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.

 

 

Gen X Used to Feel Entitled Too- Did You?

generation-xSo, you think the Millennials invented the idea of feeling entitled?  Well, it’s not true.  No, other generations of young people have felt entitled.  I felt that way too.  Yes, Gen X has our share of dreamers and employees that were so eager to take on new challenges.  The difference I’m seeing is that when I was early in my career, I had older and wiser bosses who knew just when and how to put me in my place.  There wasn’t concern about hurting feelings with direct feedback.  They just did it.  They lived it.  I never once felt coddled.

I remember being twenty-seven years old and feeling like I knew it all.  I thought I knew better than my boss and I really believed I could “see the big picture”.  I just knew he was holding me back.  After all, I had a M.A. in HR Management and a few years of experience.  Why couldn’t he SEE how ready I was for a promotion?

Well, for starters, I didn’t put in enough time.  In my exempt role, I thought work could be left at the door when I headed for home.  Second, I didn’t do anything proactive to continue my learning in the human resources field.  No webinars.  No articles.  Nothing.  Third, I focused on administrative tasks.  I wasn’t stretching myself to think of the impact of my tasks.  Fourth, I had no idea what my boss really did.  To me, it looked like he was on the phone and in meetings.  How hard was that?

I remember the day I told my dad this boss was holding me back.  He gave me some great advice that I still embrace today:

  • Shadow your boss.  Find out what he really does and how he reached that position.  Watch for skills he uses to connect with people in the company and if he is successful, model those.
  • Come to work early and work late.  Learning how to do more than administrative tasks takes time and practice.  Back then, this meant many hours in the office.  Today, using technology, it’s easy to work early in the morning or late at night from the comfort of your home.
  • Keep educating yourself.  Always.  It’s not your company’s responsibility to do it all for you.
  • Volunteer to take on more challenging work without expecting money or title. Those will come in time.

Somehow, I made it to a more mature state of mind.  I like to think I grew up.  Not sure that it had anything at all to do with my generation, it was just more of a life lesson.

How did you progress through your career?  Did you experience any similar feelings?  What generation are you part of?

I’d love to hear all these answers (and more), so please jump over to my short, pulse survey on Generations and Leadership.  It takes 1- 3 minutes to complete and I really appreciate the feedback!

 

Get Over Yourself: Stop Focusing On Generational Differences

generationNewsflash:  There are generational differences in the workplace.  Have you heard about it? (I’m dripping with sarcasm here people)

There are articles, presentations, videos, reports, posts, podcasts, and more.  You name it and it has been talked about, ad nauseam. Like many issues that come up in the HR world, we spend time talking endlessly about the problem but not enough time on the solution.  Generational differences in the workplace are no different.

There are labels and definitions for each generation.  Are you a Boomer?  Gen X?  Gen Y? We’re told how each generation feels and thinks and why they can’t relate to all the other generations.  But you know what?  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

IT DOES NOT MATTER

There have always been differences from generation to generation.  If we could spend as much time perfecting how individuals can work effectively together as we do on talking about how generations don’t, we’d have the most productive workforce ever.

So, how do we do that?  One thing that occurred to me recently was that when I meet people via social media outlets, I never even think about their age.  I have older friends, younger friends, and age is not an issue.  They are mostly HR professionals and I have had some great collaborating experiences with them and age has never come up.  If anything, any differences in our ages made our output better because we were incorporating many different viewpoints.

This social attitude needs to be brought into the forefront at the workplace. We should be designing work experiences and rewards for behaviors such as:

  • Focusing on the quality of the work, not the age of the employee.
  • Staying relevant no matter what your age. Reading, networking, sharing ideas.
  • Getting to know what works best for individuals, not their generation.
  • Refusing to categorize employees based on age or generation when building a team.

We will never be able to fully understand the events that shape behaviors of people born in a different generation because we did not live through those events.  Why not agree that although differences exist, we must not focus on them.  Instead, focus on similarities in the values and behaviors that we share. That is what will bind strong teams and build more productive workplaces.

Musicians Cross the Generational Divide, So Can Leaders

“Music does bring people together.
It allows us to experience the same emotions.
People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit.
No matter what language we speak, what color we are,
the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith,
music proves: We are the same.”
~ John Denver ~

One of the greatest struggles leaders of today face is how to bridge the divide between the multiple generations at play in the workplace.  It’s hard to pick up a business magazine today without seeing a story about how the younger generation is not hard-working or they expect everything to be given to them.  Recently Fortune had an article about managing millennials and over the last several years, Business Week has published numerous articles about managing generations.

As I was driving to work yesterday it struck me that I enjoy music from almost every decade.  And, I know for certain I’m not alone in this preference because I can talk to someone 15 years older or 15 years younger and find music preferences that we have in common.  Why is that?  I think it’s because certain musicians find just the right style to appeal to multi-generational audiences.  For example, the singer I was listening to when the idea for this post came along was Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond started his career in 1962.  According to Billboard charts, he’s the third most successful adult contemporary artist falling behind Barbara Streisand and Elton John.   In 2005, I had the opportunity to see Neil’s world tour.  I debated whether or not it would be fun because I thought I’d be one of the younger people there (in my 30’s).  Was I wrong!  I went with a group of girls ranging in age from 33- 56.  When we got to the concert, the audience ranged from their twenties to probably their eighties.  Neil, who had to be in his late sixties at the time put on one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen.

For two hours he amazed the crowd and it was a huge sing-along to favorites like Sweet Caroline and Cherry, Cherry.  Both of those songs were earlier in his career.  He is also an entertainer who continues to write songs to this day.  In fact, he just recently released a CD called Dreams in November 2010.  Neil also stays relevant to younger audiences by trying new things like collaborating with younger artists.  Just last year, a possible collaboration between Neil and Limp Bizkit was announced on Twitter. I’m still wondering if that one will come to fruition.  Even if it doesn’t, it shows he is willing to try.

So, what can leaders learn from Neil Diamond’s career and other entertainers like him?

  • It’s good to play some of the old hits, but you have to keep adding to your arsenal
  • You have to keep changing and growing
  • You have to play notes that appeal to a wide variety of people
  • You should collaborate to stay fresh in your approach
  • You should actively cultivate relationships with people of other generations and hold them close

What do you think?  Any other ideas on how leaders can stay fresh in their approach?  Rock ’em in the comments!