I ran across this study and its presumption that older workers and younger workers will clash is amusing. It’s humorous and a bit sad because a large part of Generation Z assumes that they will be able to self-actualize rather than focus on getting the job done.
I think the article holds some truth since Generation-X types like myself tend to place self-actualization much lower down on the scale of needs. Why? Because many of us, due to demographics, have been behind the 8-ball for much of our working careers. We know that in the end employers value one’s ability to deliver. If one is able to enjoy higher meaning while doing so, is a bonus. It’s not something an employ is in a position to expect.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love young people with exceptional technology skills, but I am curious how they would define “fresh thinking”. Is this the perpetual “my generation knows better than the old farts” which has existed since the dawn of time or is there truly a fresh way to think? I have worked with lots of young people and while they bring energy they aren’t that much different than my generation. They are less cynical and less guarded, but generally, as expected, inexperienced regarding life, business, and work.
I liked the idea of being open to new ways of working. Technology created the opportunity for flexibility, but it also is temping to think that technology can allow us to transcend evolutionary biology. We are generally hard wired to want to work in each other’s presence. While remote work or exotic work environments are interesting, our biology compels us to return eventually to face meetings and group interaction.
Lastly, I must end with a comment on the word “clash”. Conflict is unavoidable within any human endeavor, however how power is exercised varies depends on a lot of factors. Firstly, whether one has power to engage in a clash. Secondly, whether one has the ability to leverage power to motivate others to accept your fresh thinking and new ways of working. Thirdly, whether one has the ability to counter the push back, avoidance or the ignoring of the new thinking and ideas.
What I am getting at is that the study comes across with a huge assumption of entitlement to exercise one’s perspective within groups with a variety of generational perspectives. I suspect a clash will occur since Generation-X is one of the most anti-entitlement generations since the 1920’s. I am gracious with young people who believe in entitlement, but I find it naively cute.
I googled “entitlement thinking” and ran across this Generation-Z kid who talked about “Deserving VS Entitlement”. He’s a level headed kid with level headed expectations. I think he’d have good ideas, but also some humility. when approaching work and being in a team. I underlined humility since that is critical to being able to be in a team, lead a team, or exercise one’s fresh ideas and new ways of working. Demands for entitlement are often met with laughter in the workplace. The laughter is usually deserved!
Nothing tops attitude! Demographics also make it increasingly more difficult to find those 20-somethings, and even rarer the 20-something who can top the experience, loyalty and attitude of the older worker.
If businesses want to survive, they have to stop the trend of hiring only endangered 20-somethings and start seeking out older workers to fill empty positions. Hiring workers in their golden years means making some changes for an aging workforce but don’t let the gray hair fool you; today’s older workers are often physically fit and able to handle challenges in the workplace with minimum accommodations. Source: 7 Ways Businesses Can Surf the Silver Tsunami and Survive | Janice Celeste
Janice Celeste posts a list of pros and cons:
Older employees have invaluable work experience and work ethic.
They are usually able and willing to mentor younger, less experienced employees.
They can take on part time or seasonal work. In fact, some prefer it.
They are reliable and punctual.
Older employees have a serious commitment to work, and they are loyal.
Many times, they already have established long-term networks of clients and contacts.
I would affirm all of these, but expand on a couple more.
Older workers often come in a little early to ensure they are ready for work, and are willing to leave a little late if the business needs this.
Older workers tend to have much better safety records.
Older workers understand that cutting corners are like taking short-cuts. You often pay in the long run.
Older workers have been around long enough to understand that the success of the business means they get a paycheque.
Older employees might be set in their ways and sometimes are not as adept at new technology as their younger counterparts.
They may need additional training and they may lack flexibility.
They might be old enough to have one or more chronic diseases, which makes them more expensive when it comes to medical care and insurance.
They prefer flexible hours.
These cons, identified by Janice Celeste are accurate, however businesses can “weed out” the Luddites by examining their track records. Some 60+ types know more about new technology and how businesses adapt than the average 20 year old. It will show on their resume.
Yes, some older workers may need training, but since older workers tend to be much more loyal so they often will stick around. You may hire a 20-something only to discover once they have experience that they move to something they consider “more exciting”. Older workers are less likely to “train and bolt”.
Yes, older workers get sick more or have more chronic diseases. Yet if businesses do the math and offset the costs of attrition due to younger workers leaving, this concern can be mitigated. Of course, today’s 60 year old is not the 60 year old of our parents generation.
Yes, older workers often prefer flexible hours. In fact, our whole culture is shifting towards desiring flexible hours, however people with higher levels of loyalty to their company and/or team will choose that flexibility while considering the needs of others. That has been my experience. Someone might want a four day week for the summer, but if there is a business crunch this same person will volunteer for over time.
Of course, you can interview with these cons in mind. Is the interviewee a grumpy old fart who looks like the smoking man from X-files? Or are they a seasoned worker with skills that would choke an elephant?
Eliminate the obvious con candidates and look for the Old Star Geeks! They are out there … waiting to perform their Awesomeness.
This is not a one-off finding. Other studies have shown that entrepreneurs best years are from 45 to 65. Even many Wiz-kid Start-ups have a number of key gray-beards who behind the scene’s guide the company to greatness.
A good story requires tension and conflict, so its not surprising that there are reports of generational conflict. Boomers VS Gen-X were huge in my younger days, but people adapted. Today the stories are Gen-X, Gen-Y, and Gen-Z conflict. We are fed stories that intergenerational conflict is inevitable so its no surprise polls show people expect it.
The good news is that the majority of workers in the UK and Ireland (89%) surveyed from all generations believe that having a workforce of different ages is an asset to a company. However, the survey unearthed a key challenge that managers must overcome. Nearly two thirds (63%) of older employees expect workplace tensions to increase with the arrival of Generation Z into their companies. – Source: Older workers expect office tensions with Generation Z, survey reveals | Information Age
The story is about people expecting tensions, but for the Irish and the UK, the polls show people understand that we now have a multigenerational workforce.
Yes, there are differences in generational cultures which at time can cause conflict. Just as when there are cultural differences it can cause conflict. These differences when developed in a positive manner lead to a dynamic creative culture. Experience meets an expanded viewpoint which leads to new possibilities.
As my mom said, “Where everyone thinks the same, no one thinks at all.” The quote is from Walter Lippman, journalist and thinker of a previous generation.
PS. We old farts know why they smell the paper in the video above. LOL
My blog has strayed a bit into politics in the past few posts, however I got an email from a reader which said something like, “I don’t give a $h!t about whether Trump is scum, crazy, or whatever … at least he’s against the H-1B which could cost me my job.” Its understandable that someone might feel threatened when they read others in their industry are being replaced by cheaper younger foreign workers. In some cases, they are forced to retrain the new worker who will sit in their chair. I think they believe a number of social contracts have been violated.
We often do not think about social contracts since many are unwritten. The old are expected to sacrifice/contribute for the next generation and the young are expected to care for them when they get old. If you work hard, its expected that society will reward in some manner your commitment. A nation, which can call on its citizens to defend it with their lives (even involuntarily as in the draft), will look after its own first.
When social contracts are abandoned people feel abandoned. Those who faithfully fulfilled these unwritten commitments feel betrayed and confused. When people feel abandoned, betrayed and confused, the next natural feelings are anger/rage. In the post WWI period, war reparations were used to punish Germany for that war. The reparations were designed to cripple and humiliate Germany which many historians site as critical in the rise of Hitler. Few know that Germany only finished paying off the WWI reparations in 2010!
Now, I’m not saying Trump is Hitler. I thought initially he was hoaxing American society by running for President, but now I see that he’s just some egotistical fame seeker with loads of money. He’s a buffoonish spotlight seeker with bad hair … but why are people backing him? My view of history is that when people are existentially threatened (facing the street) they act badly. Very badly. Even violent badly. Let me clarify. Why do middle class or formerly middle class act very badly. Often the lower classes have are so beaten down and/or entrenched in a sense learned helplessness that they can generally initiate widespread movements. People who have had power and lose it can be dangerous. Especially if they feel that unwritten social contracts have been betrayed or perceived to have been betrayed. Really dangerous if they can call upon the underclasses to rally with them.
It is understandable that Machiavellian-orientated tech companies have no sense of social contract, respect for citizenship, or even respect for the inherent dignity of their workers. As it appears with Amazon, its all about the mission and workers are just fuel for building their cultish vision of Amazon-world. What is not understandable is that politicians are letting them do it. What is even more understandable is that politicians, especially the Democrats do not understand the consequences of their failure to protect citizens from obvious undermining of the social contract between state and citizen. Championing poor migrant workers might trump (pun intended) protecting a nation’s citizenship rights, but there is no just case for championing young highly educated immigrants at the expense of older, committed, skilled IT workers. Unless of course, you don’t care in the least for social contracts.
I roadtrip a lot and in an Oregon campground a police officer and his wife shared our campfire one evening. She explained with some embarrassment the Tea Party stickers on her RV. “We don’t believe everything they say, but they stand up for us.” There was no racism and they weren’t buck toothed hill-billies, but clearly people who felt that their lives were threatened and were turning to movements which promised the protect them. About 1/3 of Tea Party supporters sometimes vote Democrat. Look at the statistics for membership in this movement and you’ll see who feels threatened. Yes, there is the caricatured old white Republican segment, but the data also shows 41% female and a that Tea Partiers are generally have more education than the general population. They also are not doing well given the recession. The main segment, driving the movement is older professionals who feel threatened economically and do not think the current leadership of the Democrats and Republicans are looking out for them. I’m not saying they are right or wrong, but rather pointing out there is a large segment of alienated middle class people and that I think that is a dangerous for our common future. I think most of this alienation has been dismissed by the mainstream parts of the political class of America. Over coffee I’ve heard friends say, “Oh they are just a bunch of idiots who will eventually go away”. The data says otherwise and history says otherwise. An alienated middle class is an unpredictable animal.
In my reading of the human condition, I believe that modern social contracts within a democratic framework can easily give way to oaths of feality within non-democratic frameworks when people feel significantly existentially threatened. When society is bereft of the stability that commonly shared social contracts give or appear to give, many will look for the powerful for protection. Much has been written on the threat of fascism on the rise in Europe.
I don’t think Donald Trump is the great leader for whom people will cast their loyalty to for protection. He’s popular because he’s voicing the angst which the middle class and especially older professionals are experiencing. I would not be surprised if loads of former democrats are supporting him. They are not supporting the Republican Party or Neo-Conservatism or even right wing economics, but Trump. I imagine someone thinking, “He’s a prick but he’s saying stuff that I can’t say and he’s someone standing up for me and mine.”
I see Trump as a bellweather of dangerous times ahead if America does not wake up to an alienated middle class and the abandonment of various social contracts which have helped stabilize their society. You can not expect people to respect societal authorities for long if they have no reason to benefit from doing so.
This is my second politic post in a month. I don’t intend this blog to be a political one, but given the Amazon Acting Like A Cult story in the news, I’ve been thinking about the big picture that Geezer Geeks live within these days. Instead of continuing to lament the bastards at Amazon and other of their ilk, I want to instead highlight those who hire older IT workers.
I think it is more fruitful individually for older IT workers to steer clear of ageist tech companies and focus on those who “get it”. Let’s look for places which see us as the treasure we are! Dear readers, let me know about companies which value older IT workers and I will highlight them.
I found this awesome study on what skills are needed for the 2020. The trouble is its daunting, since to acquire these skills requires personal development with breadth, depth, and wisdom. My position is that the most important knowledge in most fields is acquired intergenerationally not, as technocrats would have us believe, in an individualistic segmented and easily conveyed manner. Here is the link to the study.
Here is the “Coles Notes” Verson:
1. Sense-making: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
2. Social intelligence: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
3. Novel & adaptive thinking: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
4. Cross-cultural compe t e ncy Definition: ability to operate in different cultural settings
5. Computational thinking: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
6. New-media literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
7. Transdisciplinarity: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
8. Design mindset: ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
9. Cognitive load management: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
10. Virtual collaboration: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.
IT Workers at Amazon are exposing the dirty secret of the work culture at Amazon.com. Even with strict confidentiality clauses, eventually human beings who’ve been exploited, abused and had their humanity trampled on want to tell their stories. We are after all Homo Narratus … the story telling ape.
“Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.” – Inside Amazon
While some might be tempted to write this story off as just another inhuman corporation exploiting its workers, I believe it points to something deeper, and something more dangerous at work in our societies. Let’s look at Darwinism and then I’ll explain what I think is at the hidden ugly core of the muddy waters of Amazon.com.
The dirty secret of the early 1900’s was Eugenics. One need not dig too deep to discover numerous mainstream people who supported the idea that we could improve the human race by selectively removing the supposedly deficient (mentally disabled, person’s of African origin, and the those who were poor). While more prevalent among political and social progressives, like Margarent Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), important Conservatives like Winston Churchill helped draft the Mental Deficiency Act 1913.
At the core of the movement was the belief that one could “use science [the newly discovered Mendelian laws of heredity] to solve social problems (crime, alcoholism, prostitution, rebelliousness), using trained experts.” Laws supporting forced sterilizations, outlawing interracial marriage, and limiting immigration from supposed “unfit” sources were supported by many in Canada and the USA.
Even Geek Saints, like Nicola Tesla believed that Eugenics would help improve society. Yet, following the horrors of the German Left, in the form of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis), most disavowed the inhumanity at the root of Eugenics. People rightly understood that in trying to become the technological masters of genetics they became monsters. While few after the post-WWII period were openly Eugenicist, North American society was often chastised by critics for its Social Darwinism and the belief that Laissez-faire capitalism, with its survival of the fittest creed, would advance society not only economically but socially. While various opinions existed about the precise mechanism that should be used to reward strength and punish weakness, little was often given to the importance of human dignity and relationships in society. Notice that at the core of this thinking is seeking a precise mechanism and the abandonment of relationship. Human beings, as with Eugenics, became tools for the greater goal of a more efficient wealth producing society. Just as human beings became tools in the schemes of the left, the understanding of human beings as tools was the same.
Progressives of today will often curse right wingers as Social Darwinists, then they will over the same beer propose all sorts of mechanisms government experts can enact in order to enhance the social justice of society. In Canada, New Democratic Party is proposing a national daycare program. Helping working women with child care expenses is commendable. The mechanisms of its implementation will be handed over to those who can bring about the better future. Bring in the technocrats who can with their expert knowledge enhance society.
For a while I have seen both the Social Darwinism of the Right, and the Progressive Big Programs for Social Justice as sides of the same coin. Those who believe that through the application of scientific (each side has their science) mechanisms can bring about the greater good. Yet again, the “cause” and the “experts” are elevated above the humanity of those whom these schemes and systems are meant to serve. Human beings in their individual beauty, worth, and dignity become pawns in the goals of the technocrats.
While many have asked. “What does the One Ring symbolize in Tolken’s Lord of the Rings”? My position is that it represent the temptation of the Technocrat. Thinking one can make the world good through expertise is the ring of power. This is why Galdalf the wizard refuses to accept or even hold the ring, lest he give in to the temptation to think that he can bring about the good. As it is the temptation for the scientists of our world to give in to the temptation that they can devise schemes which will enhance society without becoming corrupted and corrupting others by their own delusions of mastery.
Notice the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings. They are the most anti-technocratic of species. They exist for each other, for enjoyment of the shire, and their aspirations are to enjoy a simple life. Consider Sam’s monologue when Frodo’s strength gives out. He recites the source of his self-worth as being the community of the shire. It raises his strength to aid Frodo in casting the ring into Mount Doom.
It is the temptation of the modern age to turn many things into gods. Chesterton, a vocal opponent of Eugenics in the late 1800’s said it succinctly.
“For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” ― G.K. Chesterton
“I was so addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from.”
Where do we get our self worth from? The work culture of Amazon appears to demand that their workers get it from the success of Amazon’s mission. While the young woman uses the metaphor of drug addition, I would suggest that some Start-Ups develop in a manner not unlike cults. I’m active in the Okanagan tech community which is a very diverse group of people with various viewpoints. I’ve also been around the block a few times and seen some weird stuff in my life. Yet, I was not prepared for 2014 MetaBridge some Start-Up speaker talking about how his start-up company workers got tattoos of the company logo on their bodies. I had a visceral reaction when they said 30 of the 40 members of the company were now wearing the brand of the company on their bodies. It was one of those “WTF am I on the same planet moments” or perhaps it was an intergenerational old Gen-Xer disconnect since for my generation tattoos were what folks got to rebel, not conform. It was a way people identified with a specific tribe of people … punks, bikers, metal-bands, etc. Billy Idol had a tattoo of the comic character Octobriana. Hey its a free country and if someone wants to have the company brand on their butt all I can say is “Moo”.
The tattoos were part of promoting a certain kind of culture and with it, a certain level of commitment. I see company tattoos as more than just the stamping of one’s body as property of the company, but rather a ritualized commitment to the group. By getting a tattoo, the person was demonstrating their 100% commitment of their life to the start-up, body, mind and soul. What the speaker saw as culture, I see as cult-like. The wearer belongs to the Start-Up as their new religion yet has not realized they have metaphorically or perhaps even literally sold their soul. Look at the following comment from an Amazon worker.
“The joke in the office was that when it came to work/life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last.”
I sometimes confuse people when I toss about the term “religion”. I am a Christian, which is what most people think of when we use the word religion. Yet, I when I talk about religion, I mean that which we ultimately rely upon for our self-worth, meaning, purpose and direction in life.
The word religion derives from the word “religare” which literally means to “to bind fast”. It is what we rely on or the “bond between humans and gods.” Or it comes from “religiens” which means to be “careful” opposited to “negligens” from which we get the word “neglect”. The current meaning of religion is relatively new (mid-1500’s), and mostly means a “recognition of and allegiance in manner of life justly due to a higher, unseen power or powers”. Or in my view, the powers upon which you rely to give ultimate meaning to your life.
The “joke” at Amazon that work came before life is telling about the culture which surrounds the people who’ve decided to offer their skills to the mission of the organization. The “joke” is that there is no balance … Amazon’s culture has become a defacto cult whereby the employee is expected to give over the manner of their life to the power of Amazon’s mission. I don’t mean that Amazon is just being a slave driver and expecting people to work hard. From these reports that people who experiencing the normal range of human tragedies like ” cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises” are being punished. No doubt others seeing the punishment will understand that to transgress against the god-Amazon is to reveal one’s self not to be a true devotee of the new religion.
I don’t think I am giving in to corporation-bashing or hyperbole. The comments sound similar to what cults like Scientology expect from those who run their organization. Any organization wanting “your absolute all” is akin to a cult.
“When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness,”
This is why I think Amazon is hiring younger and younger workers. It’s not just because they can get them to work 80 hours a week, but because they can get them to do so and think its a good thing … at least for a while. Sorry young readers, but the younger you are the easier it is to be manipulated. This is why cults go for young people who’ve just moved out. They are at a liminal time in their lives when their identities are fluid. They are impressionable, especially if they have not been formed in what we traditionally call a religion. I recall in my study of cults, that the most difficult young people for the Moonies to recruit were orthodox Jewish kids, and kids from solid Roman Catholic homes. They had an identity and they often had solid relationships with family and an outside community (Synagogue and Parish). The easiest were the kids of secular progressives. These kids could be manipulated into thinking they were serving an important cause greater than themselves. They could be manipulated by the group processes to unwittingly hand their identities over to the self-serving mission of the Moonies.
No Amazon, life comes before work. No Amazon, nothing in your mission is more important than morning a miscarriage, dealing with cancer, seeing one’s parents … or after working hard week (6 days of labour and one of rest) … is less important than whatever Amazon is doing. Let workers at Amazon not loose site that it is just retail … books and retail … nothing more. It’s an app for selling stuff. It’s not discovering the cure for cancer, life on other planet, or unlocking the mysteries of the universe. It’s an online mall not the Manhattan Project.
In interviews, 40-year-old men were convinced Amazon would replace them with 30-year-olds who could put in more hours, and 30-year-olds were sure that the company preferred to hire 20-somethings who would outwork them. After Max Shipley, a father of two young children, left this spring, he wondered if Amazon would “bring in college kids who have fewer commitments, who are single, who have more time to focus on work.” Mr. Shipley is 25.
As I have said, I think this is more than just about the hours. It is about ensuring that the only relationship that matters is Amazon. Marriage, kids, and even caring for parents must come second to “the mission”. Yet, the older a person gets the more likely they are The Great Oz is a fraud. Workers eventually wake up and realize that they’ve been manipulated by a toxic culture created by technocrats who understand how to motivate people to place work above their lives.
Amazon officials insisted tenure was low because hiring was so robust, adding that only 15 percent of employees had been at the company more than five years. Turnover is consistent with others in the technology industry, they said, but declined to disclose any data.
Any organization “obsessed with metrics” obviously has the data. Any organization faced with such damning reports from employees, including human resource workers could easily rebut the allegations if they had data to do so. Even if they did, one must ask whether the fact that a toxic work culture being exposed at Amazon points to a wider problem with the IT industry in Silicon Valley? If there are huge numbers of older workers with the skills to put what my dad called “a good days work for a good days pay” why are some companies turning to the young and, as I’ve written about, the H1B Visa (or as they call it in Canada … the Temporary Foreign Worker Program). Is it because technocrats know that these two groups of people are cheap and easily manipulated into handing their mind, body and soul to the mission of the organization? At least until they realize they are being manipulated … then some will be angry enough to act … I see Class Action lawsuits in Amazon’s future … on the grounds that they failed in their duty of care to ensure that the mental health of employees did not suffer due to work conditions.
I rarely blog about my political thought, however the problem of the technocratic worldview is central to Amazon’s apparently inhuman approach to those who are in relationship to it. I’m being sardonic when I say, “relationship” since for the technocrat, human beings in all their uniquess, complexity, and beauty are tools for the greater mission. For the Nazi technocrat is was for nationalism and racial superiority, for the Communist technocrat is for a just society for the working class, for the Capitalist technocrat it is for the just society free from government control, and for the technocrats at Amazon, it the petty ambition that Amazon be the supreme app. It’s not some supposed glorious future society dreamed of by left or right technocrats, but just an app.
What shocks me most is Amazon’s lack of shame about their Machavellian approach to employee relations. It’s well know that most of Silicon Valley companies espouse progressive politics, yet their approach to their employees would make even a Reform Party (read Republican, American readers) Red Neck Oilpatch businessman blush. This isn’t hyperbole, I worked on an app for Far Right Red Neck Old Patch businessmen. Most would give an employee with cancer, a miscarriage, sick parents, personal issues, etc time off and say, “Of course you can take time off, I wish you well.” These are hard nosed, expect the best, “no time for sissies” men, but they are in relationship with their workers and consider them more than tools.
Yet, it appears that even the most basic justice is cast aside at Amazon and other hyper-technocrats throughout Silicon Valley. While some will still say its the excesses of Capitalism, I think its something much worse. It is what I’ve coined as Technocratic Nihilism ie applying complex schemes to manipulate and exploit people into believing that they are giving their lives to something important, but in reality they are just being chewed up and spit out to serve the petty self-serving needs of the technocrats. I think there is something rotten at the core of Modernity itself. My question is whether secularism of the left, right or center logically will descend first into Technocratic “the ends justify the means for the greater future”, then into “My petty needs justify the means” in company cultures, and then into the more intimate of human relationships, the family. Is this Amazon story pointing to humanity moving from seeing each other as relationships into seeing each other as merely tools? Is that why workers once they get older are increasingly cast aside for cheaper and more compliant tool. Sure governments, companies, and people have always done this sort of thing. What is different is that once it was seen as immoral, now it is seen as normal and even praiseworthy. One of my favourite TV series was Firefly. The ultimate villain is a sweet technocratic true believer set against a motley crew of criminals, who with all their faults, struggle together to survive on the edge of his technocratic dystopia. The series lasted only one season, yet has become a cult classic in Geekdom. I think it was so popular because prophetically it points to the rot at the core of modern secularism of both the left and right.
This concern about Technocratic Nihilism is at the heart of the Sci Fi trilogy I am writing for Tweens. The evil empire in the trilogy is called The Perfection Continuum and is THE ultimate Nihilistic Technocracy. Maybe I’ll change the name to “The Great River” (Amazon … nah, just kidding. The website for the books is TomandPip.com. I’m going to sell it on Amazon.com … is that hypocritical, subversive, ironic, or all of the above. 😉 Wow, we live in an increasingly complicated world.
First Wave Coder/Data Analyst knowledge worker and culture watcher, I’ve followed the 20th century phenomena known as the Knowledge Worker. A concept coined by one of the great minds of the 20th Century, Peter Druker. He rightly foresaw that it would be the growing base of wisdom/knowledge contained within information technologists, professionals professionals, and other related classes which would drive the growth of the new economy. We saw much gained for Western society and other societies which rightly understood that knowledge itself would become a treasured process from which great wealth would be produced.
Yet, it is my observation which is shared by others, that some corporate/government management and human resources in general have not understood that much of the knowledge contained within the Knowledge Class of workers is not contained within manuals, policies, or processes. They are contained within the minds of the Knowledge worker class. One of my touchstones is that, “humans know more than they articulate or can articulate.” Even in what appear to be highly systematized forms of knowledge, people always know more than they articulate. It’s not that they are unwilling, it is just the nature of knowledge.
This blog was created to advocate for the older worker, not just for compassionate reasons, but because it is my conviction that we are flushing away the wealth producing capacity of the older Knowledge Class. Why? Western society has not adequately grasped that the next generation of Knowledge Workers need to be mentored/apprenticed by the existing Knowledge Worker Base. The most important knowledge is passed through mentorship not manuals. RTFM can not replace WTOF (Watch the Old Fart).
“Establishing a program for transferring knowledge is an essential element for dealing with “brain drain.” Veteran utility workers tend to pass valuable institutional knowledge orally, rather than documenting and updating the information systematically. This intellectual capital is often lost when the worker retires because there is no formal program to capture their know-how.” – Who Will Replace Nuclear Power’s Aging Work Force? – Power Engineering.
I ran across this article which documented the problem of utility workers not documenting or systematizing their knowledge, but rather passing on in orally. The article, while helpful, does not understand that many workers are unable to systematize their oral knowledge. Not all human beings are able to convert their verbal knowledge into symbolic knowledge. In fact, few can do this effectively. In some forms of knowledge it is impossible or impractical (the manual would be too large).
Writing is a difficult skill. Margaret Laurence, a feisty and iconic Canadian writer articulated it well. At a party, when Laurence was informed by a neurosurgeon that he intended to take up writing in retirement, responded, “When I retire, I’m going to be a neurosurgeon.”
Expecting utility workers, even with help, to codify a sufficient sum of their knowledge base into documents for other’s to then acquire is over-confidence at best. Even if possible, one has to consider how possible it is to acquire technical knowledge through reading, videos, or any other non-human transmitted method. The problem is two fold in my mind. Firstly, much knowledge of any craft is unarticulated. As strange as it sounds, people don’t know they know stuff. People know things they only are aware of when their re-encounter them. The knowledge bubbles up and they think, “Hey, I remember dealing with something like this or similar to this 22 years ago). Often the master worker combines earned knowledge into a new synthesis to apply it to a new problem. My point is that, you can not codify wisdom since it is often inarticulate-able or can not be effectively transferred from the fuzzy logic inherent with the human brain to the structured written word.
Mentoring and intergenerational teams, combined with the codification of key processes in written form, is the most effective method for passing on knowledge from one generation of Knowledge Workers to the next. Without such processes, critical information is certain to be lost. More importantly, the Knowledge Worker community is eroded in favour of a highly individualistic transient work culture. A culture of intergenerational relationship and collectively acquired knowledge is squandered … flushed down the drain.
Want to make young Knowledge Workers laugh? While having a couple beers, ask them how loyal they are to their company. Much that could be written on why that is, however it signals the second and more damaging aspect of our business culture. Failing to understand the intergenerational aspect of knowledge transfer from one generation to another, erodes the desire to mentor. By not mentoring, we are fostering a new generation which may have little desire to mentor. Why would they? They, as we all were, are shaped by what we encounter in our human communities.
Most older workers in my generation still have a strong mentoring ethic with studies showing that somewhere around 80% of older workers will mentor. I would predict that within a decade or two this number will fall to about 50% and continue its decline. The outcomes of that decline may not be readily obvious because cultural stagnation rarely is until its too late.
The largest penalty for our folly, is in lost opportunities. As each subsequent generation has to relearn the lost experience/knowledge of the past, they fail to acquire as much new knowledge and insights, improvements … breakthroughs are not achieved. Energies spent on the future are used relearning the mistakes of the past. These insights, improvements and breakthroughs are what spur productivity benefits, new products and even whole new industries. We miss seeing this loss, since something not conceived of will not be missed. We flush a greater future by flushing the past.
Companies are often remiss in assessing the performance of younger workers as compared to older workers. I’ve told the story a number of times, how one company was going to let “the old fat guy with a beard” (not me ) go because he always left at 5:00PM while other younger workers showed greater commitment by working late and on weekends. When they checked the output of the “Old Fart”, they found he resolved three times more support calls than most of the “Young Hot Shots”. He was the top support analyst … a rock star.
This is born out by this study which attributes older worker resilience to learning information flow and discerning what is unnecessary information. In my experience this is true, however they missing two important strengths of older workers.
1. Dealing with Distress
Where two or three gather you will have conflict. Older workers often are superior communicators. This is born out in the study which shows that Boomers are more likely to choose face to face communication. When I consulting for software development company, there was a client-wide software glitch caused by some hastily pushed out code. Even though 75% of the clients were unlikely to have noticed it, I counselled the CEO to immediately phone all the clients personally. Why? Respect. Hiding a screw-up is 10 times as bad as admitting one because it betrays trust. Most clients appreciate knowing the truth. since it means you are leading a company which is committed to the truth.
Why do younger workers often avoid conflict? It has been my observation that younger workers tend to choose to avoid the lesser current distress in the hopes of avoiding a bigger future distress. Older workers have learned that distress is part of life and something that is better faced head on. “You just take your lumps”.
2. If you think you are communicating enough, you aren’t.
Communication is difficult work. The old know this truth as do a few rare younger workers. Miscommunication is endemic to the human condition and if one is not intentional about communicating to clients, coworkers, and management, unnecessary troubles are sure to ensue. Watch how often older workers tend to be proactive communicators. Watch how often younger workers tend to be reactive communicators.
3. Don’t Squander the Gaps
Older workers use slow downs to catch up or for proactive improvements to their work flows. This is one of the reasons they are efficient. When I was young, there were periods I thought, “There is nothing to do for a few hours.” Of course, there is always something to do, even if it is to reorganize your files, run some diagnostic software. Or as #2 teaches … connect with people.
Please let me know what in your experience have been the benefits that older workers have developed through experience?
Now please enjoy one of Canada’s great old farts … Bruce Cockburn … singing about a dream which overcame his fear of a Soviet/West Nuclear War …
When I talk with my son about an IT career, I sometimes wonder whether I should steer him clear of the industry. If I had a daughter, the caution would be doubled by the problem of sexism. Should young people invest 20 years of their lives only to discover that Silicon Valley considers them obsolete while in their prime (ie 40’s).
I can count on both hands the number of older IT workers (around late 30’s) who’ve either burned out by endless coding crisis/deadlines or decided that their opportunities are drying up. A number have become electricians!
Combine this problem with the H-1b visa abuse (in Canada, its called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program), and perhaps recommending IT to any young person could be bad advice. One could invest a decade or two only to find themselves forced to train some cheaper replacement worker.
Don’t get me wrong, I love geekdom and IT work, however unless the industry and governments wise up, they will find old IT workers recommending to the younger generation that they become electricians, linemen (there is a huge shortage and the pay is great), and carpenters.