Hi, I'm Kathryn, and welcome to my fiftieth year.

Follow me as I learn how to be fifty.

How to work with Gen Y

How to work with Gen Y

Last time I looked, I was one of the younger ones in my workplace. Now i seem to be  part of the blancmange of middle aged men and women.

I changed jobs late last year and went from a workplace where I was to used to being at the younger end of the age profile to a place where I am amongst the oldest on our entire floor. It’s an interesting change to notice. 

We’ve heard lots about the baby boomers retiring out of the workforce en masse. Us Gen Xers have been waiting patiently for the promised exodus of baby boomers from the workplace. For years we’ve heard the warning of the gaping hole of experience and commitment they would leave in their wake. 

I’ve worked with many fabulous older women over the past years and have had the privilege of guiding and supporting their transition to retirement which I’ve tried to do with humility and respect. Acknowledgement of all that they have brought to our workplaces and our lives is an important part of the transition. 

While waiting out that generational changeover I didn’t really see Gen Y slowly creeping up behind me. I am loving working with people in their late twenties and early thirties. Such a capable bunch with degrees coming out of their ears and a strong work ethic only matched by their ambition.  And they look soooo young. While they still have plenty to learn and lots more experience to gain, their energy and enthusiasm will certainly propel them forward in their careers. 

What I hope for this generation is that they don’t get so caught up in the work, work, work mantra that has destroyed many an Xer’s soul. I hope they ‘work to live’ and not the other way around. I hope the vision of flexible workplaces that foster and value innovation and creativity is realised by them and for them.  I hope they reimagine their work environments and opportunities for their future, not for my past.

At 49, I still have many work years ahead of me (shout out to our superannuation laws that will keep me working to at least 63!). I don’t feel threatened in the slightest by my younger colleagues, just thankful there are interesting and capable people to work with and to pass the baton to in the future.  

I’d never really pictured myself in the workplace mentor role for the next generation - I’ve been preoccupied making my own way up the slippery pole - but somehow I think that is where I am. It has given me the opportunity to reflect on my working life and all I have learned (and I get to swan around giving sage advice to whoever will listen - but that’s just a bonus!).

Here’s my advice (sage or otherwise) for Gen Y.

Work to live

I have spent the last decade working, working, working. I routinely work 60+ hours per week. I have at times, worn this as some kind of badge of honour. I realise now that I had stopped living a full life. I gave up activities I enjoyed because I didn’t have time. I didn’t see friends as much because I worked late or had to get up early. No-one, including your boss, is going to thank you for everything you gave up to get the job done, so work to live and not the other way around.

Work:life balance isn’t real

(See Work to Live) Much is made of this mythical idea of work:life balance. The term suggests it is possible, attainable and even desirable. Smart devices have enabled us to be available and connected 24/7. It’s more of a technology enabled work:life integration. This means we can roll with the extremes of a dynamic work environment and participate in family and social life. I would much prefer to invest an hour on aSaturday dealing with a work matter and know that I’ve saved my Monday from a terrible start. The real balancing act is in making sure it is give and take, not give and give. So don’t stockpile your leave - use it. Take up any flexibility provisions available to you. Stay home if you’re sick. Go to you kid’s school assembly. Work to live.

Go to the school assembly

(See Work:Life Balance Isn't Real) Don’t miss your child’s school assembly/kindy performance (insert every guilt ridden event you have ever missed here) for anything. Make it work, fit your work around it and go. While grandparents are wonderful and will go to everything they can, it is you your child will scan the crowd for. You will never get that time back or that chance again.

Know yourself

It takes a good dose of EQ to successfully negotiate workplaces and all the characters and personalities that inhabit them.  Knowing yourself and what you stand for is critical to ensuring a goodness of fit between you and the people you work with and for. You need to know your own bottom lines about what you expect of others and what they can expect of you. Never be afraid to call out crap behaviour and take responsibility for your own.

Back yourself

Smart, dynamic, energetic and high quality workers are few and far between. People who can deliver the goods within tight timelines, to a high standard and with a smile are worth their weight in gold - and your boss knows it! Own it and take it with you wherever you go.

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