The Problem Isn’t with Millennials, It’s with Old People in the Workplace

A lot of energy is spent complaining about challenges related to managing Millennial employees, but let’s talk about how some old people in the workplace need to adapt and make room for the rookies on the team.

Brock McGinnis Leave a Comment
The Problem Isn’t with Millennials, It’s with Old People in the Workplace

I’ve just finished reading a post on LinkedIn on missing old people in the workplace.

Tom Goodwin, EVP and Head of Innovation at Zenith Media, wrote, “Living in New York and working in advertising I rarely see people over the age of 50.” He bemoaned the current lack of gravitas, wisdom and real experience in today’s ad agencies, and added, “We’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to have someone in the room who objectively knows more.”

Goodwin’s headline caught my eye because the AV industry has convinced itself we have exactly the opposite problem — not nearly enough young people. And nobody seems to know why, despite all the cool technology we work with, recent graduates aren’t lining up at our doors begging for jobs.

Focus on Millennials in the Workplace

NSCA, in response, introduced its Ignite initiative to assist its members to “attract, engage and encourage students to join the commercial electronics systems industry.” And InfoComm launched the ICIF Grant Program, providing matching scholarships for companies offering student internship and mentoring programs.

Personally, I think both associations are barking up the wrong tree. Our problem isn’t too few young people. Our problem is too many old people, most of whom show no signs of heading for the doors anytime soon.

Why are there are so many old people in the workplace in AV? First and foremost, they all still need jobs. Nobody’s giving them a pension at age 55. Their children went to pricey colleges. Their parents have spent their inheritances. And they don’t know how to do anything else.

Second, their bosses are lazy, expedient and shortsighted. The AV industry only really hires to solve sales or production problems, and an old industry veteran — even one with known shortcomings — can fill any given hole much faster and easier than some kid off the street. “I don’t have time to train a designer. I’m too busy designing!”

The Problem with Old People in the Workplace

Some old people in the workplace are, of course, enormous assets to their employers. They are repositories of much collected wisdom and experience, excellent mentors, and have continuously evolved with the changing times and technologies.

We hate delegating because we hate trusting. And, most of all, we hate young people.

Other oldies are the walking dead. They’re on their eighth employer in the past 18 years. They quickly fill holes, but long-term they cost too much money for too little energy, enthusiasm and results. Many are “been there, done that, why bother” workers who horde good jobs other industries more wisely populate with much younger employees.

Worst of all are The Entitled — those old people who actively (or passive-aggressively) stand in the way of progress. Like hiring more young people.

Related: It’s Time to Stop Bashing Millennials 

We entitled oldies like our titles, our status and our “turf.” We like having our choice of accounts or project assignments. We like seeing old friends at conferences and shows. We like the old software systems and business processes we built back in the day. And we really like being unassailably and indispensably “in charge” of our little kingdoms.

The entitled hate teaching, because doing is faster and easier. We hate delegating because we hate trusting. And, most of all, we hate young people. Especially brilliant, ambitious, energetic, creative, tech-savvy young people who have amazing AV careers ahead of them.

Just like we did once.

Back in the day.

Brock McGinnis is sales manager, audio-visual solutions division, for Toronto-based Westbury National

originally published April 7, 2017

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About the Author

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Brock is an experienced integrator at Westbury National in Canada and a frequent contributor to CI

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  • Kelly Perkins says:

    I like old people. I like young people too. I even like those pesky folks that aren’t young or old.

  • Daniel Betten says:

    Commercial Integrators (Craig MacCormack & Tom LeBlanc’s) infatuation with Brock McGinnis has struck yet again! I wonder if at one point this publication will be relabeled “What Brock McGinnis Thinks?!” but enough about Commercial Integrators lust for Brock (and don’t think we didn’t listen to the podcast where Tom attempts to coddle Brock’s ego) on to the topic at hand.

    I have to say, I tend to agree with a majority of Brock’s points, Yes – there are far to many ‘old’ people whom show no signs of heading for the doors, Yes, it is easier to hire (fill a hole) with an old industry veteran (with shortcomings) and Yes, some if not most ‘old’ people are massive repositories of much collected wisdom and experience. But is this really the root issue? … I don’t think so.

    What I think Brock and many of the valid and spirited commenters unknowingly skipped over is that our AV industry is built on individuals who’ve been promoted for the sake of being promoted. Many managers have been given the title because they’ve either
    A) Been there the longest
    B) Unable to handle the rigor of installation work
    C) Competency in Sales
    D) Rapid growth of internal departments (e.g. – Project Management, Service, Marketing)

    I’m painting the industry with a broad stroke here but I challenge you to take a moment and reflect on your own organization, I’m certain you will find an example or two of the above.

    How this impacts our precious industry is that there is no true leadership, there is no real mentorship for these ‘managers’ like there would be in either a Banking, Insurance, Engineering, Medical verticals etc. How can these managers whom really aren’t qualified to be managers, whom in most cases don’t really want to be managers, manage complex change initiatives, change leadership and chance communication when they themselves aren’t equipped with the interpersonal skills and tools to do so?

    How can we expect our managers in these delicate times to effectively lead us through an organizational change if they aren’t prepared for it?

    How can we expect our managers to enable change in those ‘old’ people’s mindset if they themselves are unable to exhibit strong change leadership, change communication and change initiatives?

    How can we expect our managers to retain the interests (and our investments) of young millennials if they aren’t in tuned with what they want in a career or how to even communicate with them effectively?

    The problem isn’t the ‘old’ people in our industry. I believe it’s the owners of these amazing AV companies located throughout North America and beyond that 20 years ago never in their wildest dreams imagined owning a 10, 15 or 25 million dollar corporation. They’re the ones terrified of the generational divide and I firmly believe are surrounding themselves with what they are comfortable with vs. demonstrating true, strong leadership which is the most important factor contributing to a successful change in an organization. It’s a sensitive subject for most but the more we communicate it the better, that’s why I’ll give kudos to Brock for broaching this topic.

    But for the love of god, Brock, please exercise some humility, a few negative comments doesn’t give you right to insult the group and your fellow industry friends with a response back “next time, I’ll write slower” because what none of these diligent commenters did was call you on your own suggestion, being a baby boomer, one could make a strong argument that maybe it’s time you head for the doors yourself! 😉

    • Tom LeBlanc says:

      Thanks for reading the column and listening to the podcast. Feel free to write a great column for CI and I’ll “coddle” you, too.

  • John Greene says:

    One of the walk aways from the NSCA BLC was the topic of Millenials, or at a minimum how an entire generation is perceived in the workforce. A few of the speakers took a blanket approach to labeling a generation “they are difficult to work with.” When presented that is a tired and weary argument and a bit surprising that there is any conversation outside of acceptance of this generation which offers so much promise, as well as other generations just behind them. Taking a generalist approach or description of any group is lazy, but often in the sense of time management, that road is chosen to gain or provide an understanding of “those people” The management challenge is working with the individual and gaining an understanding of their capabilities and leveraging those to success. If it does not work; then accepting the weight of the failure from both sides of the employee/company scale. I would not be as successful as we are without a fresh mix of approaches and ideas wherever or should I say whenever they originate. As an Old Guy, I often reflect back to the music of my youth when challenged. Thanks, Mr. Dylan for being there for me!
    Come, mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is rapidly aging
    Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
    Cause the times they are a-changing

    Thanks Brock for putting it out there.

  • Jim Bunce says:

    Great discussion!
    I'm an older person(67) but was astute enough to know when it's time to change venues. I recently went from a Sales position, which I held for 7 years, to a Consulting position. It's been a great transition and I did it at my pace.
    The key to "Oldster" management is determining whether they are continuing to be a contributing member of a Team or not. The reasons that you touched on in this article are contributors but the continuation to their existence really lies with their Manager.
    One of the Key factors in my decision was the realization that I didn't want to sell anymore and by continuing that would have an adverse effect on the entire Team and my Boss. Therefore, I elected to move on and enjoy what I enjoy doing which is integrating a new concept into an existing Company and Coaching/Mentoring their People. I made that decision, prior to my Boss having to make it for me!
    The biggest problem with "Oldsters and Youngsters" debate is they both have mindset that each of them are the problem! Not so! The problem is that a Company needs to grow by integrating Younger People( called survival) into the landscape but they need to grow by relying on an"Oldster" as a Coach/Mentor, if possible.
    This can be instrumental in overall Sales or Company growth, however, it's up to the "Oldsters" Boss to determine whether they have the necessary "Got a Wanna"(they Got a Wanna do the job) attitude. A lot of people "retire in place" because they are allowed to! This is due to the Managers lack of skill in determining the Individual's overall ability to continue producing as needed. Most Bosses are reluctant to approach the subject due to "age discrimination" issues.

    To Managers:
    -Don't procrastinate with assessments based on "Age Discrimination" concerns. Get them done and determine the strategy( that would be what's best for the Company)
    -Performance assessment is critical! Do it at least quarterly! Monthly with Underachievers.(Make sure they sign and understand the assessment!)
    -Be honest and open with the Employee and ask that they do the same. (They may not have the ability to retire and it's good to find out if that is a contributing factor)
    -long term planning: You know who are reaching that stage in their lives when they are thinking or need to move on. Make it part of the discussion and look at it as an exit strategy that is comfortable for the Individual and you.
    -If the assessments and the paperwork are done there will be no problem when your decision is made.

    When these steps are taken,you may be pleasantly surprised at the results that come out of them. Either you have a great Mentor/Coach with renewed energy for your Young People or you have great former Employee that you helped to make an important decision!

  • Rose says:

    I agree with this article. I absolutely hate old people. They’re stuck in their ways, they call young people foolish for liking anything different from them, they’re entitled, extremely rude, and then they have the audacity to demand respect from younger people right after disrespecting us.

  • Aggy says:

    Maybe it’s because they sense you hate them.

  • Samantha Ann West says:

    Rose, perhaps the problem is the way you “blanket” older people with the same stereotype. Sounds just like a racist who says, “I hate “choose a skin color” people because they’re all thieves.” It’s just plain ignorant bigotry and hatred.

    The only thing you deserve without earning it is initial courtesy. Respect is earned. Courtesy allows you the opportunity to display through your actions that you deserve respect.

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