Older Workers are Becoming Invisible

quote-Jeanette-Winterson-whats-invisible-to-us-is-also-crucial-90396My twelve year old son loves to play the game Would You Rather with me.  Have you played?  You basically ask the person to choose between two things and sometimes, they give a reason.  For example, he recently asked me, “Mom, would you rather be invisible, or have the ability to teleport?”  As you can see, this is a question that may cause a gut reaction, but when you start thinking about it, you begin to come up with many reasons why one choice may be better than the other.  For the record, I chose the ability to be invisible.  The truth is, I may have that ability sooner than I think.

A few days ago, I read a friend’s comment on Facebook.  He was at a client location that was filled with beautiful, young people and as they all walked by, he felt old.  For the record, this friend is in his forties, like me.  Another friend commented that once you reach a certain age, you basically become invisible.  I admit, I never really thought about that before.  While I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that a person in their forties is “old”, I have thought about older workers, namely from my parents’ generation, that are starting to feel left out or ignored in the workplace.

Have you ever felt this way?  Are you old enough that this is happening, or starting to happen?

Maybe the problem is we’re all so focused on the younger generation and making them happy that we are forgetting that much of our organizational knowledge is walking around unnoticed.  In fact, if left unnoticed, are the organizations missing out on ways to actually improve our bottom line?  It seems like this “invisible generation”, formerly know as the Silent and Boomer generations, are actually starting to get a little notice again.

Take for example the movie The InternThe plot has a “senior”, played by Robert DeNiro, who becomes the intern for a young, vibrant CEO, played by Anne Hathaway.  For several months, she not only ignores him, she doesn’t even give him a second thought.  She can’t see the value that is sitting right before her eyes.  I don’t want to spoil the movie, but the point is that older workers are often passed by when we’re in need of support, good ideas, or differing opinions on how to handle something.  It’s such a shame.

All this talk of older workers becoming invisible leaves me with more questions than answers, for now.

Do you have someone older in your life that could provide a different, fresh perspective in your work?

If you are the older person, do you reach out to colleagues who are just starting out or who are earlier in their career to offer advice and counsel that is judgement-free?

If you’ve been lucky enough to have an older mentor in your life, what is the best piece of advice he or she has given?

If you work in an organization or on a team that has little diversity in age, what are you going to do to reach out to a colleague of another age?

How can the idea of capturing the value of more “senior” advice be applied in the workforce today?

In order for organizations to be successful in the future, they are going to need to be able to capture all the knowledge of their older workers.  By taking active steps to ensure that these employees do not feel invisible, you’ll not only be capturing that information, you’ll be ensuring that those employees feel valued and engaged for the remainder of their employment.



Diversity Focus No More! Inclusion & Collaboration Drive Innovation

I’m attending the Senior HR Executive Conference today and live blogging a panel session focused on enabling innovation.  Led by Kent Greenes from The Conference Board, three global HR leaders are sharing their organization’s strategy on how to produce innovative products and results.

Archana Singh from AMD, Monique Matheson from Nike, Inc. and Brenda Dennis from Cisco Systems Inc. are all able to articulate the vision and approach for innovation in their organization, how their cultures support the innovative ideas and the type of diverse talent needed to come up with innovative ideas that are actionable.

I like the example that Cisco Systems has to drive innovative results.  Cisco no longer thinks about diversity and inclusion, they have changed the focus to inclusion and collaboration.  By doing this as a business imperative, it’s brought tighter alignment between HR and the other lines of the business.  The challenge is barriers like language differences or cultural differences.

One way they drive innovation is by hand selecting teams to work on innovative ideas.  They:

  • Choose a team with diverse experiences from diverse business units.
  • Put them on teams that work together for 6 weeks- 6 months.
  • These team members are supposed to spend 60% of their time on the new project, although Brenda shared the reality is they spend far more time on these initiatives.
  • They recognize and reward ideas that drive 90- 180 day results.

One drawback I hear though is when they are  selecting the team members, they have a fairly tight set of criteria of who can participate.  For example, you must be on the promotion track.  This eliminates a “popularity contest” in their opinion but I think it eliminates more than that.  While it is beneficial to have criteria, I see the risk of alienating some of the best ideas that may come from the staff level or from people who have deep history with Cicso but may have never been on the promotion track.

How does your organization enable innovation?  Do you open innovation up to your entire employee population?