Category Archives: Workplace


Don’t follow your bliss

Have you seen this story?  Mike Rowe, the guy from the FORD truck commercials and Dirty Jobs, responded to a fan with an answer that would make many managers give him a standing ovation.

The fan was asking Rowe why he should not follow his dream; a reaction to a Ted Talk where Rowe told the audience that “follow your dream” was awful advice. Rowe, a young Boomer, told the fan, whose generation is not disclosed, that “Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by.”

Rowe is known for Dirty Jobs and his new series Somebody Has to Do It.  In both, he showcases jobs and careers where one would not expect to find a lot of passion.  But his experiences have proven that people can become passionate about any work.

“Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities,” Rowe writes in his response.

And that’s an opportunity that some businesses can capitalize on. Despite Rowe’s logic, the idea of following your passion probably isn’t going anywhere.  Companies that are struggling to find workers for certain roles can do themselves a favor by seeking out passionate role models among their current ranks.  Use these stories to show others the why they may want to be the “someone who gets to do it.”

Read the full story here.


Do-it-yourself customer service? Yay or nay

Back in the day, if a customer had a question, she went to the office or store and spoke to the manager.  Perhaps she called on the phone. Either way it was a one-to-one conversation. The same was true with making a purchase. A person selected what they wanted, brought it to the checkout and paid a real, live person (and usually with cold, hard cash).

Today, customers can engage in entire transactions – from purchase to return to replacement – without ever speaking to a single person.  And while I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been frustrated by the demand to “please listen closely as our menu options have changed” when all they knew full well their question couldn’t be answered by the automated options, there are an increasing number of people who are happy to avoid the human element.

So what does this mean for businesses? It is hard to know how to find the balance. Even businesses that are known for their white glove touch service—such as high end restaurants—need to appeal to both the Boomer who enjoys having a personal connection with the manager and Gen Xer who wants to secure his reservation on his own time using Open Table. Both customers see value in completely opposing approaches to the same end goal.

Go from the steakhouse to the grocery store and you have the same conversation.  Self checkout lanes are becoming increasingly popular, but their use is largely divided on generational lines. What is good for business? What turns your service into something that can be experienced anywhere you can swipe a debit card? Where is that line?

Depending on the moment, I may prioritize convenience over connection, but then sometimes the best conversations come when and with whom you aren’t expecting anything interesting to happen. As usual, one size doesn’t fit all, so the best solution comes when you can provide options that appeal to different people…or even different moods.


Creative benefits: An example that resonates

I’m on the road at least one night per week for 30+ weeks a year talking to companies about how to attract, engage and retain the next generation of talent. Whether in a small group workshop or to a keynote audience of multiple hundreds, we are often discussing creative ways to look beyond pure dollars and identify other benefits that make employees feel appreciated and understood.  The examples I share and ideas that come from the audience frequently focus on achieving the elusive work-life balance.  I’ve heard a lot, but I found this example recently on and it is new, even to me:  A pre-cation.

At least two companies (both based in San Francisco, where competition for tech talent is fierce and people are generally weirder than most other place) have begun offering, actually requiring, new recruits to take a paid vacation before starting new jobs.  It’s brilliant. It’s also a bit odd.

In today’s over-worked, stressed out work environment many, if not most, employees do not take all of their vacation (or “paid time off”) anyway.  Therefore the pre-cation isn’t a heavy financial burden.  Even when employees do max out their PTO, the cost of an additional two weeks at the start of employment pales in comparison to the benefit of having a refreshed, appreciative and, yes, engaged, new employee join the ranks.  Atlassian and 42floors, the two companies referenced in the Slate article, have been at this for a couple of years and see a difference.  In fact, one of them requires another 2-week paid refresher after five years on the job–they even provide a travel bonus.

I’m not sure how quickly such an idea could catch on in other industries or for larger companies, but it is a great example of thinking outside the box to find solutions that benefit both the company and the employee.


Is an ethics course in order for the Millennials?

The workplace cliché of the boss who makes the young staffers do all the work and then takes all the credit may be meeting its match.  A new study by marketing firm DDB found that 27 percent of Millennials had taken credit for someone else’s work.  And that’s just the ones who would own it.

Comparatively, 15 percent and 5 percent of Xers and Boomers, respectively, admitted to the same.  So what’s driving this seeming underhanded behavior?  And how does this reconcile with a group that we’ve called social and altruistic?

According to the survey authors, it’s the old dollar bill.  With Millennials feeling pressure to secure their jobs, they may be more willing than usual to ignore their inner Jiminy Crickets.  On the flip side, and to be fair to the Millennials, this survey didn’t have a historical reference point.  That is, we don’t have a similar statistic asking Boomers this same question when they were the same ages Millennials are now.  So is this ethics indiscretion a factor of youth or a reflection on a generation?

I think this may be one of those areas where age drives the bus. The older employees get, the more they have to lose and the more they understand the risk to their reputations vs. what is usually very little reward.  Or at least I want to believe that to be true.


Retirement across the generations: Outlooks and warnings

It’s generally accepted that individuals will need retirement savings of roughly 16 times their pre-retirement salary, and that social security will cover only 4 times salary at most. It is also generally understood that most individuals cannot count on employer-defined plans to fund that missing 11 times salary – but how much is very different by generation.

An Aon Hewitt study reported in Benefits Quarterly predicts that Boomers will be responsible for generating roughly 6.3 times salary out of their own savings while Millennials are faced with a  daunting 10.5 times salary gap. The upside, of course, is that Millennials still have plenty of time to contribute, however very few are approaching retirement planning as aggressively as they should.

This presents employers with an opportunity to help their youngest employees to help themselves. Young employees are less likely to have established financial advisor relationships and may not know where to turn for advice, other than their parents and peers. Providing regular retirement planning education can help this important employee base understand their options and be more confident about the future. Demonstrating an interest in their future success – even while knowing how unlikely they are to stay with the same organization for long – will help with their loyalty, both as employees and as future centers of influence.


The Cool Part of this Job

Can anyone guess why there are so many more young people in this section of Canada? The grey background reflects the entire Canadian population. The bars reflect the specific area discussed in the slide. Big discrepancy here – why? Let me know if you can figure it out and I’ll send you the book of your choice of mine.


canada demography slides.014


A few words on business clutter

An article in The Economist this month got me thinking about how different generations value time. The piece talks about three types of business clutter – organizational clutter, meeting clutter and email clutter. None of these is a shocking revelation to anyone who works in a large organization. The demands on time are significant, and often not related specifically to the task at hand. In fact, a colleague recently shared that when her boss asked for yet another report, she had to tell him “I can do the report, or I can do the work that the report is about, but there’s just not enough time to do both.”

That comment was from an Xer – mature enough in position to have that conversation without getting fired, but echoing the sentiment of many employees, especially younger ones. Time is a true currency, yet companies spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings and “touching base” – to the extent that the actual work is getting harder to get done. Is this the result of Boomers—who tend to value face time and a commitment to the team—being at the helm?  Do companies run by younger generations operate more efficiently? Or is it a natural progression of a more dispersed workforce made capable by technology?  Perhaps a little of both.

The final line in the Economist article could easily have been the whole article “the most valuable resource that many companies have is the time of their employees. And yet they are typically far less professional about managing that time than they are at managing their financial assets.”

What can you do, today, to start treating your time – and that of your colleagues – as professionally as you do your clients and your finances?


Millennials waxing nostalgic

A friend told me about the new Miranda Lambert tune and it made me chuckle. At the ripe old age of 30 years, Lambert is a Millennial. Yet here she is singing about the good old days of hard work and paying your dues. And I did my homework with good ol’ Google – Lambert isn’t just singing a lyric written by a Nashville old-timer; she wrote it.

The chorus is especially amusing for someone who was only 15 when the Internet went mainstream:

Hey, whatever happened to waitin’ your turn
Doing it all by hand,
‘Cause when everything is handed to you
It’s only worth as much as the time put in
It all just seemed so good the way we had it
Back before everything became automatic

 Though the song is clearly about life in general, not the workplace, it absolutely suggests a work ethic that resonates with Boomers. Perhaps Lambert is an “old soul” or maybe a cusper – one who was born in one generation but identifies more closely with the characteristics of another. Either way, the song is a reminder that almost everyone looks back on their youth with a sense of nostalgia…even those that many would consider to still be in their youth.


Gen X – stuck in the middle again

The numbers show it. And so do the conversations. Generation X is stuck in the middle. In “10 things Generation X won’t tell you” MarketWatch author Quentin Fottrell delivers a fairly thorough assessment of why Gen X is “poor, ignored and jaded.”

Gen X numbers roughly half to two-thirds of its generational peers. Depending on whose statistics you use, there are about 49 million Xers compared to 75 million Boomers and 89 million Millennials. No wonder people aren’t paying as much attention anymore. But it’s more than that – Xers have been around a while. They were the thorn in the side of management years ago, but the Matures who truly didn’t understand them are almost fully retired and the Boomers have gotten used to them. The Millennials, though, are bringing a whole new set of headaches and tech-savvy. So they get the focus.

But what does this mean for advancement? If Boomers are staying around longer and Millennials are being closely studied and groomed for leadership positions, are Xers doomed to middle management forever? That’s the story behind points 6 and 7 in Fottrell’s article. Boomers are sticking around and Millennials are impatient to get ahead, so Xers aren’t feeling overly optimistic.

Could this mean even more entrepreneurism as jaded Xers set sail for unchartered waters where they will at least be in control of their own destiny? Seems very likely…at least once they get out of debt and have more flexibility to do so.


Searching for role models, Millennial women still come up empty

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made big waves with her book, Lean In. But a recent study of Millennials, conducted by Bentley University’s Center for Women in Business, seems to agree with her assertion of an ambition gap among female workers.

According to the study, while nearly 20% of Millennial women seek to emulate women leaders in their companies, another 20% have “no interest in becoming a leader at my current company.”  Of course that leaves a good majority floating somewhere in the middle.

It’s even more interesting when you apply the assumptions these Millennials are making about the women CFOs in general:

  • More than 60% believe women leaders have to hide their femininity to fit in
  • Roughly 50% believe women leaders are less likely to have children AND probably do not have time be as good a mother as they could be

With Millennials’ strong sense of self, and wanting to be accepted for who they are, it’s not surprising that these assumptions would make Millennial women less interested in becoming leaders. The challenge for companies – at least those that want to encourage women leaders – is to create an environment where these assumptions are refuted.

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