Ageism at Work

Millennials” is the colloquial word that Boomers and Gen X‘ers use, but they mean the very tail end of the Millennials and the first wave of Generation Z. These are the people that are often misunderstood, and so they drive their older co-workers and managers crazy. And rightly so in some cases, but there’s been two overlapping paradigm shifts in our culture and they can confuse these issues if they’re not thought about carefully.

637 Relax and Succeed - WhateverFirst off let’s get the reasonable concerns off the table so we can focus on the more meaningful issues where each group can actually help make each other better. Several generations have seen a steady advancement in mechanization, electronics, computerization and now web-integration. In short: life has gotten easier and more comfortable all while also becoming more time and energy stressed. So kids rarely walk to school even if the weather is terrible, but they’ll also almost never experience true privacy.

School also got easier. I asked a couple recent college classes if they were concerned about their education in any way? A student offered that he felt he had been moved through grades more because that’s what the school wanted, as opposed to it being very focused on whether or not each kid knew the material well enough to use it. Other kids joined in. Sports too—prizes for limited efforts. When I asked how that made them feel, I believe in both cases it was the entire class who agreed they felt insecure and unprepared compared to generations they interacted with that were older than them.

Now a critical area where older generations misunderstand the motives of younger generations is in their values. Character has always been a big thing that defined people. Where are your lines? What defines you? What will pay a big price for? Those are the sorts of questions that arise out a period where there was a war every few decades. But advertising has sold that a lack of effort is a victory and that a life of leisure and wealth is the only value in life that there is. But of course, a beer or a bed always feel a lot better after a day of chopping wood if you get what I mean. So on one hand younger generations were told not to try too hard. Instead of 637 Relax and Succeed - By learning you will teachlaughing at Bart Simpson as the writers intended, people were laughing with him as though Bart was the success of the culture, not the failure. This is a real issue that masks a rather beautiful transition that happened that will benefit us all.

These “kids” watched the most miserable generation in history come home from work and bitch and bitch and bitch. And I don’t blame the parents for bitching. Because my Dad could raise six kids on one salary and he could take his holidays and we had lots of free time. Today people are struggling with at least two jobs per household, their two kids go to schools miles apart in different neighbourhoods and all of their “play” is actually organized training like dance class, hockey, scouts—whatever, and it all costs a lot of money. It’s no longer—go outside and play and Mom was free and clear for 5 hours. Those days are gone. Mom has a cell phone and her boss will send her emails to answer at 8:30pm and night. So the kids watch Mom become a strange kind of slave to her office even within their own house. Bosses and work get talked about disparagingly and work life starts to become so dominant that kids rightfully identified that as a problem. They weren’t go to mimic that and that makes perfect sense—it was, and is, making everyone miserable.

So no, these kids will never care about a company as much as their parents did, because like the French learned that “King” was just a word, a couple generations later learned that “company” was sort of another word for “King.” The bottom line was, this generation does something much wiser than the two before it and they value time more than money. Yes, like all young people they want their cake and eat it too, but that’s no different than any generation. This recent shift has to do with how capitalism actually overtook humanism as the dominant way of looking at how to set up the world. So if a company’s profit went up but it laid off 20,000 people, that was suddenly a good thing. Of course it’s not, because profits exist in our imagination and those 20,000 people have very real appetites and medical needs. But for a time economists had people so mesmerized that they had everyone subscribed to a system that is supposedly kept fair by something as silly and nebulous as “the invisible hand.”

637 Relax and Succeed - Patience and WisdomSo now kids interview the companies too. Good for them. They grew up with recycling and Wall-E was big when they were young. They don’t want to work for companies that make smart tax moves by donating to charity, they want a company that actually believes in supporting the broader world around it because it has a vision much bigger than simple financial profit. Oh wouldn’t that have looked impressive to aliens if they arrived? Hey guys, check out how cleverly we structure debt! No, these kids know there’s a serious problem with the planet. These dates that don’t matter to my generation are when this one wants to be having kids, so the idea that the planet might look like hell is actually pretty important to them. So what they like is companies that give based on what they believe rather than what the tax code would reward. Redditt is getting a ton of credit for giving away 10% of its ad revenue to charity and it’s letting its readers choose who gets the dough. That’s who the smartest people in the new millennium want to work for.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve aged that the one giant mistake I made as a manager was I completely overlooked the enormous amounts of experience I often had working for me. By the time someone’s 50 they’ve met a lot of people and tried a lot of things. I should have been able to figure that they would have a lot of wisdom just by stopping and thinking about it. I count it to this day as the biggest mistake I made as a manager. Age teaches far more than you’d think. But let’s not forget that those with some grey hair should also listen carefully. Because as we age we lose that drive to win or beat others. We get softer and more interested in quality experiences. And these kids want to build a world where quality experiences are more the priority than profits. So I think there are a lot of reasons that people of every age can successfully work together toward an objective like that.

No matter how old you are and now matter how many people you work with, regularly give them a fair and open listen and see if maybe there’s some wisdom there for you to glean.

You guys have an awesome day, okay?

peace. s

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