by Kristin Burnham

Gen Y vs. Gen X: Who Causes More IT Headaches?

Apr 05, 2011
CIOCollaboration SoftwareIT Leadership

Gen Y workers are the lazy, entitled ones giving IT the headaches with all that bring-your-own technology, right? Think again. New Forrester research finds that Gen Y isn't all that different from Gen X in its views of IT.

You’ve heard the Gen Y stereotypes before: They’re lazy workers, exude entitlement and have been reared on social technologies that they bring into the workplace, whether IT departments like it or not.

A new Forrester Research report sheds light on the latter issue, finding that Gen Y workers actually are not much different than Gen Xers or in some cases, even Baby Boomers, when it comes to their views on technology. Businesses should consider and rely more on this Gen Y group of employees when implementing policies and technologies, Forrester advises.

Take, for example, this statistic: Among the first wave of Gen Y’ers that graduated college in 2001 or 2002, 52 percent have been in their current role between three and 10 years, according to the report. Twenty-seven percent of Gen Y’ers are now managers or executives in businesses.

This means that Gen Y is—and is increasingly becoming—an experienced group of workers—who understand how their companies operate and how to thrive in the business. They are also likely to be influencers in the development and implementation of technology policies, according to the report.

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“[Content and collaboration] pros creating collaboration and technology strategies for their employees must set policy based on facts not stereotypes,” writes report author and Forrester analyst TJ Keitt. “Thus, it’s important to gauge the actual attitudes of Gen Yers toward the IT department and its policies to understand what Gen Yers are actually doing with technology.”

Here are Forrester’s findings on Gen Y’s attitudes toward IT—some of which may be surprising—and its suggestions for effectively working with that generation.

-Gen Y believes their technology is better than your technology. There’s a disconnect between Gen Y and the rest of the workplace when it comes to which technologies are better, the report says.

Thirty-one percent of Gen Y says they believe their technology at home is better than the technology they have at work, according to the report. Twenty-three percent of Gen X agrees, but the big difference is apparent in Boomers: Only 17 percent believe their technology is better than the tech in the workplace.

-Despite this, Gen Y is no more likely than Gen X to bring the tech to work. While IT departments frequently fret about the dangers that Gen Y’ers bring to the business by using outside technologies within the workplace, the reality is that they’re not the only ones to blame, the report says.

While Gen Y’ers top the list with 44 percent admitting to installing software on the computer they use for work, Gen X follows close behind at 42 percent. Following that are Boomers at 36 percent, according to the study. Additionally, more than 40 percent of each generation group admit to accessing online services like Google Docs for work purposes.

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-While Gen Y likes their tech better, they’re still satisfied with the tech they use for business. The majority of Gen Y’ers are satisfied with the technologies they use to do their jobs (55 percent) and the technologies their departments use (52 percent), which is in line with Boomers.

Also interesting to note is the report’s finding that Gen Yers are generally more satisfied than their Gen X counterparts across each of these measures. Forrester’s Keitt says this is likely because Gen Y-ers weren’t in the workforce as the first complaints about business technology were emerging.

“Gen X-ers were the ones to lead the charge in initially pushing back against IT and the technologies it was provisioning. They were at the forefront of the consumerization of IT,” Keitt says. “This laid the foundation for changes in how IT departments thought about provisioning technology and opened the doors for different types of software and hardware to be used in the business. And in some ways, Gen X-ers are still leading this charge—it’s not the 22 year old fresh out of college demanding iPad support, it’s her 40 year old boss.”

-Gen Y embraces the IT department. Contrary to what many businesses might think, Gen Y doesn’t see IT as a hindrance. Only 8 percent of Gen Yers believe their IT department is “clueless” and 2 percent view IT as “significantly hinder[ing]” in getting work done. In fact, almost two-thirds view IT as getting them what they need, or at least attempting to do so.

Because more and more Gen Y’ers are entering into managerial and executive-level positions, they want to—and are able to—help make technology decisions. According to the report, 69 percent of Gen Yers want input in the technologies that they use most in their jobs. That presents content and collaboration professionals an opportunity to work with them in making tech decisions and setting policies.

For example, Forrester recommends polling not just Gen Y workers but all workers on what tools they need to do their jobs, as well as asking them to evaluate the technologies that the company is considering. This ensures the tools brought in meet the needs of the employees, helping gain employee buy-in, which usually spurs adoption, Keitt says.

Another suggestion for working with rather than against workers is to explore a “bring your own” tech program—with constraints—to allow employees to find tools that work for them.

Because employees have deomonstrated a willingness to bring tech into the workplace—such as in the cases of smartphones and tablets—Forrester says that content and collaboration professionals can tap into this trend by extending certain technologies to a larger number of employees. The key to this, however, is setting policies to ensure any devices employees bring in are supported and secure.

Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at