Aug 202008

According to some observers, the new generation of workers entering organizations are different. This generation, sometimes labeled “millennials” or “digital natives,” number almost 70 million–greater than the prior “gen Xers” (51 million) but somewhat smaller than the generation of “boomers” (83 million). Some are suggesting that these digital natives, having grown up in an environment rich in information technology, approach knowledge work differently and present challenges for current management and organizational practices.

Have you noticed any differences in work habits as new hires enter your organization?

We put together a short scenario that illustrates what some see as how these new workers may be different. Here is how it begins:

Jeri Smith heads down the corridor to HighTec’s conference room for a meeting with four of her most experienced project managers. The managers, in their last monthly meeting, realized that they shared concerns about the working styles and behavior of many of their newer employees, and they have requested this meeting to discuss why they are anxious about what they are observing.

The project managers are worried because the working styles of some of their new employees are in sharp contrast to the styles and behaviors of the existing staff of experienced professionals. The new employees comprise system engineers, web designers, and marketing experts. They were hired to expand and complement HighTec’s existing staff of experienced workers. The new employees are just out of college; a few have been working a few years as freelancers. They all were hired for their demonstrated competence and potential.

Jack, the project manager who initially expressed his concern, is responsible for a team whose mission is to create an online marketplace for a regional distributor of independent music. Jack has over ten years of successful project management experience, the last eight with HighTec. His observation, after a few months with his young team, is that the new hires prefer to work in ways that are much more collaborative than the more experienced designers and engineers. In discussions with other project managers, they have discovered they have similar observations that make them, as managers, uncomfortable enough to request this meeting with their CIO.

In their work, the young professionals spend a lot of time working not as individuals but in groups, with membership in groups often crossing organizational boundaries. They seek out opportunities to talk shop with other sections of the organization instead of focusing only on their own project. Indeed, they frequently communicate with professionals outside the company to discuss projects and ideas. These communications often occur on-line through instant messaging, messageboards, listservs, social networking sites, and other collaborative applications, some of which are new to project managers and other experienced staff. In fact, their use of Internet-based applications is a primary form of communication that is central to their working style … .

Read the entire scenario (here)–then respond to a brief questionnaire with your first-hand observations on own organization’s experiences. We’ll summarize the results and offer our own observations in future blogs and in Cutter Advisors.


Robert Mason

Dr. Robert M. Mason is a Fellow with Cutter Consortium's Business Technology Strategies practice. He is on the faculty of the Information School at the University of Washington, where his research focuses on the philosophy and ethics of technology management, the cultural aspects of knowledge management, and how culture affects the concept of a global digital library.


  4 Responses to “The New Knowledge Workers: Are they a new breed? Are they different? (Does it matter?)”

  1. […] The Cutter Blog: The New Knowledge Workers: Are they a new breed? Are they different? (Does it matter?). […]

  2. […] The Cutter Blog: The New Knowledge Workers: Are they a new breed? Are they different? (Does it matter?). […]

  3. Thank you for sharing this very interesting article. I agree that employees now are different from those decades earlier. The power of technology certainly plays a part in how a person now does hi or her work.

  4. […] The Cutter Blog: The New Knowledge Workers: Are they a new breed? Are they different? (Does it matter?). […]

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