I must admit to choking back crocodile tears after reading Steve Keyser’s poignant tale of a middle-aged office worker who’d overheard a couple of Millennials saying he was “over the hill, couldn’t or wouldn’t learn new skills and couldn’t even keep up with the skill set needed for the job. Ouch!
Keyser says the 20-something’s “mentioned age” in their bashing of the older guy, and actually suggested he be put out to pasture. Boy, with co-workers like this, who needs enemies.
To add an extra dimension of poignancy to his tale of woe, Keyser tells readers he just happened to bump into the grizzled veteran in the hallway. Their eyes met, and Keyser says, “I knew by the mist in his eyes that he had heard them talking about him.” I don’t know about you, but I’m bawling right now.
Keyser quickly gathers his wits though and immediately transforms himself into a self-help guru whose goal is to provide the battered bastard of the business world with a strategy to combat perceived obsolescence. He calls it R-E-L-E-V-A-N-T. I call it B.S.
The old guy doesn’t need Keyser’s mnemonic device to fight back. He needs to step up to the plate.
In fact, shame on this middle-aged dude for letting two know-it-all Millennials get away with bashing his skills and abilities. And, shame on the 20-something gossip queens for bashing a fellow employee. And, shame on Keyser for providing a generic, off-the-shelf solution to an easily-solved dilemma.
My solution is called self-confidence. The middle-aged manager has more experience in his pinky than both Millennials possess collectively. If he’d had the courage of his convictions and, as Sarah Palin likes to say, the cajones, he would have confronted the Millennial Meanies in the heat of the moment.
I’d counsel him to share the countless crises he no doubt personally worked on. I’d tell him to name drop the scores of influential reporters he still maintains friendships with. I’d also have him mention the numerous speeches he’s either written, delivered or both. In short, I’d have him push back hard on the social media-obsessed Millennials who think, just because a white hair may not know how to Tweet, create a LinkedIn profile or discuss content creation, that he’s a “dinosaur” and “needs to be put out to pasture” as the 20-somethings so charitably put it.
Millennials need to know that tactical knowledge of the latest shiny object means very little in the larger world of strategic public relations. They need to be told that wisdom only comes with experience. And, they need to learn a little bit about respect in the workplace.
I’m genuinely impressed by the knowledge and ability of our Millennial work force. But, I also know when push comes to shove and the sh*t hits the fan, they’ll turn to an elder stateswoman (or, dare I suggest it, an elder statesman) and ask for counsel.
I do hope the middle-aged manager in Keyser’s woeful tale hasn’t thrown in the towel. He has too much to offer and, as noted earlier, just needs a little intestinal fortitude to stand-up to the young naysayers. As for the latter, I’d alert the human resources manager and have him take them out behind the woodshed. Office politics are one thing. But, workplace age politics are not only unacceptable: they’re reprehensible (Hey, that was someone’s dad those two Millennials were belittling).
So, if you should find recent college grads questioning your job worthiness, Forget R-E-L-E-V-A-N-T and try my shorter and much more effective acronym.
I call it G-U-T-S. Try it.
You’ll feel better. The kids will be duly chastened and the agency and client alike will continue to benefit from your wisdom.
As another 20-something here I am totally in line with Laura. People who like gossip at high school hallway will probably be gossiping at 25,35 in their companies’ coffee rooms. And I always felt frustrated and burned up to hear that some Millennials are acting this way. I just met many of my alumni from class of 80s and 90s; those senior professionals were talking to me about how incredible the media landscape has changed from the day they were doing a bunch of copywriting to the day they were tweeting on smartphone and using something called ‘hastags’. The experience of them witnessing these changes is the WISDOM that people 20-something like me would never have.
There was an old saying that parents always teach kids back at my hometown: ‘The salt I have eaten is more than the rice you have.’ That’s true and that’s the G-U-T-S they should all have!
No matter what their field, there is nothing more frustrating to me than talking to Boomer types who refuse or are scared to learn new communications and technologies. It’s like putting a “Kick Me” sign on your back and screaming “I’m irrelevant.”
If the subject of Keyser’s tale is stronger than that, I hope he shows it.
Ken: You’re absolutely right. If a Boomer or Gen X’er doesn’t take the time and effort to stay current, then he or she deserves to be cut loose.
Totally agree, Bedrock. Ed and Ted are two of the biggest gossips at Peppercomm and neither will ever see this side of 50 again.
Interesting post, Steve. It’s never fun to overhear gossip whether it’s about another colleague or yourself. I agree with Michael’s comments about not basing assumptions on age, but just wanted to leave a comment regarding the “20-somethings” making the comments, as I am still a 20-something myself. It’s unprofessional to talk about a colleague in that way to say the least. In fact, I’d call it outright “S-T-U-P-I-D,” but that’s not necessarily a product of their age, they’ll probably be gossiping throughout their careers, whether they stay in this industry or not.
Steve, you’re both right. It does take self-confidence to step up. At the same time,when I meet with a local PRSA group of senior professionals, I see some who’ve not only banked the kinds of strategic experience you mentioned, but who have worked diligently on staying relevant, which means making the effort to truly understand today’s changed and changing communications landscape. That makes them of greater value to their clients, and more inspiring to their staff members. There are, however, others, who cannot accept that the communications world that they entered 35, 25 or even 15 years ago has changed enormously, and if they can’t adapt to it they’re allowing themselves to be irrelevant. The irony is, those Boomers who have kept up are filled with the self-confidence you describe, as well they should be.
Like a batter in baseball who just avoided a knockdown or brush back pitch. He needs to get back in the box and take another swing.
Performance assumptions on the basis of age – youthful and sage-established alike – are also discriminatory. That doesn’t just mean keep your comments to yourself. It also means never to judge a book by its dog-eared or Kindle-bound cover.