It’s time for them to pass the good jobs on to the next generation
By Mike Robinson: My vote for the biggest societal issue facing Canadians right now is managing the Boomer exit from the world of work and integrating the members of Gen X and Y into their vacated work spaces.
The whole issue is fraught with tension: Boomers are staying on longer than planned because their retirement savings still haven’t recovered from the Great Recession. ‘Freedom 55’ has become a joke, now modified to ‘Freedom 85’. A longtime workmate recently told me about his new retirement plan: “I am going to work until 85, retire for one year, and then shoot myself!”
The ‘long goodbye’ is effectively impairing career development for the ‘Generation Squeeze’ as they jockey for pay in contract work and short-term jobs, and contemplate the looming expenses of children and housing. In this world, employee loyalty is hard to earn, and the costs of rapid employee turnover are a growing business expense. A whole management literature is developing around how to attract and retain Millennial (Gen Y) employees because they are seen as fickle and difficult by Boomer managers, who in turn are seen as greedy and entitled by many Millennials.
Anecdotally I am starting to hear socially-conscious Boomer friends say, “It’s time for us to pass the good jobs on to the next generation!” By this they refer to government and unionized jobs which, in addition to better than average salaries, have dental plans, pension plans and sick leave benefits. Many Millennial workers in service employment and contract positions are living cheque-to-cheque, and pay for their own benefits out of salary, tips, and rare bonuses.
The offsets to the scanting that Millennials suffer are few. Freedom from employer tyranny is one. In an unentitled world, a tyrannical boss, a privileged older worker, and an atmosphere of unnecessary or undue hierarchy can be grounds for quitting. Why hang around and tolerate abuse for poor pay and poorer prospects?
All of this is very counter-productive to the passing of the economic baton from one generation to the next. Collectively we can do better. A key practice in this process should be mentoring. I have been a CEO in the not-for-profit sector for 27 years, in three different organizations, and in all cases I have mentored younger talent.
My first mentoring experience was with a young man, whom I initially refused employment because I thought he needed an MA to carry his talents to the next level. He took my advice, went to Cambridge University, and returned two years later, almost to the day. I hired him and we worked together for a decade on research projects all across the Canadian North and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. When I moved on to a new position, he did as well, to a PhD program at Cornell, and ultimately to employment in the Ivy League as a tenured professor. I now bow in his direction.
Another mentoring experience was with an employee who had earned an MBA, but worked in a relatively junior role. She expressed an interest in moving up, but our organization was too small to provide a real opportunity suited to her academic abilities. Consequently, we worked together to find a new position outside the organization. She found one, a CEO role, and interviewed for it successfully. She expressed surprise at my unqualified assistance. To me the move was obvious, and in society’s best interests. I bow in her direction as well!
Currently I am mentoring a young First Nation’s woman who has enormous leadership potential in the cultural realm. She has just won a prestigious senior arts administration mentoring grant from B.C.’s First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Every day she shares responsibilities with me and attends meetings to observe NGO governance in action. She is also co-curating a major new visual arts exhibition. Working with her, I am learning that mentoring is really an extended day-to-day conversation about process and decision-making in the realm of work.
In all of my mentoring efforts, I have received as much in return as I have provided. The most significant returns have occurred after the mentor and mentee have parted company. There is nothing like witnessing early career success that you have had some part in nurturing. If you are lucky, you will be able to follow your mentees as they develop their full-career stride, and eclipse your own achievements. Then you can say, “I knew her when…”
Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in B.C. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO.