Age and youth – how do you make the best of both in a workplace?
One of my former employees was a young man in his mid 20s. His view of the world, like many others of his generation, was electronically connected, comic book illustrated, fast-moving, impulsive and not very nuanced. Many of his qualities could be, and sometimes were, irritating to me. A “Begin with Yes” style would support that these seemingly negative qualities were not what I needed to be focused on.
So instead, I shifted my focus to his high energy, creative mind, and his ability to see the world differently than I do. Because I was able to make this shift, we learned to not only work well together, but our many differences began to compliment each other. Together we often ended up with a better outcome than either of us would have alone. I think we both learned a thing or two, and we and our companies were better off.
As always, the “Begin with Yes” approach asks you to shift your focus from what are the down sides of all the generational differences at work (or anywhere else for that matter), and focus on the up sides.
So a good place to start is by recognizing the beauty in both age and youth! A “Begin with Yes” person is more inclined to be “turned on” or excited by the diversity in a multi-generational workforce, celebrating the differences rather than trying to “make everyone the same.” Obviously a good place to start is understanding what these “typical” differences are, accepting that they really are real and then looking for the opportunities that these different styles present. When a leader within the organization understands, acknowledges and respects the diversity, most employees will follow suit. Those that don’t will decide to move on or may be asked to do so.
With people staying in the workforce longer, how do you welcome the “experience” while at the same time making room for “newbies” and their new ideas and work styles?
The answer to this one begins at the top. Management must have a desire that borders on a passion to embrace diversity. If leadership understands and appreciates diversity, the company is well positioned to be on the cutting edge. Most Fortune 500 companies have jumped into this arena enthusiastically, and there’s no reason for any company not to follow suit.
Assuming that diversity is embraced, the next step is really figuring out how to translate a passion and belief into action. In the case mentioned above, a starting place is realizing that there really are many age-related differences between older workers and those just entering the workforce.
Some of these differences are (or can be) amusing to explore, but funny or not, they are real, and they need to be understood and respected. In-house training is a great place to start. Get a knowledgeable speaker (they’re easy to find) to explain the work style differences between various age groups. Both the seasoned workers and the newer employees need to understand and respect the work style differences that exist. You can’t always make people get along or work well together, but you can provide employee education in an honest and accepting way that sends the message we need and value you all.
I have been CEO of my organization for 20 years, and it’s time for me to move on. What is the best way for me to make my announcement?
I am not sure there’s a right way, but there are a few things that come to mind. First, be sure that you’re really ready to move on. Talking about it before you’re sure can create unnecessary workplace drama, and if you change your mind, it can be difficult to regain the momentum. If you’re not sure, talk it through with family or close friends and save any announcement until after you’re sure. Once you’re certain, plan to talk to your direct reports and Board leadership and then release a pre-developed internal announcement for staff and, if appropriate, an external announcement as well. Just be sure to notify internal staff first as you certainly do not want them to hear about it from someone outside the organization first. This is an important milestone, and leaving with a positive attitude, regard for the people you’ll be leaving behind and a hopeful message for everyone would be ideal.
My boss and I have become great friends. Is it okay to invite her to parties at my house or is that inappropriate? Where is the line between personal and professional?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy, black and white answer for you. Friendships at work are common and can be wonderful; however, every once in a while, they end up being a disaster and fraught with problems. Pay attention and stay alert. If you feel problems developing, confront them head on and be clear about your concerns. Ultimately, the best advice I can offer is to listen to and trust your intuition.
I’m currently shifting careers towards a more traditional white-collar job after working at a very unconventional business (security at a dance club). During the course of working at my old position, I got several piercings and tattoos, which were perfectly acceptable for a club that caters to a very open-minded clientele. However, I’m very nervous that I won’t be taken seriously in my new buttoned-up atmosphere. How do I maintain my individuality while also recognizing that there’s a different standard in a suit and tie world?
This is a question that many people have faced and successfully navigated. Although the workplace continues to evolve, becoming more flexible, the concept of “dressing the part” is still important and very much expected by most employers and customers, too.
I’m sure you’ve already discovered that you can often temporarily remove piercings and cover extreme tattoos up with the right clothing choices. I am wondering how you dealt with the piercings and tattoos during the interview. How you prepared for the interview will give you an idea of how to show up at work.
Perhaps thinking about this from the customer’s standpoint will help you sort out your feelings and create an action plan. Most of us expect people who prepare our food to wear clean clothes and have hair styles that will keep their hair away from our sandwiches. We want our doctors to look like doctors and our nurses to look like nurses. Your “look” in your previous job made a lot of sense, and a more conservative look in a more traditional white-collar environment makes sense, too. Being you is important, and being accepted and effective in the workplace is as well!
I’m going through a very nasty divorce. While I’ve been trying to keep it out of the workplace, absences related to court appearances and other things have been raising questions among my colleagues and supervisors. How much information about my personal life do I have to share?
Going through a personal challenge and staying on top of things at work can be incredibly difficult.
How much you disclose is entirely up to you. If you decide to share a little, simply say you’re dealing with some personal issues and trying not to bring them to the office. If you want to be more specific, that’s perfectly ok, and telling a close workmate or two will get the word out without you having to talk about it yourself.
When we’re in the middle of a crisis, we have a tendency to think everyone is thinking about us and our problems. Fortunately this is almost never true! Trust me, every single person you work with is either going through something themselves, has just gotten over something, or will be going through something soon.
Also, remind yourself that it may actually help you get through this personal setback by staying focused on your work. Another strategy you might try is making a short list of other things that you can and do want to talk about with friends. That way you’ll be prepared with something else to talk about, which will help you feel that you’re still part of the office team.
Many of my friends are career women. After having been one myself, I’ve made the decision to be a stay-at-home Mom. The reaction from my friends has been very negative – that I’m throwing away my life and all I’ve worked to achieve. How can I get them to respect my decision?
You’d think by now we’d all be doing much better with that old Sly Stone song, “Different Strokes for Different Folks.” I’m not sure why your friends are giving you a hard time. Maybe they’re jealous, judgmental or just good people looking out for what they perceive to be in your best interest. But if they’re really getting to you, why not remind them that you’re all grown up and now making decisions about what’s best for you, all by yourself.
And for what it’s worth, here’s what I think. Staying home to be a mother, and more and more often now a father, is a personal decision and a tough one to make, and if that’s what you want, it’s most likely the ideal decision for everyone involved. I figure if you have children, you either pay someone else to take care of them while you work or you stay home and take care of them yourself. And no matter how rewarding either choice might be, they’re both, when done right, a lot of hard work and worthy of respect!
And I should also mention as a maturing CEO (that’s code for older), I’ve seen a lot of folks reenter the work force after the kids have left the nest. And often these folks are more ambitious, less burnt out, more mature, highly-qualified, very promotable and sometimes indispensable.
Bottom line, tell your friends to lighten up, and enjoy the kids!
Succession planning – what does it entail, and more importantly, how can I encourage employees to take on increasing responsibility?
The best way to encourage growth is to set an example and create a pathway that motivated employees can follow. Also, keep your eyes open for those employees who seek out and get new experiences. There are always a few high-energy people in most businesses, and when you find them, make it easy for them to keep moving, and notice and comment on their positive contributions.
When it comes to succession planning, I am not a big believer. Too many times this encourages supervisors to force-fit people into situations that don’t really fit. Personally, I wouldn’t put a lot of energy into succession planning. Instead, create a workplace that’s exciting, dynamic and fun, and you’ll see that exciting, dynamic and fun people will be attracted to your workforce. Then, when you have an opening, you may have the right person in-house, and if you don’t, attracting the right person to join your amazing company will be easy.
My co-worker and I are both single and share a lot of the same interests. Our relationship is becoming more than platonic. While not specifically prohibited by my company’s policies, is dating in the workplace okay?
I sure hope so because that’s where most of us are meeting people with whom we’re interested in dating or being friends. Having said that, let me also state another obvious: supervising a friend of any sort is a challenge, and often next to impossible.
As relationships begin and evolve in the workplace, everyone needs to pay attention and recognize and deal with the complexities that might present themselves.
In my opinion, the biggest simple practice to avoid is secrecy. If it’s against company policy, then a transition to another company (unless you can change policy) is the logical answer.
If relationships are accepted, being up front and visible about what is going on is wise. Begin with Yes . . . “Yes, we are in a relationship.” The transparency eliminates the gossip and intrigue and lets everyone involved help create office practices that can more easily accommodate the relationship.
I know the importance of social networking, but my company says “no” to going on Facebook and such during the work day. How can I get my boss to see that I’m promoting the company, just in a different way?
First of all, let’s be honest – Facebook and Twitter and other social network sites are fun and a huge energy drain. It’s not a surprise that companies are concerned about employees visiting such sites because it can interfere with getting the job done. But if you’re sincere about wanting to use social media to promote and advance your company, here’s what I suggest: Develop a brief proposal explaining how social media can help your company and give specific suggestions and examples about how other companies are using social media effectively. Then map out a plan for what you’d like to do. Your proposal should be detailed with specific goals, outcomes and time estimates.
My guess is that you and your supervisor will learn a few things about social media. She’ll be impressed with your initiative and will gladly help create a path for you and your company to venture into this brave world of communication.
What do you do if you are assigned a task for which you feel completely ill prepared and know nothing about?
Be honest. Would you rather accept the assignment and do a poor job that might harm your company (or yourself), or would you rather red flag the fact that you don’t possess the knowledge base to take on this particular job? A third, more acceptable, option would be to state that while you don’t feel ready to accept the assignment, you would be happy to conduct the research and seek out whatever professional development training is necessary to learn the skills necessary to accept the task. This demonstrates initiative, shows that you are dedicated to improving and also allows your company to develop a backup plan until you are ready.
My team is nervous about upcoming 360 evaluations and scared about how they will be used. How do I get them to say “yes” and embrace the results?
Wouldn’t you be nervous? Recognize that their fear –and I’m sure yours as well – comes from a valid place.
360 evaluations provide competence-related information and performance-appraisal data collected from all around an employee – from his or her peers, subordinates and supervisors. They are comprehensive, extremely helpful and give employees a clearer understanding of how the rest of the world views them. They can also be pretty scary. What makes them scary is that we don’t know how they will be used and we’re afraid that we will be judged rather than given the opportunity to grow.
In my experience, 360s work best when they’re done to help an employee get a better, more complete or well-rounded sense for how they’re perceived in the workplace. And just as important, the employee then gets a chance to work with someone competent and neutral who can help them build on strengths and compensate for weaknesses. Let’s face it, we all have a blind spot or two, and we could all use a little coaching!
If you’re looking for an evaluation tool, I don’t think this is the way to go. If on the other hand you want to give your team a way to grow through increased personal insight, then 360s can be a powerful and helpful resource.
Be clear about the rules. Give people the option to keep the information private between them and the coach. And how about doing a review yourself? The team will grow, everyone will learn something helpful and the anxiety should moderate.
How can I cut costs during a market downturn without conducting layoffs?
First of all, you’re dealing with a very real issue faced by just about every company in the world right now. Second of all, I commend you for working hard to save jobs and protect your employees.
The more that we focus on saving our workforce, the sooner we’ll all be able to collectively turn our economy in a more positive direction.
How to cut costs is a very company-specific question, and involves getting your workforce involved in identifying areas where costs can be cut. At the same time, and perhaps even more importantly, I would get people focused on ways to enhance revenue. In my experience, there are almost always more opportunities to increase revenue than opportunities to cut expenses. Getting your employees involved in creatively seeking new dollars can actually be fun and engaging, and it gives people a chance to help keep the company solvent and employees working.
We have always given fairly significant bonuses to our staff. This year for the first time we cannot afford to do any bonuses. I’m really worried about the impact on the workforce given that they are expecting them. What is the best way to communicate this bad news?
Your company is not alone. Almost every industry has been affected by the economy and many companies have not been in a position to give raises or bonuses for the past few years. This is difficult for employees to understand, and even when they understand it, they are almost certainly wishing things were better with salaries and wages.
The best way to communicate any news is direct, honest, calm and timely. Most employees will be disappointed, but they will appreciate knowing what to expect, and your credibility as a leader will be strengthened. Be as transparent as you possibly can be, and also accept the reality that no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to eliminate employee disappointment.
I work in an organization where trust is critical. I made a mistake and told what I considered to be a “white lie” and now my credibility has been damaged. How do I get people to understand that, “Yes, I can be trusted again?”
Was it a white lie like, “Your butt doesn’t look big in those jeans,” or a white lie like, “I did the report all by myself,” when in fact a co-worker did most of the work? A lot depends on the white lie, how and who it impacted, and how “white” it actually was! That said, real trust is earned over time. So be trustworthy, and over time your reputation will repair itself. If you feel talking directly to the parties involved, and even apologizing would help, it might speed up the repair work. And above all else, be glad you’ve learned the importance of trust, and carry its lesson with you in your future personal and professional worlds.