Martha Lyons

Title: Distinguished technologist

Company: Hewlett-Packard Services

Martha Lyons has given a lot of thought to what different generations need in the workplace, partly as a result of her involvement in the Institute for Innovation and Information Productivity, a nonprofit trade association formed by Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft Corp. and others. It examines the effect of technology on individuals, firms and economies. She spoke with Computerworld's Jamie Eckle.

How is Generation Y going to change the workplace?

Generation Y has grown up in an environment rich with technology and Internet tools -- laptops, cell phones, IM, video consoles. This has bred an incredible agility and innate familiarity with technologies, and their experience with everything from multimedia to immersive learning has facilitated the creation of collaborative working behaviors.

Because of their comfort with technologies, Gen Yers expect a high level of empowerment in the workplace with respect to deciding how to work with and personalize their tools. They also expect the best technology for the task. They may be surprised at the lack of adoption of these tools in more entrenched companies and will be frustrated by rigid standardization and security requirements.

And Gen Yers, who are accustomed to working on open or "living" documents that support peer review and modification, will expect collaborative information flow, creation and dissemination in the workplace.

Will these changes merely result in nicer places to work, or will productivity improve as well?

Organizations that embrace the collaborative environments that this new generation brings will employ immersive learning, portals with expressive content and rich collaborative environments to support exploratory design and investigation through corporate gaming types of simulations.

A number of trends indicate the growing need for this collaborative business model: geographically dispersed teams, high turnover, more frequent individual employee rotation within companies, a large retiring population of boomers in knowledge-intensive industries like pharma and oil and gas, along with second-career retirees entering the workforce. The companies that foster and support a faster, open and more collaborative workforce can see clear benefits, including greater creativity, employee mentoring and tacit knowledge exploitation, and faster results.

Will older workers resist these changes? How will the two generations resolve their differences? After all, Generation Y is badly outnumbered by the baby boomers, and they probably don't want to wait for all 80 million of them to retire.

Not only do baby boomers lack the comfort with technology that the next generation has, but with their reliance on a more rigid, hierarchal working structure, they have limited familiarity with the collaborative work environments that Gen Y demands. Normally, you could anticipate an irreconcilable clash of working styles. However, because the baby boomers have been adopting, if slowly, technologies such as IM, and because Gen Y has grown up in a collaborative environment that is very respectful of the accomplishments and abilities of others, regardless of age or other differences, we can see a merging of the workstyles.

In fact, as the next generation enters the workforce in greater numbers, we will see them influence a blending and shift in behaviors from their older colleagues. At the same time, the more experienced workforce will bring their knowledge around process, professionalism and structure to an increasingly chaotic work environment. As long as the management layer is supportive of this transition, the melding of the cultures will actually result in the best environment for the changing workplace. And as the pace of business continues to accelerate, adaptive corporations that address these change management issues proactively will be the biggest winners.

The current climate for my industry is:

Bullish CIOs: 91 percent of surveyed CIOs said the current business climate is strong or very strong. That's an upbeat reading, even if it's down from 93 percent in the third quarter.

Source: Forrester Research Inc.'s CIO Confidence Poll for the fourth quarter of 2006 (a survey of 115 CIOs at companies with 500 or more employees)

The job hunt

71 percent: Respondents who said they use online ads when looking for a job.

70.9 percent: Respondents who said they use newspaper ads when looking for a job.

40 percent: Respondents who attributed a job offer to an Internet search.

23.9 percent: Respondents who cited a newspaper ad as the source of employment.

Source: Conference Board survey of 5,000 households, November 2006

Workers: Onward and Upward

Many human resources professionals say they're stepping up retention efforts, and that might be a good idea, since at least one poll shows that three quarters of employees could be looking for jobs. Those findings come from a study that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted with The Wall Street Journal's Web site. More than 75 percent of respondents to a poll at said they're looking for jobs, and 49 percent of SHRM members responding to a separate poll said their organizations had implemented special retention proc-esses (up from 35 percent in 2004). The HR pros said that the most effective worker-retention strategies are promoting qualified employees, offering competitive merit increases/salary adjustments and providing career development opportunities.

Says Susan R. Meisinger, president and CEO of the SHRM, "Compensation alone is not sufficient. Career development opportunities and work/life balance are also important, and employers must consider these types of benefits in their retention practices if they want to maintain or increase retention at their organizations."

Greener pastures

Top reasons cited for employee resignations by employee and HR respondents: Employees, HR professionals

Better compensation elsewhere: 30 percent, 40 percent

Career opportunity elsewhere: 27 percent, 48 percent

Dissatisfaction with potential for career development: 21 percent, 29 percent

Source: US Job-Retention Poll of 462 workers who visited the Web site, and 367 randomly selected members of the SHRM, December 2006

Compiled by Jamie Eckle.