Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Of Work-Life Balance

A note to twenty-somethings:  Don’t go for work-life balance.

Another note:  In this economy, you could be in a not-my-career McJob:  bartender, bouncer, room service delivery guy, retail rat.  This blog is less true for you right now.  You’ll see why in a second.  Also, if you’re married, this may not feel true for you.  That relationship changes the ambition mix.


If you have just begun your career, don’t don’t don’t tell potential employers or your boss that you’re seeking work-life balance, if you want them to view you as a hot-shot.

The twenties can be an unsettling decade.  You’re on your own, physically and practically.  If you’re like many these days, you probably haven’t married.  You’re not sure what you’re about, what you want, or what you’re capable of.  But you wear your best false-self face, you’re full of bravado and bluff, and you say you have the ambition of a presidential hopeful, only you're not a political joke.

Know this about your twenties, and into your mid-thirties:  You will never have as much energy or drive as you have now.  This is the time to go for it.  Companies want your ambition, your ideas, your take-the-hill attitude.  They’re dropping their fifty-somethings like a used tissue (they used to be twenty-somethings) in favor of you, who are – BTW – cheaper than the older guys.

If you’re not in a career job, you will likely seek WLB.  You’re not in it to win the next job; you don’t want it.  You’re marking time till you can find what you want.  Personally, because I believe we develop good and bad habits no matter what we’re doing, you SHOULD give your mall job your all.  You’re getting yourself in shape for your career opportunity; you don’t want to take (and have to break) a WTF attitude to your growth job.

Most of you will change once you marry and begin having kids.  You may be more focused and less haphazard about your job, but part of your heart will never fully report for work again.  Your personal life will matter more.  You’ll have beautiful children and carpool and aging parents, and you’ll be desperate for free time.  Plus, a boss or two will have screwed you over so you’ll realize the company doesn’t take care of you.  You will also have taken  another measure of your ambition.  If you’re still gunning for the top job, you’ll still be driving toward it, and hiring baby-sitters and carpool drivers.  If you’re not,  look for work-life balance THEN.

I don’t care what the company’s official line is about its work-life balance policies.  It's not true (as you will also learn about company pronouncements).  Let the suckers talk about WLB.  If you have ambitions, be about drive and dedication and working weekends.  And make your social life part of your work life:  golf with the boss, a fishing trip with your banker, dinner with your customer.  THAT’s work-life balance for the ambitious.  But this is the time for you to go go go!

As the sergeant said to his men in WWII, signaling they could take a break,  “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”  For you it means:  Don't take the break.  Use that drive while you have it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is It Age-ism?

A client sent me an article about age-ism in IT, when the 30-year-old hotshot becomes the 50-year-old has-been in the lightning world of innovation.  What struck me was how this keeps getting presented as a new problem.

When I was 30 and at Monsanto (and a hot shot, if you'd asked me), we in Human Resources worried about the plight of the over-50s. . . who we viewed as solid performers but not promotable, and who were at the top of the salary range.  What could we do to take care of them?  Ten years ago, after Y2K, I was doing career continuation workshops for older IT workers who'd gotten bounced from their companies after that crisis had passed.

Bottom line:  This is a universal and persistent  and age-old problem of an employee getting older and bumping against a system's value boundaries. Before you're 50,  you're a new product in the market; you have promise; you're cheap to hire.  After you're 50, your employer knows you in depth, good and bad, you're an expensive commodity and you might have settled into a knowledge rut And who wants to work 70-hour-weeks once you have a real life?  You have institutional knowledge, and while you're right about its importance, the company doesn't value it.

When I was cradled by a company that promised us everything and took care of everything, and a lot of years separated me from 50, I expected the company to DO something about those 50-year-olds.  Today the corporate landscape has dramatically changed.  Companies abdicated that care-taking mentality decades ago.  It's "every man for himself," although - curiously - people are still surprised by the way the company treats them after age 50, as if that hire-and-develop-youth practice didn't apply to them.  It comes from being terminally unique; that is, we believe the rules apply to others, not to us. 

You call it age-ism.  Your employer calls it being "mean and lean," saving money by "getting some new blood around here."  Translation:  Younger, cheaper, faster, fresher.  It's why unions were born, frankly, and why seniority is so treasured there, because companies have ALWAYS left older workers in the dust, given the opportunity.  Seniority helped older workers keep their jobs.

Absent the protection of unions, what are you gonna do? 

(1) If you're in IT and over 50, you'd better be in a classroom seat or at a webinar on a regular basis.  If you're in any other profession, you still need skills building.  (I can't tell you how many clients firmly inform me they are NOT going back to school. . .at a time of their career when knowledge freshening is a MUST). 

(2) You'd better be preparing to change jobs or careers because that's when companies move against employees, after age 50.  If that doesn't happen, hoorah.  You've probably increased your value to the company by what you've learned.  The shame of this change is that the 50s is actually the greatest decade, if you're in a job you like.  You're most creative and productive and at peace with yourself, and having fun. 

(3) Don't rest on your laurels; don't coast.  Few companies value loyalty or longevity.  They're running too fast to give you a break. 

Age-ism it may well be.  Thirty years from now the same thing will still be going on.  My point is that making that charge, becoming bitter and resentful doesn't help you a whit.  Be more interested in how to STAY interesting to the marketplace.  If you don't, you'll pay a high price - literally - for your inaction.