It’s not the age, it’s the career

News article

Even people who are the same age all differ from each other. The different needs and expectations of different employees is also a factor that makes management more challenging.

In the current job market, Generation Xers born in the 1960s and 1970s mingle with Generation Y, or millennials, born in the 1980s and 1990s and Generation Z born in the late 90s.

Millennials were born into a society that was economically healthier than before and they want their work to align with their values and be meaningful. 

Even though values are also important to previous generations, they might not have had the same opportunities to make the same demands of their work in their youth. 

Previously, the role of work was more about ensuring livelihood or increasing one’s standard of living. Now the work itself should also be an extension of an individual’s efforts to express themselves.

– One factor that has affected this development is social media where people compare themselves to a wide network of people and highlight the positives of their life. It is through social media that people’s expectations toward work, career and management have been rising and rising, says management of change consultant, Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and millennial Atte Mellanen.

Mellanen has authored the book Hyvät, pahat ja milleniaalit (The Good, the Bad and the Millennials) together with his wife Karoliina Mellanen. The book came out in early 2020 and deals with the management of millennials and their expectations toward working life.

Management is tailor-made work

Millennials are especially looking for work that gives them the opportunity to belong to a community and a good group of colleagues.

However, management should still be more personalised than before. 

– In today’s world, everything from sales and social media marketing to Netflix experiences can be tailored to suit one’s personal tastes, so the millennials expect both their work and their management to meet their needs in a similar way, says Mellanen.

The millennial’s worst fear is getting stuck in a rut.

The millennial’s worst fear is getting stuck in a rut. A manager should therefore support the employee’s development and career path together with them.

– The employee and the manager can come together to visualise where the employee is headed and how they could reach the employee’s desired goals one step at a time, for example.

However, the organisation does not have to be a trendy start-up to offer meaningfulness or opportunities for career advancement and development.

– Beanbag chairs and a fridge full of beer at the office are not enough create a good employee experience or give rise to internal motivation.

Individualised management requires getting to know the employee, because the manager must be able to find out what the employee is looking for in their work and in their manager.

This familiarisation can mean spontaneous interactions at the office coffee maker, shared lunches or regular phone conversations with the employee, for example.

A good manager is also present. Even little things, such as whether the manager is browsing their phone at the meeting or listening to their subordinate’s presentation, can go a long way. 

– All generations should be managed like the millennials, but the millennials should not be managed like the earlier generations were, Mellanen says in summary.

Career management takes the individual into account

According to senior researcher Mervi Ruokolainen from the Institute of Occupational Health (Työterveyslaitos, TTL), workplaces regard the questions of age management either as a problem or as an opportunity. 

An organisation can work either reactively or preventatively to maintain its employees’ ability to work. An example of reactive action is lightening an employee’s workload after their ability to work has already been diminished. 

The alternative is that the workplace takes the employee’s aging into account by supporting the employee’s strengths and resources. This means that the employee’s ability to work is supported throughout their career before the risks and problems appear. 

In fact, Ruokolainen prefers the term career management to age management. 

In age management, the top brass of an organisation agrees on the practices they enact to support the staff’s ability to work. In career management the starting point of the executives is closer to what kind of support the individuals themselves think they need and how they could be helped to take care of their own ability to work by utilising organisational practices.

In career management, the organisation takes the stages of one’s career and life into account by making it easier to combine work and family, for example, or by being flexible when required regardless of age.

Learning is encouraged throughout the career. 

– An organisation that steers the development of careers in this manner recruits and is staffed by different people of different ages. Learning is encouraged throughout the career. 

Learning maintains ability to work

In addition to taking care of the employee’s physical well-being, maintenance of one’s ability to work also involves developing their expertise and bolstering their motivation.

When work tasks and the nature of work are changing, expertise should develop with them. If an employee feels that they cannot perform in their work as well as they used to, it might increase their stress level.

When work tasks and the nature of work are changing, expertise should develop with them.

On the long term this increased stress can even lead to a disability pension, if the employee and the workplace neglect the development of the employee’s expertise.

A manager should motivate employees to develop their expertise in ways that allow the employees to actually see the effects the learning has on their work.

– Who wouldn’t want motivating challenges? The challenges should not be unreasonable or overwhelming, but growing bored of work is not good either.

There is a lot of public talk about youths and the elderly in working life, but what are the challenges faced by the 40-somethings who are in the middle of their careers?

– At this stage a person often wonders whether their current career and job are what they actually want. When you have quite a bit of your career left, you should, for example, discuss the development of your job description and expertise together with your manager to ensure that the work remains motivating for you going forward.

Mentoring and peer support advance careers

Fujitsu Finland is a provider of IT services and equipment that employs some 1 800 employees in over 20 locations in Finland.

The international corporation has extensive experience in career management that makes use of peer support groups and mentoring. Fujitsu strives to take a holistic view of the development of its employees’ careers and expertise.

– We don’t want to place people into boxes based on age. The most important thing is to take the differing needs of individuals into account, says Fujitsu Finland’s senior HR manager Tuula Selonen.

In mentoring, a junior employee, or actor, meets a more experienced specialist of the field, i.e., the mentor. In Fujitsu’s internal mentoring system, the company’s HR department forms mentor-actor pairs within Fujitsu departments. 

Network mentoring is mentoring that occurs between Fujitsu and its partner companies from different sectors. Network mentoring works the same way as internal mentoring and there are also peer mentoring pairs.

In peer mentoring, specialists share their ideas and discuss professional questions with each other. Fujitsu began its network mentoring efforts with representatives from two other companies.

Fujitsu’s Finding New Inspiration at Work coaching involves peer group sessions where employees discuss their strengths, career goals and questions of well-being. The coaching is open to employees of all ages.

Fujitsu also has the separate international Graduate coaching programme for recently graduated youths.

Thinking about one’s own path is worth it

Fujitsu is constantly developing its career management work, and coaching participants have been giving positive feedback on the career management practices.

Fujitsu has also paid attention to coaching managers. After all, a healthy manager has the energy to be present for their subordinates.

During these exceptional times, HR has also been sparring with both managers and employees remotely.

At Fujitsu, which was founded in Japan, advanced age has been traditionally treated with respect. The average age of the members of the international executive group is close to 70 years, whereas the new CEO is younger than before and in his 60s.

Even though Finnish culture views age differently and the working culture is more informal than in Japan, Selonen thinks recruiters should appreciate the expertise and motivation of elderly applicants more than they currently do.

– How many youths would commit to staying at one workplace for, say, seven years? Many older people would.

Learning is not a question of age, but a matter of personality and motivation.

Selonen points out that learning is not a question of age, but a matter of personality and motivation.

– The manager and the organisation can support the employee and provide the chance to learn, but we are all responsible for maintaining and developing our own expertise. 

TEK members face age discrimination

Age discrimination was highlighted in TEK’s Equality in Working Life study conducted in September.

Age was one of the most common bases for discrimination. Old age was mentioned as the basis for discrimination in 21 % of discrimination cases whereas young age was the justification for 20 % of the cases.

Those TEK members who have experienced age discrimination have told us that employees of different ages are not managed equally and that companies may prioritise employees within a certain age range, says TEK’s work life specialist and equality adviser Sirkku Pohja.

– For example, companies in the IT service sector recruit mainly young people, and the work environment is developed on their terms. Some more senior members have asked us if they can be forced to start working in the multi-purpose space of the office even though the content of their work has not changed. People of different ages seem to have different working methods, Pohja says.

According to Pohja, executives in the technology sector have traditionally appreciated extensive experience. Managers and colleagues may question the competence of a young employee and stick to the old ways.

If we dismiss the ideas of youths out of hand, they might not be as bold to present them in the future, even if the new ideas were as good as or even more productive than the old ones.
The conveyance of silent knowledge has also been on the minds of TEK members. Aging employees are often asked to pass on the silent knowledge that they have accumulated over their careers to others within the company.

– Working life is changing rapidly. We have to bring the notion to present day and consider what knowledge is worth transferring. Sometimes it isn’t even clear to whom the silent knowledge should be passed on to if the position will cease to exist after the person retires, says Pohja.