Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Generational Observation

The other night at book club we were in the midst of a discussion about our latest title, The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins. Naturally, as all book club discussions go, we veered off topic, then on, then off again; the tangents becoming longer and full of more twists and turns as the night wore on and we drank more beer.

The tangent du jour was about the workplace, and how the Baby Boomer generation differs from the Gen X-ers and Millenials (of which we were all in the middle ground – neither comfortably in one group nor the other). Discussing our current work situations, we found a common thread of being thrown into the midst of things on our first day with little to no training in organizational history or procedure.

This “baptism by fire” approach let us hit the ground running, yes, but made the first six months of the job less productive and effective, not to mention stressful.

Why is job training a dying practice? Why do companies seem to not want to take a few days of training in order to invest in our success?

We discussed the current structure of management, and how so many organizations lose top-level executives only to scramble in finding adequate replacements. Why, we argued, could an organization not simply plan for the future by grooming an internal senior staff member for those executive positions?

Was it a generational thing? Did baby boomers never plan for; much less think about, the day they will leave an organization for retirement? And when will that mass exodus of baby boomers finally happen and open up the abundant supply of jobs we have been promised since freshman year of our undergraduate studies?

A mystery, to be sure.

I was thinking about this topic on the way to work this morning. As I circumvented rush hour traffic by taking the back streets, I had time to reflect. I realized that what made this discussion so interesting was that I had never before thought of it as a generational issue.

I guess I just always thought that the companies I worked for were really busy and disorganized. That is why, I reasoned, I was never properly trained for my position. That is why I am still, after two years in this job, learning about organizational procedures that I have not been following, but which have been in existence long before I arrived. I simply was never told they existed, you see.

This issue is probably the reason I am so organized to the point of obsessive compulsion. The first thing I do when I arrive on the job is to set up my office form templates and filing systems. The last thing I do when I am planning to leave a job is to write comprehensive handbooks and “how to” lists for the next person, outlining all of my major duties and organizational procedures. My way of making sure that the next person doesn’t have as hard a transition as I did.

In sharing these rather odd, I think learned, behaviors during the book club discussion, my friends all agreed with me. The moment I started talking I saw heads nodding and heard murmurs of agreement. My peers had been through the exact same thing. They, too, work in much the same manner when first entering and then leaving a new job.

I guess that is a glaring generational difference as well. Fifty years ago a person could expect to stay in one company for their entire career, working up the ladder and then earning a nice pension. My peers and I do not even know what the word pension means, and we, as a generation, are often criticized for our career-hopping ways.

Interesting observation, that.

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