Commentary

Hanging On By A Thread

A recent article in the Palm Beach Post got my attention. I was sitting at a bar on the beach, reading -- I was playing hooky -- it had been a long week, and it was a Thursday -- yadda, yadda, yadda. Besides, I had my BlackBerry and iPad, so technically I was "working."

The headline read, "Middle-Age Workers Face a New Midlife Crisis: No Job, Little Hope."

It got me thinking: first about the fact that I was lucky enough to slip off early on a Thursday afternoon (without having to feign illness or ask permission) to have a glass of wine (or three). Second, and more importantly, that I had a career in PR and a job I absolutely love. Most of the time.

Reading these stories about people who at 49, 52, and 61 have struggled for a number of years to find work -- or upon finding work, are tasked with menial jobs that don't capitalize on their full potential -- pained me. I have never been unemployed, so I don't have firsthand experience with the fear or demoralizing effects. I can only begin to imagine, and when I do, I realize that I don't want to imagine any further.

But, back to the point. There is a huge workforce out there that has the skill set and, dare I say, balls to do whatever it takes to find a job and make it work.

Which is more than I can say about some insipid and whiny Gen Yers. Yes, how about we call them Generation "Y-Bother." Okay, maybe that's a bit strong -- probably an over-generalization (send your hate mail to Ihatevanessa@axe-to-grind.com) -- but I don't think I'm far off the target.

According to Carolyn Martin, who wrote "From High Maintenance to High Productivity: What Managers Need to Know About Generation Y," "Managers were shocked when Y ers said they would make a long-term commitment to an organization only to discover that 'long-term' meant one year." Furthermore, she found that Yers required more encouragement to stay on track and finish assignments. Now, I'm sure works such as Martin's fulfill the needs of large firms that are in the position to hire and maintain Gen Yers (entire books have been written on how to manage Generation Y), but what about smaller businesses and agencies?

In most instances, I am involved in the recruitment process at my agency and work with the practice area managers to find great talent. The hit-and-miss of this process (more miss than hit) is astounding. We consider our work environment to be very tolerant, flexible, and nurturing -- our goal is to bring out the best in our people and give them the tools and knowledge to be great.

And yet, we have found that many "Y-Bothers" are a disappointment: preferring to focus on impressing rather than doing, and not listening. Because they know it all already. Of course, you can't tell a know-it-all how to do anything.

And why should I waste my time doing so, when the Palm Beach Post is telling me that there are plenty of seasoned workers out there? These people not only know the ins and outs of the "real world," but they are also hungry, spurred on by the knowledge of what life is like hanging on by a thread.

In 2009, the Springboard Project, a business roundtable commission, found that over 61% of U.S. employers were having difficulties finding qualified workers to fill job vacancies. Furthermore, companies' biggest problems were finding candidates with sufficient "soft skills," or skills in such areas as work ethic, self-motivation, personal accountability, punctuality, time management and professionalism. In other words, companies are having a hard time finding the skills that Generation Y-Bother lacks, and aging Xers and Boomers have.

So why aren't companies hiring these aging Xers and Boomers?

Well, it appears that nobody wants to talk about it (age discrimination being a topic that companies apparently don't like to discuss), but I've heard the usual list of reasons in the PR industry: they need too much in salary; they're gone as soon as the next-best offer comes around; they've got so much experience that they're reluctant to learn new techniques; etc., etc. But guess what? These are exactly the issues that we have had with Yers.

Personally, I'd rather take a chance with someone who has proven experience, needs little training in "soft skills," and doesn't have to be encouraged (read: coddled) daily and hourly just to get a quality pitch out the door.

So as of today, we've changed our hiring policy. We're only looking for people who can bring skills and knowledge to the table, without the attitude.

Wet behind the ears need not apply.

Tags: commentary, pr
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1 comment about "Hanging On By A Thread ".
  1. Maggie Hall from Legacy Health , April 4, 2011 at 12:50 p.m.

    You’re funny Vanessa. What you are saying about Gen Yers, is what I said about Gen Xers a couple of decades ago (that makes me a Boomer). I had an acct exec leave his agency job because he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Take a vacation then, I thought, but don’t quit your job! That’s because in my work experiences I knew how hard it was to get re-employed.

    When I was hiring a contractor, my younger boss asked me why I selected the “old guy” compared to the young gal. My response was I had to do less baby-sitting with the more experienced person. I could literally point him in the direction and not have to see him until the job was done. He knew how to do it all because he had done it all. I would have had to do more training and directing with the younger applicant.

    Each generation questions the motivation and inspiration of the younger generation. Based on the needs of your business is how you hire. If you want people to work 13-hour days and don’t need longevity in the position, a Gen Yer might work out well. If you want longevity and stability with an employee that needs to leave work before 7pm, you probably want a middle-aged person. I laughed when you called 62 middle-age too!