by Emily Enger
A few months back, I was visiting with an old family friend, who we’ll call Cindy. This woman, who’s been a personal mentor most of my life, is an early Baby Boomer. She retired a couple years ago and her husband, who we’ll call Jim, claims to be retiring, but has been making that claim for a couple years now. “Do you think he’ll actually retire?” I asked her. “Or does he love work too much?” I assumed Jim was just one of those guys who never quits and who never fully trusted anyone enough to pass on his legacy. But Cindy confessed a much different angle to his lengthy retirement process: “young people” problems.
It’s true that Jim was always an overzealous worker, but Cindy had finally convinced him it was time to hang up the hat. He was actually getting excited about it. But no one could be found succeed him. That’s right. Out of the entire country, just off of the recession, not one person wanted Jim’s job. At least, no one qualified. Plenty of people applied, but this job was corporate level with very specific and rigorous needs. And the company was hoping for someone young enough to spend a lengthy career with them. Yet every time Jim and his boss thought they’d found their man or woman, the candidate expressed deep reservations or even dropped out altogether. Why? Because the job requirements were too much. As soon as candidates learned deeper details of the position, they fled, leaving Jim to continue working. Upon hearing this, I groaned. It’s a story steeped in cliché stereotypes: hard working Baby Boomer has to pick up extra slack from lazy, entitled Millennials. But Cindy didn’t jump into judgment. Instead, she looked at me thoughtfully. “I won’t say your generation is doing everything wrong, because I don’t think mine did everything right. But they’re definitely doing it differently.” It was big of her to say that, especially considering her disappointment. She had worked hard to convince her husband to retire. Now he was disheartened, she still didn’t get to see much of him, and their coveted “grandchildren time” was slipping by daily. “Actually,” she continued. “In some ways, you guys are practicing what I’ve often preached. You’re making sure your life isn’t work and are prioritizing family. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t respect that.”
In the end, Jim’s company split his position. Jim helped them figure out how to do that and dealt with the transition, which further extended his retirement timeline. It says something about just how hard Jim worked if his job could be split into two reasonable positions. And if it doesn’t, the fact that he ended up in the hospital with heart palpitations the very night Cindy and I spoke, should. His doctor couldn’t say the stress at work caused the episode, but did think it may have been a contributing factor. Jim’s company figured out a solution, but for Jim’s sake, it would have been better if they’d learned a little faster. My new goal is to give you some insights to help speed up that learning curve. Since I began this column on general business tips, the overwhelming response I’ve heard back is about generational issues. Questions about Millennials as employees, target audience, and family business partners have all come up and I intend to aim this column at answering those concerns. Bridging this divide is going to take compromise and a dismantling of stereotypes and assumptions. I hope Millennials will enjoy this column—we have a lot of mistakes to rectify, as well—but truthfully I’m not writing for them. This is a column by a Millennial about Millennials for non-Millennials. Or, by its longer name, “How to deal with Young People and Not Give Yourself a Near Heart Attack.”
Emily Enger is a Millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as Communications Director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at email@example.com.
A new column for generational concerns
by Emily Enger