Work as a Coming of Age Story.

For a few years, I have been playing with a draft of a short book that takes a look at our relationship with work as we age, and how over centuries we keep arriving at yet another reset in the 21st century. It’s a long story to squeeze into a short book and because the world of work is constantly evolving at what seems to be a more rapid rate, it could be a book that will be outdated the day after you read it. So in the short run, I write in a blog.

As in the arts, nothing appeals to me more than a study of contrasts or duality in subject matter; and so it was when last month another episode in the changing future of work saga played out in this way. On April 19th in Toronto, a one-day event titled Millennial Leadership Summit was presented by the Canadian organization NextGenLeaders, the focus was hinged on one question they offered – “Is your organization ready to leverage the power of the millennial generation?”

Contrast. That same week I was in a dialogue with the two founders of AGEWORKS, to deliver a workshop in a series dedicated to the topic of working later in life in early June at The Chang School, 50+ Festival at Ryerson University in Toronto. One of the main goals for Marylou Hilliard and Ann Hosack at AGEWORKS is to educate organizations about “the potential gains in productivity, revenue and competitive strength that flow from hiring and retaining employees in the 50+ group.…” They could just as easily said – leverage the power.

The graying of the workforce, how will we survive?

cvr9780743242615_9780743242615_lgOne of the writings on this subject that I acquired in my business library in 2000, was a book by the same title – Age Works by Beverly Goldberg. Now age 75, she is from what I can see a Senior Fellow at New York based, The Century Foundation. Even since the time that book was written, the case she makes for “what corporate America must do to survive the graying of the workforce” holds well some valuable ideas that are still being articulated in much the same words.

Goldberg talked about things like redefining the future, changing attitudes and assumptions around retirements, working longer and creating new models of work. And after sixteen years through a dot com bubble and a great recession and the “occupy” this and that movements, we continue to live the great experience with a war for talent and the even greater experiment with those new models of work. This all sounds like military or mercantile language; but as individuals, we still have this duality of mind when it comes to our love hate relationship with work and the workplace.

Ever since when in the late 1990’s the “war for talent” conversation exploded, we have suffered a seemingly endless dialogue in one of the sub plots – multiple generations in the workplace, the emergence of the millennials and an exodus of Boomers. Of almost biblical proportions, the volume of books, articles, conferences, summits and infographics on this theme have stacked our collective minds to the point of oversaturation. Hey, we will survive.

Coming of age in A VUCA world

A more positive truth that underscores the subtext in the duality of “leverage the power” is that both NextGenLeaders and AGEWORKS advocate for a culture of intergenerational collaboration. Now we are on to something. Are we not all in our variant ways, at different points on the continuum of life, in a coming of age story? We are at a time when the value of the contributions of all people of working age, will be of utmost importance in a world of work re-imagined.

Allen Hirsh of NextGenLeaders in the front blurb to the Millennial Leadership Summit refers to thriving in a VUCA world, which is an acronym again from the 1990’s – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. If as he suggests, rightly so in many ways, that millennial workers will be “a catalyst for evolving organizational cultures”, it can be also reasoned that 50+ workers, for some time to come, can be a productive stimulus for business continuity. In either case – it’s VUCA for you. The continuous onus is on the individual to articulate and demonstrate their relevance and value.

Value propositions often run the risk of sounding like platitudes. The language we use in an effort to educate an organization to hire or retain anyone coming of age 25 or 75, will need to spell it out more clearly, not just in terms of intergenerational investment, but also in terms of whether a specific individual has the talent assets the organization actually needs to run a viable business. And in a so-called war for talent, that’s a moving target.


Blog postscript. Sadly, due to circumstances beyond their control the set of four AGEWORKS workshops had to be postponed until the Fall.

Blog outtake. I can’t resist a quirky remark here at the end. When it comes down to it over history, generational shifts have always been at work. Imagine someone in the early-Victorian era saying something like “it’s about time we let the young Napoleonics lead the way!”

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