly lead to conflicts, especially if you communicate in different ways. But if you know each other’s expectations and try to meet them, at least in part, then you’ve already taken a big step forward.
If you also recognize commonalities and use them as a basis for developing agile teams, collaboration can be nearly seamless. If there are professional differences in opinion, these are more likely to be interpreted as a sign of the high-quality requirement to find the best solution together. “Yes, but…” Questioning many things first is one of the common characteristics of developers of all generations. The job is fun when you can contribute yourself and your expertise, when you can shape, discuss, and change things. More or less, that’s what most developers have in common.
Companies have long since recognized that you can’t do without Millennials to explain the world to you, and you can’t do without the 50+ generation. Today’s complex software projects need these influences: the know-how and personalities from all generations. But in order to get the most out of agile and mixed teams, companies also have to respond precisely to different expectations and avoid a culture of envy. In many places, corporate management and HR development are already addressing each generation’s different requirements. Company benefits vary greatly, and everyone can choose from a portfolio of benefits and how they would like to assemble their own package of additional services. This kind of cafeteria system as a model of work motivation is used in connection with flexible working time and time management. It includes suggestions for individuals to choose between different options and service offers on how to receive a predetermined share of their income. This model has been around for a while, but the offering has expanded to include options for families or lifestyles, for example (Fig. 1).
The war for talent is still heating up and companies are fighting for the best IT professionals with innovative working conditions and additional employer benefits. Everyone defines their dream job differently and has the chance to find it. Intergenerational collaboration works best when all generations embrace their different expectations and working styles and are willing to accept their differences and find common ground.