Monday, October 20, 2008

Say Buh-Bye to Flexibility and Hello to Longer Hours


I went on eBay the other day to try and purchase a crystal ball. Unfortunately, the ones that were available didn't come with a guarantee, so I decided to pass.

I mean, who wouldn't want a crystal ball to see into the future -- to see how we're all going to survive this mess and whether or not the Rays really can go from being the worst team in baseball to winning the World Series in a year's time?

OK, so when the crystal ball thing didn't work out, I decided to just talk to a lot of different people about the situation on the job today. I didn't talk to just experts, but also regular folks who worry about their jobs, who wonder if their bosses are telling them the truth and if they need to be looking for a second job.

While this is unscientific, this is what my gut tells me -- after decades of covering the workplace -- what you may see come to your workplace:

1. Less flexibility. Companies already are operating lean, but because of the nervousness about how deep and long the recession will last, employers will want employees to really buckle down. And that means that bosses or companies offering flexibility options such as working certain hours or working from home may start to cut back those choices because they want to stick really close to workers right now. So that means where and when the boss works -- so will you.

2. Less tolerance for whining. Bosses are tense. I mean really tense. Maybe they're not showing it to employees, but trust me, they're very stressed by what is going on. They want to be there for employees who are worried about their jobs or the economy, but they can only take so much whining. Those workers who don't recognize when to suck it up and just shut up and work are going to put themselves in jeopardy. Remember: There are lots of great, qualified people out of work right now, and the boss's pickings to replace you have never been better.

3. More generational conflict. Things between older and younger workers have sometimes been tense, but there's always been the argument that baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves soon, so employers will be forced to pay attention to what younger workers want. But with so many baby boomers seeing their portfolios and 401(k)s tank, chances are good many of them are going to stick around much longer. And that's not going to sit well with GenX and GenY, since it mucks up their plans. Employers are going to have little patience (see No.2) for workers who can't get along.

4. Longer hours. Maybe you thought your workload couldn't get any worse. Guess what? It can.

5. Fewer benefits. Those goody packages used to attract and retain top workers are going to start drying up. Companies have pretty much cut as many bodies as they can, so they're going to look for other ways to trim costs. So, if you're thinking of using your company's tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance, gym memberships, etc., do it now. Before too much longer, they may be gone.

What other trends do you think we'll see -- or already are seeing -- in the workplace because of the struggling economy?

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three Ways to Improve GenY's Bad Rep



Generation Y appears to have an image problem.

According to a recent survey by JobFox, recruiters aren't too keen on GenYers, and only 20 percent said they were "generally great performers" as compared to 63 percent who said baby boomers (age 43-62) were great performers, 58 percent lauding GenXers (age 29-42) and 25 percent saying traditionalists (63-plus) were great performers.

Ouch.

It gets worse. According to press release materials, "Gen Y was also classified as 'generally poor performers' by the largest number of recruiters polled. Thirty percent of recruiters classified Millennials (GenY) as poor performers, followed by 22 percent of recruiters who classified traditionalists as poor performers, 5 percent for GenX and 4 percent for baby boomers.

Double ouch.

But JobFox's CEO Rob McGovern thinks that managers and recruiters are missing the boat. Managers, he says, must "learn new ways to incorporate GenY views into the workforce."

OK, I agree. Managers and recruiters always need to be looking at how they can use an individual's strengths to help a company and boost the bottom line.

But I think it's more than that. I think GenYers (age 28 and under) need to be better at their own personal p.r.. I think that if they wait around to get the respect they believe they deserve, they may find themselves waiting a long time. Because whether they deserve the slacker reputation or not, the problem is that it exists.

Believe it or not, however, GenYers are being handed a golden opportunity to turn things around as the economy takes a nosedive. How? Let us count the ways:

1. Staying sane. GenY has lived a life of upheaval. They've grown up with AIDS, 9/11 and Britney not wearing any panties. They don't get rattled easily. Right now the older folks in the workplace are pretty well freaking and stressing about everything from how to make their house payment to watching their 401(k) tank. If GenYers demonstrate that -- while they understand the seriousness of the issues right now -- they are still upbeat and positive about life, it could have an enormous impact. Inspiring others to keep it all in perspective can demonstrate real leadership, and that's just the kind of reputation they need to develop.

2. Save others time. No one is more crazed these days that workers trying to balance the demands of their private and professional lives. But GenYers have grown up juggling, and have found technology enhances their lives. Young workers are in a great position to help other workers find ways to use technology to make their lives better. There's no way that anyone would be called a slacker for helping give someone more time with their kids or do their job better. Just be careful: You don't want your help to come off as smug or arrogant. Read Chris Brogan's post to make sure you do it right.

3. Provide the global view. The world has been delivered to GenY through television and computers since they were old enough to use a sippy cup. They have friends working in Darfur, they listen to bands from Japan and think nothing of IMing contacts in Istanbul or Tazmania. If they can keep their workplace informed on how events in Cambodia or Russia or Brazil may be impacting their business and bottom line, it could be enormously valuable. And let's face it -- those that contribute to the bottom line are seen as valuable -- and top performers.

While there are plenty of people telling managers that they need to treat GenYers better and learn to appreciate them, I think that GenYers may have to do some of the heavy lifting. They shouldn't wait around for someone to discover their strengths -- they should find subtle, but very meaningful ways to change perceptions that will have a real impact on their career success.

What are some other ways young workers can improve their image?


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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

GenY and Boomers: A Formidable Alliance

Much has been made of the fact that baby boomers will be retiring in droves, leaving the field as worn-out warriors with their outdated ideas. Younger workers - GenY - will be the new face of the workplace, revolutionizing the labor force with technology and demands for more flexibility.

The problem is that this isn't necessarily what is happening. Sure, baby boomers are retiring...but not in droves. First, there is the economic necessity to remain working, especially with the increasing costs of just going to the grocery store, the floundering stock market and of course, the housing debacle.

Second, GenYers are more supportive of boomers staying on the scene, and if nothing else, employers are paying attention to what younger workers want. In fact, according to author Tamara Erickson who just completed a book on retirement, GenYers like having boomers around. "When I talked to GenX privately, they are the one who are pretty darn excited for boomers to move on, because they want to move into their jobs," says Erickson. "But GenYers see that as disrespectful, and they don't like it."

Erickson told me that GenYers have grown up listening to boomers (their parents), and often rely on their advice. They are not a generation who resents this age group, but rather sees it as valuable and an important part of their lives. GenYers, with their gift for networking, see the boomers as an integral part of their success, and understand that they don't yet begin to have the talent to completely fill a boomer's shoes in the labor force.

The truth is, GenYers and boomers may be the greatest partnership since Dean met DeLuca. Employers will be getting hit from both ends of the spectrum by younger and older workers who have key skills and want the same thing: more flexibility and a chance to use their skills to gain the lifestyle they want. It may be just a strong enough force to finally make employers realize this isn't an HR delusion, but a real change in the workforce that must be addressed through more than empty promises. Finally, we may see new policies that forever change the way work gets done.

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