By Robin Ryan
Last week I was talking with a close friend named Sara, a VP at a medium-sized company. We often share confidences about our work and help each other with problems. This was her day to vent. She started on about Karen, a woman I also know who is in her early 60s and is the company’s marketing manager. Sara began the conversation by saying “I had another go-around with Karen today. I wish that woman would just retire. I disagree with how she does the job. She is just so set in her ways. There is a lot of new technology we could be using to promote our company but she resists. She thinks she knows it all and never seems open to any new ideas. It’s frustrating for me to have to work with her. She just needs to RETIRE and soon!” Now that is a ringing endorsement for a baby boomer who is hovering on the verge of extinction. Makes you wonder how many other Karen’s (or Toms or Mikes as this isn’t a female issue) there are out there sitting inside their companies where their coworkers or bosses are talking behind their backs wishing they would retire and just be gone.
A few days later, I repeated this conversation when I was having dinner with Sunny Kobe Cook, an award-winning entrepreneur and former owner of a large retail chain in the Pacific Northwest. We started discussing this issue and she had a lot to say on the subject as she had given some speeches discussing this very topic.
Cook made reference to how some baby boomers are in danger of becoming workplace dinosaurs. She began, “Many older workers did not grow up with technology. They may have had assistants who did it for them. They didn’t have to learn it. Mature workers often thought technology was fun and games for kids at first. It was something done in leisure time. Most mature workers didn’t realize the business needs of the technology – and so they were too slow to adopt these tools. They didn’t grab on to social media as the younger generations did. They may do Facebook now but they didn’t fly through social media as it first came out and learn it quickly. Social media can’t be foreign to you,” said Cook. “We all know that millennials grew up on it. Boomers did not.”
Cook sees technology and how quickly it changes as something every worker needs to stay apprised of. Learning the new software or technology your company uses is essential to be vital in your job and to your company.
“Businesses embrace technology to better serve customers and keep costs in line,” she noted. “What is frustrating to employers,” stated Cook who has hired hundreds during her career, “are mature workers who have outdated skills and who aren’t willing to learn new things. Anyone who is resistant to change and stuck in their ways is a problem. They may be hurting the business and that is what concerns their employer.”
Outdated skills are why many baby boomers lose their jobs and find themselves pushed out into retirement or worse, laid off when they don’t want to be.
Cook pointed out that numerous professionals and executives have had the luxury of having assistants and they let them handle the technology or the social media and didn’t learn how to do either themselves. Many workers, especially those over 50, are very resistant to technology changes. Technology – especially when you don’t know it – makes it more obvious that you are behind the times, and for baby boomers, many of them stand out like dinosaurs.
Cook also mentioned other behaviors that denote an office dinosaur. Then she went on to point out some sage advice on how to become more vital at work.
Workplace Dinosaurs behavior:
• Stay in their own peer group.
“Great leaders foster relationships and garner respect throughout the organizational chart. They know people at all levels. Up and down. Work on making more relationships. Learn people’s names and some personal facts about them.”
• Don’t want to give any power away.
“You must develop people around you. Help them to get promoted. If you don’t develop them then you can’t move up yourself to the next challenge and get promoted yourself. You should be grooming your replacement. In addition, you must learn how to delegate. You cannot keep everything thinking only you can do it nor can you take all the credit yourself. Be sure to praise a team member’s accomplishments to your boss and upper management when appropriate.”
• Come across like I already know everything.
“Leaders embrace learning. So if you think you don’t need to go to a conference (I went to that 3 years ago I don’t need to go now) you are mistaken. You need to be involved with networking groups, industry lunches, and anywhere that you can go after new ideas, or to try new things if you want to be valuable to an organization. You should be reading journals and studying trends and always be on the lookout for what’s on the horizon and how that might an impact on your job or department.”
Her final positive piece of advice recommended that you could become an influencer.
“There is an influencer in every company,” noted Cook. “It is the person who has his or her finger on the pulse of what’s going on inside your company. This person is very important to the company and it can be you no matter what your age. To become an influencer, you must be taken seriously by every age group young and old and at all levels. Embracing technology is one important way that an influencer works inside an organization.”