Monday, January 28

The changing work environment is often weird and could be wonderful

I'm a Boomer and I don't remember anyone being worried about what I wanted out of work. I remember being concerned about getting a job and keeping a job. I remember being concerned about how to navigate obvious sexism before we called it that. I remember seeing women managers in engineering organizations do their best to hide their femininity and be one of the guys to the best of their abilities, even if they, even then, also wanted work-life balance and job security.

So I find this fascination about Gen Z, well, fascinating. It feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog and yet, I kind of get it. The work world is changing. Absolutely. Even though there are a bunch of us old fogies hanging around the work place, apparently fumbling with our readers as we fumble with our smartphones, the concern is not about our future but the future and well-being of the generations that follow us and will take organizations to wherever they may go next. And that makes sense.

I think one of the many challenges of most organizations is finding balance between the older and the younger generations, and this isn't new either. The younger generations often have less patience or respect for the older generation because they think we don't get it, that we don't know stuff, that we aren't as nimble intellectually as they are. And some of that is true. So it's hard not to remind them that some of us were writing code on machines that had less memory than their smartphones and we had to be pretty nimble and clever to write programs that did wondrous new things at the time with such technology.

And the older generation has certain views of the younger generations that are often as misguided and ill-informed and prejudicial.

So here's the thing as I read and re-read that article. Most of us want work-life balance. What that looks like for any of us differs so I think it dangerous to make that generational. Plenty of us appreciate having flexible schedule and being able to work remotely. By the same token, we have to be as committed to the business and the organization as we want the organization to be committed to us. If we have mutual commitment and respect--within reason--an organization will be accommodating to keep good people who will then help make sure the work gets done.

Everyone wants job security, but everyone has to be realistic about that. As employers and employees demonstrate mutual respect and commitment, and as the work gets done and the business can grow or expand or do what it needs to do to continue to be in business, employees will have job security. But no organization can promise job security because stuff happens.

I was particularly intrigued by the career path item. That seems weird to me but perhaps it has to do with my own trajectory in that I pursued opportunities as they became available or was sometimes forced to reconsider. Just because a manager has a plan for developing any worker, Gen Z or otherwise, doesn't mean that will come to fruition. The business may change out of necessity or circumstance. The possibilities are many. The mentorship program is a great idea nonetheless. Such a program will help managers and colleagues discover talents and abilities of its employees which might change career path options. If nothing else, a mentorship program can help the employee figure out how to navigate the options and opportunities in any organization, small or large.
  • Clearly defined career paths. If you don’t have a plan for developing careers of your Gen Z workers in the long term, don’t expect them to stay around for long. They possess an even larger entrepreneurial spirit than their predecessors and have more options than ever for finding side gigs. Consider a mentorship program, and make career satisfaction and growth a feature during recruiting.
I think the most fruitful phrase in this whole article is this one in the last paragraph: "avoid the negative stereotypes."

True for all age groups, all genders, all everything.

Friday, January 4

Retirement? Why?

I met with a financial advisor the other day and we talked about retirement. He was asking for financial planning reasons, of course, but I'd been thinking about the whys and wherefores of retirement even before I saw this article in The Guardian.

My mom retired around 65, when people are "supposed" to retire. Her husband was already retired and they'd had plans to travel. I'm not sure exactly where things went haywire, but they did and my personal and non-medical opinion is that their lack of engagement in the world around them led to their mental declines. Other than the fact that my stepdad was already retired, I wasn't really sure why Mom chose to retire because she liked her work and she was good at it.

I have a friend who retired early. He could and so he did, though part of his motivation had to do with the potential future status of his pension. He's younger than I by several years and he now spends most of his time putzing. He and a friend bought a cottage and he goes to the cottage every now and then; he helps people around the neighborhood. But he also spends a lot of time alone. 

I have another friend who is countdown mode for her retirement, but I also know how active she and her family are and how active they're likely to continue to be. I'm guessing she'll find plenty of things to keep her occupied.

We know the Boomer population is big and we know the leading edge of Boomers is beginning retirement, and we know that many of them are without sufficient retirement funds which could be part of the reason we keep on working.

We know that work place bias against older folks exists and most of us understand the thinking behind that bias. Even though plenty of us are digital pioneers, those who were also part of the leading edge of creating the ever-expanding digital phenomena of our time, there are far too many who think old people don't know how to use technology or are unable or unwilling to learn. Good grief! Stop that already.

I remember teaching a BOCES class years (and years!) ago to a large group of senior citizens. They had signed up to learn how to use a computer and the basics of word processing, back when Microsoft Word was about the only game in town. The lab was packed and they were all anxiously willing to give this technology thing a go. I will never forget that, or their joy when they figured out how to do something. 

The point is that many older folks can and are willing to learn if someone will be patient enough to help them learn or point them in the right direction. Employers will do well to remember that taking advantage of organizational, industry and/or field experience and knowledge can be powerful. In fact, those who are willing to learn, may be willing to teach though they may have to be coached on how to coach.

I think there could be amazing opportunities for employers with far-reaching and entrepreneurial perspectives of how to improve the work they do and how they do it. It won't be just benefits they'll have to think about adjusting, but how they recruit, hire, onboard, train, retrain, and provide opportunities for growth and transition. Each generation could use a little insight into what seems to be most important to that generation, but we have to be wary of too many generalizations because those just get us into trouble. Like suggesting that people over 65 aren't equipped to use technology or can't adjust to change. Huh.

As for me, well, I like what I do. I could retire in several years, but I don't really see the point if I can continue to do what I do and do it well. Or until I win the lottery, which I rarely play, so it's a safe bet that won't be an option. Like so many, I believe I have more to offer and more to do. And I'm not yet done learning either and there are a few gazillion books I've yet to read. Which reminds me I have to go check on some other online courses and schedule time to finish my chatbot course.