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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

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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  • Hank Schultz says:

    Brock, what a completely disconnected irresponsible progressive liberal response you provided. Millennials ARE in fact a problem, or if you prefer a “point-at-issue”. Companies all across the country are rapidly reworking their HR programs to cope with the unique challenges millennials present. While it’s also true the some older employees and management are slow to adapt to change (new technologies, processes, methods) it is not 100% incumbent on the existing workforce to cater to the millennials. That catering is in large part why they present issues in the first place. It is critical to take into consideration the unique perspectives, and any positive attributes they bring and meld them into corporate culture. Smaller companies, which represent much of the AV industry, often struggled with this type of change and for a variety of reasons.

  • “There is a lot in what you say.”
    That is a phrase taught to me by a mentor 10 years my senior many years ago. Taken at absolute face value, it may be a compliment. It is not.
    Brock, there is a lot in what you say.
    I am 68 years old. I go to work every day starting at somewhere between 6 and 8 AM and finally retire somewhere between 7 and 11 PM. Every day. Don’t tell me I get in the way.
    I cannot find many young people willing to put in the time and effort to learn the trade and do the work. It is a time-intensive profession that requires much beyond the salaried 9-to-5 workday. I remember the 3 AM-still-working times when a deadline was upon me. Not terribly attractive to many folks.
    Now, do not assume I dislike young people. I love them. I am in heaven when I find that bright (usually) young person knows so much more than I do about something. I stay young by continually learning and it is often from the young Turks that I learn the most. That being said, they are few and far between (sorry for the “old” cliche.)
    Give me more young, enthusiastic, willing to learn and mostly, willing to work, young people. They are by default, the future of . . . everything.

    • Ashton McGinnis says:

      I would question how many millennials you have actually worked with or attempted to train, and how this would compare to your sample sizes of other generations. Have you not also had work ethic concerns with people of other generations?

      I am a millennial, and I have been the last person to leave the office on countless occasions. I don’t want an award for this, a raise or even acknowledgement. I want to get the job done and done well. When working in majority millennial environments, I have toiled well into the night with my numerous dedicated millennial co-workers who have had strong commitment to getting things right. Many of my millennial colleagues and friends have a fire and a passion and are committed to doing lots of great work, and working hard. Many of those millennials saw their parents over extend themselves financially, so they in turn CRAVE security, commitment and long term employment. They might job hop, but it’s often in an effort to get the right fit that will satisfy themselves and their employers the most.

      Now, I also know lazy millennials, and gen Xers and Boomers who don’t want to work late or hard. I know lots of millennials and gen Xers who want to leave the office at 5. I know lots of millennials and boomers who feel entitled to raises based on experience, not merit. I know millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers not willing to train, or receive education.

      I also know gen Xers and Boomers who are filled with so much of that same passion, energy and excitement I see in my millennial friends. They are amazing mentors, co-workers, collaborators and team mates. I value these relationships immensely as these folks have guided and shaped me into the professional I am today, and the professional I will be in 10 and 20 years down the road.

      What I’m saying is I know lots of people. Lots of people with different work ethics, learning processes and levels of entitlement. People across all generations share characteristics and tendencies. I offer you to give people a chance. Even if some of those people happen to be millennials.

  • Mark Buse says:

    Ego-centric rot-gut article that’s so bad, I unsubscribed from Commercial Integrator emails.

  • Tony Satariano says:

    I am an ASG (Aspiring Old Guy).
    I Aspire every day to do a better job then I did yesterday.
    I Aspire to Inspire the younger people I interact with to do a better job than I did today, or yesterday.
    I Aspire to learn something new everyday to improve my skills and to be of more value to my employer, and the other employees around me.
    I Aspire to get there earlier and make one more call on the way home. The law of averages and persistence have taught me i just need to be 1% better and make it up in the volume I generate. Not that I’m only 1% better- I’m much better than that, and that’s why they say I’m in the way. I, and others like me, are in the way, making many millennial’s look bad. Not that many of them need the help to do so.
    I do not Aspire to Climb Higher in my company (been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it,) unlike the millennial’s who think that just showing up entitles them to a promotion and more money and are upset they don’t have what I busted my rear to get. Not only the material things but the respect of my peers.
    Respect is earned, as is everything else of value.
    You want it? Work for it!
    If you think I, and the other Aspiring Old Guys and Gals are stepping aside because you think you are entitled to it, you need to think again.
    Aspire to Grow up Buttercup.

  • Tim Stoffel says:

    As an older person, I take exception to this diatribe. Yeah, we have shortcomings. But we are people, too and everyone has some shortcomings. Ane maybe we are stuck in our ways. But sometimes, we have the wisdom to see what damage too much innovation can cause. Sometimes, perhaps more times than any of us are willing to admit, the ‘old’ way is the better way. A slightly out-of-date system that works consistently, efficiently and reliably is better than a system that has to have the ‘the current big thing’ as part of it, and does not function consistently, efficiently or reliably.

    I’m happy to work with a younger person as long as they know their stuff, or are willing to learn, sometimes quickly. I’ve also learned a great deal from people much older than myself.

    At the end of the day, no group should be bashed.

  • Lisa Dase says:

    Another article about “this generation is X” and “that generation is stupid”. The only thing that can possible be true about these groups of millions of people is that every “generation” says these things about the next generation since people first developed complex verbal language. Every person needs to stop lumping people together and ascribing characteristics to them, there is just too much variety. What I am hearing in every one of these articles is people of every age group have their curmudgeons and change resisters. It’s about attitude. Not age.

  • This article is too funny. It’s sort of like having a discussion with waiters about how they expect to be tipped. Of COURSE they expect to be tipped and tipped well, never mind that the waiter did nothing nothing more or less pouring those three $240 bottles of wine you purchased at dinner to impress your highly important client than he (or she) would have done had they been $50 bottles of wine. Rage with waiters on THAT debate for awhile and you’ll experience the true meaning of obfuscation and overblown importance.

    As a member of the now senior sect, who came up through the ranks when A/V meant filmstrip and slide projectors, I still start early. I still work into the evening. I still have incredibly good contacts throughout the country and I bloody well understand the technology and how it’s integrated into unique solutions to create indelible impressions on weak-minded millennials. Oh, I work with some incredibly talented and gifted millennials, too, and the things I learn from them could fill a cup…. or two. Maybe.

    But, oh, the things young Brock could learn….. starting with humility.

  • Tom LeBlanc says:

    You know what’s really funny? Much of the criticism of Brock’s article seems to attack Millennials, but the article actually doesn’t really glorify young professionals.

    I (not Brock) added the Millennial reference in the headline and I even added the subhead “Focus on Millennials in the Workplace.” Brock barely mentions Millennials and when he does he says hiring more of them is not necessarily the solution to the industry’s challenges.

    My feeling is that it’s important to tie in the industry’s default focus on recruiting Millennials in order to provide context to Brock’s unique view on the industry’s labor challenges. That’s why I framed Brock’s column that way in the headline.

    It makes me wonder what column people are reading when they call out the writer for pandering to Millennials.

  • Corey Moss says:

    I found it very interesting after listening to the recent AV Week that Brock was not directing this at any particular generation (and yes the title was adjusted as was revealed), and that it’s a statement concerning the industry’s continued efforts to seek out young talent to join up. Personally, I believe that this industry needs to be welcoming of the young people that are joining or looking to join, and willing to guide them – not just toward certifications, but the overall education that is needed to excel. Just having them get a CTS and saying head off into the AV world falls way short of the mark. I admittedly never would have become a top performing sales person for the commercial integration company that I worked for without my mentor who was almost 20 years my senior. I say get with the overall program folks, and for the “old people” who don’t want to adjust to all of the generations that present themselves in, as well as to this industry – probably time to retire. And I have to say that myself being among the older generation, some of the comments here are truly pathetic…

  • ann turner says:

    What is old? To someone who is 18, 35 might seem old. If a person starts a new career at 45, are they considered old, even though the field is new? Are the most stable, long lasting and profitable companies run by CEOs under 35? Or under 30? Or 25?

    I’m sorry to say that this article reeks of ageism. Millennials are described as ” brilliant, ambitious, energetic, creative and tech-savvy.” Those are deemed old are described as “walking dead” and “the entitled.” Not everyone hates “young people,” just as not everyone hates “the walking dead.” In many cases, people judge individuals, not group, which the author seems to be doing here.

    At the end of the day, I feel as if the author would like everyone over 35 to simply leave the A/V workforce completely, to make room for the ” brilliant, ambitious, energetic, creative and tech-savvy,” who will undoubtedly create a new progressive A/V utopia.

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