Questioning the established order

BABY boomers are beginning to stand aside for a new generation in the work force and it is undeniable that there are some challenging new dynamics to be considered.

Loyalty to amorphous organisations is dead. Expect generations X and Y to be questioning, demanding and determined to dictate their own commitments.

They know they may be challenged to reinvent themselves several times over and they do not see the value in offering many hours of unpaid overtime at the expense of their disposable time. They are often dedicated to gaining the necessary expertise and a job that they value, but they define themselves more broadly than this.

Companies that continue to demand unquestioning compliance to a work ethic that limits the capacity of their younger employees to function positively outside of the workplace have not caught up with the current mood. Receptive organisations will be wise enough to monitor this change, as these employees represent their investment in the future and they bring an enriched experience to the workplace.

Many of the new generation feel that they were denied access to their own parents, who were too often ‘at the office’. They have witnessed the social dislocation that can be the logical consequence of failing to maintain a balance in commitments and they do not wish to suffer the same fate. There is a new appreciation of the value of relationships and of health issues. There is a wide range of beckoning recreational opportunities on offer, competing with the demands of the job.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who are reaching the end of their working life. Too often this generation functioned at the behest of ‘the company’. Their commitment to their job took precedence over all else and their health and relationships were put on the back burner. In their eagerness to do the right thing they neglected to take the time to establish what their personal priorities should be. They needed to see past the daily grind but may have been too busy to plan the next inevitable phase.

For people who define themselves by their professional status, the loss of their job can be very traumatic. Self-esteem is the first casualty. It is a huge risk to allow oneself to be unprepared for retirement, particularly if it is the result of an unheralded retrenchment.

Companies have been very responsible about organising outplacement programs after separation but the reality is that, with the tightening job market and the plentiful supply of baby boomers, it can take an average of four months for senior managers to find a new position.

This transitional period, with its inherent pressures and uncertainties, can rattle even the toughest game players.

It is as important to plan towards the end of one’s working life as it is to structure a career in the early years. This planning should go way beyond ensuring financial stability. There are too many examples in our community of older people who now have the time to look back with regret and with the negative lens of esteem loss.

They often wish they had taken the time to think ahead and had done things differently. It is our duty to take as much time in developing ourselves and our response to our personal environment as it is to focus on what we can bring to the workplace.

Next week: Embracing change; why complacency can be costly mid career.

p Tim Ford was the general manager of people and organisational development at BankWest from 1990 to 2001. He now runs his own consultancy, People Innovations, in Nedlands and is the WA representative for the Hay Group.

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