In the interest of bringing some different perspective to the conversation, I recently interviewed a couple of Human Resources professionals representing contrasting generations. The topic is workforce trends. Previously, I posted an interview with Jessica Treft, a Human Resources Coordinator in Minneapolis. Following is part two in the series—an interview with Jessica E. Schmiesing, Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Effectiveness for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North and South Dakota. Jessica shares some of her insights and observations on the topic at hand from the “Generation X” perspective.
As a Human Resources executive who also happens to fall within the Generation X demographic (children of the mid 60s to the late 70s), can you share your personal experience and insight relative to workplace productivity and performance ?
I was fortunate to have been brought up by a working mother who saw the pressures on women to “do it all”. You know the old cliché, “You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.” To watch the pressure that put on someone trying to manage a career, a family and herself as a person while attempting to maintain some sort of balance—that was very interesting to see.
I think I grew up at a really great time when you could learn the lessons of your forefathers who gave everything they had to their employers. The loyalty that my family put into the organizations they worked for was not reciprocated because of the fast-changing environment in the world. I learned you always have to think about what skills you will develop. I’ll give everything to my employer, but I’m also going to make sure I develop myself and gain every opportunity I have while I’m working there because that’s going to help me if I choose to move on or if I’m asked to move on. That’s just how it is.
Given the obvious demise of anything resembling “job security”, what do you see as the primary employee engagement drivers ?
Employers want employees to share more of the burden—more of that risk they assume through variable pay plans, portable pension plans, or not having pensions plans. Yet employees for the most part are not finding that a rewarding mix. That’s not what they want. Most people would rate stability as the number one satisfier, but not many employers can offer that anymore. So I think for people who are willing to take some chances and some risks, the sky’s the limit right now.
People who really want that stability and just want to go to work and do their job then leave, they’re going to find that their opportunities are really limited. That’s something I’ve watched 50+ employees really struggle with. They’ve been loyal and want something in return for that, but if they haven’t taken the risks—put themselves out on a limb for development opportunities and taken on challenges in the organization, they’re not getting rewarded just for their tenure anymore. That’s the mindset they grew up with and that was the equation, so it’s really tough to watch that happen.
Is that a scenario affecting only mature workers?
I think the entitlement and expectations are there for mature workers, but what I also see in younger workers is, not necessarily an entitlement mentality, but for every extra effort they put in—every extra project; if they stretch themselves in their roles, there’s an expectation of a promotion or compensation. That’s where you see this interesting mix of a willingness to take more risks and try to be involved in projects that nobody has tried before—that don’t have much definition, but if there isn’t a “quid pro quo” they’re more dissatisfied.
I also think schools have done a much better job of educating people about leadership and management, so they have much higher expectation in terms of ethics and values from their leaders and managers. If they don’t see that in an organization, they have no qualms about moving on to the next one. Younger workers are much more willing to ask for what they need than are mature workers.
Why do you think many employers are reluctant to hire mature workers?
I’m having a really difficult time understanding why some employers are hesitant to hire employees who are fifty years or older. All the research demonstrates they tend to be more loyal, have less absenteeism, less tardiness issues and are more dependable. All the research shows that, my experience shows that and yet I know a lot of 50+ workers who are terrified to leave their employer. So in a lot of cases they stay where they’re at, even if they’re unhappy, because they don’t think another opportunity is going to be out there for them due to age discrimination.
To what do you attribute that? Is the media feeding the perception with all the news of gloom and doom?
I think a lot of it is out there in the media, but I do think the reality is, it probably is more challenging for baby boomers. We have to be better at training HR people to not just look for candidates that are going to stay in a position for at least 5-7 years. My advise is not to make those decisions based on a long-term relationship. Anticipate you’re going to get 2-3 years from somebody—what does that relationship look like. If you get longer, that’s great. You don’t want to assume that person is going to want to be there for their whole career, because you then make very different employment decisions.
In your experience, are there ways in which the recruitment process itself, either by flawed design or due to human nature, inherently contributes to age discrimination?
Often times, recruitment is the first position somebody has in their entre into the HR world. So a lot of recruiters are younger and inexperienced. Many organizations don’t have very sophisticated Human Resources professionals. They’ve taken people who have worked in other parts of the organization in this assumption that anybody can be in HR. Unless you have somebody who has a strong history and experience level in understanding the key drivers of success in a position, how to measure those in an interview process and how to align behavior, skills and talents to the requirements of the position, you can run into a lot of issues. With a lot of recruiters—like most people, you end up having an affinity for people who are more like you. So if you look at the average age of recruiters, they’ may tend to look more favorably at candidates who are more like them in terms of attitude, preferences, age, etc.
Do you see organizations being able to evolve from the need to operate from a broad generalization HR philosophy in our lifetime?
In our lifetime; I’m not sure. I have a nineteen year old niece who is going to school to become an environmental architect—green all the way—doesn’t like big buildings; she’s very passionate about what she does. It’s so fun to see her generation because color and socio-economic differences aren’t things they tend to recognize. They don’t bring them in when they’re dealing with people. The world they grew up in was so diverse and so fast-moving, the boundaries and conformities we’ve had to live with are going to be shattered, at least somewhat.
Witness the election of President Obama?
Yeah! But then you look at it and ask, Can the world thrive on chaos? It can’t. I really think the world operates on that 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of what happens to us—we have to have some predictability—we have to organize and control it to some degree because most of us don’t thrive in chaos very well.
So where does that lead us in the future? I think the generalities that exist and the assumptions we make about the generations, I don’t know that that’s going to go away in the next 10-15 years. How we get through this recession will be very telling in terms of what gets learned in the workforce. I ‘m hoping that Baby Boomers will gain a new-found respect in the workplace.
Jessica E. Schmiesing has more than 20 years experience in Human Resources in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors. She earned her Master of Arts and Intercultural Relations degree from the University of Minnesota.
Until next time… Get it real and Keep it real.