Young Bosses Push Elders To Embrace Technology

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty uses a BlackBerry. i

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty uses a BlackBerry. He has three of them. "It's fantastic. I think it improves productivity," he says. Tamara Keith for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tamara Keith for NPR
Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty uses a BlackBerry.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty uses a BlackBerry. He has three of them. "It's fantastic. I think it improves productivity," he says.

Tamara Keith for NPR

Among many firsts with President Obama: We now have the First BlackBerry. Despite security concerns, the president refused to give up the hand held e-mail device when he took office.

Obama, 47, is younger than most of the people in his Cabinet. But that dynamic of younger, tech-savvy bosses and older employees isn't unique to the White House.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty is 38. And he has a reputation for being a BlackBerry addict. He has three of them.

"One is for personal use, so it's a personal BlackBerry," Fenty explains. "One is a standard government BlackBerry and one is a police BlackBerry."

The devices have become an integral part of his administration. Everyone who works for the mayor has one — or two.

"It's fantastic. I think it improves productivity," Fenty says.

Even 70-year-old D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles pecks out messages on a BlackBerry, right along with other city officials.

What does he think of the mayor's BlackBerry dependence?

"I'm against it," Nickels says with a grin.

Nickels says if he could go without a BlackBerry, he would. He's nostalgic for a time when people actually looked each other in the eyes and is sometimes perplexed by the whole BlackBerry culture. He says he recently sent an e-mail and got as a response what seemed to him to be a nonsensical string of letters.

"And so I went back to the sender and said, 'What language is this?' The response was ... 'Keep me in the loop,'" Nickels says.

When it comes to older employees and their younger bosses, it's more than just age and technology — it can be a cultural divide, says Lisa Orrell, a generation relations expert and the author of Millennials Incorporated. Millennials are people born in 1980 or later, also known as Generation Y.

"What's happening is all of a sudden you're 53 years old and you've got a 28-year-old manager, and the millennials are very, very, very different," Orrell says.

They've grown up with the Internet and love to communicate. At the same time younger people are coming into management, Orrell says, many baby boomers are delaying retirement.

Her advice to older employees: "They have got to be a heck of a lot more flexible than they've been."

Orrell has suggestions for younger workers, too. They should respect the experience of their elders and be willing to teach them about things like text messaging, Facebook and Twitter.

That's essentially what happened at Serena Software, a company where most of the employees are older than the chief executive. Jeremy Burton, 41, decided everyone at the Redwood City, Calif., company should be on Facebook.

"I want folks to learn about the software as well as learn a bit more about the folks they work with, which I think is great for team building," Burton says.

With some coaxing and coaching, Burton says, it worked. He was able to bring even his more senior employees along.

"There's about 95 percent of the employees up there," Burton says. "And I can see the status of probably 50, 60, 70 people right from my desk."

That includes senior manager Tom Clement's status.

"It says, 'I just found out that I don't have to worry about injuring my knee anymore because it's already shot,'" says Clement, reading from his Facebook page.

Clement is 55, and until his boss nudged him toward the social-networking site, he had no use for it.

"I didn't really get it," he says.

Now Clement has come around to Facebook, but he says there are just so many other things to learn about.

"I think it just makes me wish that I could magically understand all these things," he says, referring to Twitter and other online applications. "The way you might magically understand things if you were growing up as a teenager and everyone around you were using all of them."

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