About Me

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Fishers, Indiana, United States
Brenda gained career expertise as a human resources leader at a global company before becoming an HR consultant. Her functional experience includes a variety of sales roles in the health care industry achieving success for over 30 years. She is currently in Consulting & Analytics Business Development for a health care firm. Her passion is participating in, writing about and observing the evolving workforce. For the first time in history four generations work together. It keeps things interesting. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are redefining retirement and what it means to age in the workforce. It is not just about money. Okay it plays a role! At 76.4 million members strong, Boomers are leveraging technology to continue their careers and the personal fulfillment working brings. Managing a late-stage career requires a strategy. There is no roadmap or one size fits all answer. This blog is about sharing, networking & finding your own right answer to working later, managing your career, redefining retirement, looking for work in your 50s & 60s and reinventing yourself.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Laid Off at Age 60: What Comes Next?

My friend was concerned about impending layoffs at his company and wondered if, at age sixty, his corporate career would be over. His concerns were that he never moved passed middle management and he felt very “out of the loop” on the current changes that were coming.  He strived to be a Corporate Vice President for many years relocating his family to Indiana from their roots in the South. Even though he and his wife were treating me to dinner and the scene on the reservoir where we dined was pleasant, upscale and calm; I think my assessment ruined his meal.  
Climbing the career ladder and shattering glass ceilings is a province of 20-to early 40-year olds from what I have observed. There are often outliers in companies where a 45-year-old comes out of nowhere and quickly moves up the ranks, those people are exceptions, like Powerball jackpot winners. What I observe most commonly is a career trajectory that begins in the 28-35 year-old age range when talent is first noticed within a company. If you are recruited to a company from outside there is latitude, the age of being "discovered" may expand to age 42. Management becomes aware of this potential phenom and as my HR friends say, this person is “on the radar.” More time is spent on them in talent management meetings, they are evaluated against their peers in succession planning conversations and they are offered the opportunity to be on high-profile projects or attend national trade shows to mingle with senior management. They may attend Executive Education to learn about the areas they do not specialize in--R&D types may attend Strategic Marketing or a Sales professional is in enrolled in Finance for Nonfinancial Managers. The most fortunate earn Executive MBAs in top programs at Harvard, Notre Dame, INSEAD or Wharton on the company dime as part of their development.

By the mid-to-late thirties to early-40s rising stars have generally found their place in their first line management position.  At this point there may be an element of personal sacrifice. I liken it to initiation to a country club, fraternity, sorority or street gang (depending on the organizational culture). The corporation did something for you; now, show your commitment. It may be an expatriate assignment to learn the global business, a relocation or unlimited business travel. If this works out well and the incumbent does not burnout, blow-up or bomb—the next step is often leading a cross-functional team, higher stakes more visible project or account management responsibility even if they have not been in sales. No matter what the functionality, this is the job where everyone in the organization knows their name. After four to six years of grooming, in most corporate models it is back to people management—this time as a leader of other managers. This is a critical career juncture and the role my 60-year-old dinner companion was in as layoffs loomed at his company. For eight years he toiled away as mid-level Director through three different CEOs and their management teams. I sipped my Cotes Du Rhone and nibbled at my meal aware they were picking up the tab and weighed my words. “In my opinion and again it’s just my personal opinion,” trying to be delicate and honest, “you may have Peter Principled out.” I felt like such a weasel. I was trying to minimize my impact knowing that both husband and wife leaned on my career advice in the past and it had served them well. How do I tell him what in his heart and mind, he must already sense and does not want to accept. YES! At 60, it sounds like he's off track and if he is laid off, the dream of going to the VP level at a Fortune 100 company is shattered. (My humble personal opinion).

If you desire a very senior position: CEO, Division President,  Business Unit President, VP of R&D, IT, Human Resources, Finance or CFO, CIO, COO, and you are not there by ages 49-55--it's not likely to happen at your current employer. You will have to join a new organization. I have seen people jump to a smaller organization, a large family-owned businesses or regional company and all of those employees have been sitting one rung below their desired job title when they made the move. All of them were recruited. None of them answered an ad on a job board or were "connected" on LinkedIN.
I went on to talk about career reinvention, entrepreneurship....maybe buying a franchise or contacting recruiters now, before the layoff. I could tell everything that came out of my mouth after “I-think-your-career-with-these-people-is-toast” was blah-blah-blah, just background noise. He didn’t hear the ideas that came afterwards or the success stories I shared about those I’ve met in my travels that have gone to smaller organizations and thrived. We finished the meal without our usual sharing of a decadent dessert. Just hugs and promises to not let it be so long until next time.

EPILOGUE: Yes, it happened. My friend was laid off this month and felt shocked and betrayed. Now he is in outplacement beginning to network, create a new resume and practice interviewing for the first time in many years. His goal is to work in a corporate role until he is 66 and will have access to his full social security benefit. He’s not sure what comes next. What do you think?
Full retirement age is:

65 for those born before 1937
66 for those born between 1943 and1954

67 for those born 1960 and later
If you want to find out at what age you can receive your full social security benefit, visit: www.ssa.gov

Monday, September 2, 2013

Unhappy Labor Day

 Unhappy Labor Day

The 21st Century workplace is a modern day coliseum with employees as gladiators (okay, I'm being a little melodramatic). Work isn’t what it used to be and if you were lucky enough to be employed in the rah-rah 1980s or the go-go 1990s, savor the memories. Those days, like our youth, are gone forever. This Labor Day let’s take a look at the new implied work contract between employers and their workers.

Work is a DIY Project:

Every job really is an independent contractor position. Workers are increasingly responsible for more out-of-pocket expenses and companies are relinquishing their role in everything from training to health care.

  • As 401(k) and 403(b) plans for nonprofits replaced defined benefit pension plans, employees became more responsible for their financial security when their work years ended. The downsides include the employer choosing the mutual funds  in their plan which limits your investment options and the expenses related to them. Workers are at the mercy of stock market volatility. 
  • If that’s not perilous enough, now companies are doing the same thing with health care savings accounts. Employees set aside THEIR money in a tax-deductible fund to pay for current and future health care costs. My advice? Don’t get sick with one of these plans. Combined with a high deductible health plan companies are offering, you’ll be ill and financially insolvent. 
  • Now, employees have to train themselves. That’s right, few to no company-sponsored professional conferences and external training classes are available unless it is a regulatory requirement. Many of my former training and development colleagues are among the unemployed or under-employed. The mantra goes like this: (Shouted by management) “Who is responsible for my professional development and training?” The employees in unison are expected to chant in reply, “I am responsible for my development and training.” This is serious stuff, I heard about a company doing this. Companies often tout tuition reimbursement as a perk, however, once inside the company employees get to read the “fine print.” The courses must relate to the current position you hold (no working on your Masters in Fine Arts in the accounting department) and in some cases you must have a certain performance appraisal rating to qualify for tuition reimbursement. And as the cherry on the T&D sundae, your request must be approved by your manager and their boss (who are going to wonder where you'll find time to complete an outside course of study and do your job).
Organizations hire employees to do the task at hand and provide minimal cost-effective training to maximize task without injury (workers compensation expense) and required sexual harassment and diversity training (lawsuit prevention).

 Mean People Rule:

In 2011 a study appeared in the journals and the media titled, “Do Nice Guys and Gals Really Finish Last?” Spoiler Alert: Yes.  The University of Notre Dame, Cornell University and University of Western Ontario professors found that men who disagreed with co-workers more the most made 18% more or close to $10,000 above their more collaborative colleagues. The study examined data over 20 years and included more than 10,000 employees from three previous studies and appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The proper term for a workplace jerk in academia is “disagreeableness” and that is what their study focused on, however, it is the same traits that make more agreeable employees cringe.  More recently, The Workplace Bullying Institute—yes, this place exists—reported 35% of the U.S. workforce (over 50 million employees) admitted to being bullied at work. So, if you feel the workplace has lost a bit of civility and your co-workers are rude, your boss cuts people down in front of others or senior management has instituted a threatening culture, there’s research that says that’s the direction companies are headed. And, yes, disagreeable women make more money than nice ladies, so wipe that smile off your face.

There’s more in Part Two of Unhappy Labor Day.


Unhappy Labor Day (Part Two)

Unhappy Labor Day Part Two
Where did my Salary Go?

Some of you remember when we actually got double digit merit increases. One year, it is foggy now, but maybe in the 1980s I remember getting a 12% merit increase.  It was so exciting! Do you feel like you are making less money? There are a variety of reasons including the facts from Part 1 of this post— more of your work security is coming from you and not your employer. By the time you put money in your 401(k) or 403(b) plan, add money to your health care savings account, put some money in the Healthcare Flexible Spending Account to cover out-of-pocket expenses and take a trip to a professional conference to keep up your CEUs because you “own” your professional development----there’s not much left.

National Public Radio (NPR) sponsored a series several years ago called “Living in the Middle” about America’s middle class. Experienced workers know what it is like to slip from middle class to poverty level. Job searches that take years, raising grand-children in their 50s and 60s, helping adult children and sudden lay-offs require Baby Boomers to extend their work years while they can still earn an income. The U.S. economic climate has probably changed enough that it cannot support the middle class as I knew it growing up outside Chicago. Heavy manufacturing jobs were supported by labor unions employing  high school-educated (mostly) men earning a livable wage at the time. This year Mercer Consulting estimated midsize and large employers would increase their average raise in base pay to 2.9%.
 Wal-Mart employed 1% of the 140 million working Americans in 2010. 1.4 million Americans work for Wal-Mart. Their associates earned an average of $20,744 annually three years ago. Ponder that for a minute.

Employees: Work at Your Own Risk!
Despite protections from the NLRB, FLSA, ADEA, EEOC and any number of  acronyms describing federal, state and local agencies; talk with Baby Boomer employees and they will tell you how vulnerable they feel. Employment attorneys are not inexpensive and no individual has the financial wherewithal to fight even a small business. While companies are not legally required to offer severance packages, many do and in return for signing, laid off employees give up the right to pursue legal action or initiate a claims with regulatory agencies.  Employees are also losing out time after time with the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court most recently made filing for class action status more difficult when it struck down the appeal of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the case of a female  50+ year-old  employee making a wage and promotion discrimination claim.

Employees protected by unions fell to a 70-year low in 2011. Government employees account for more half of all unionized workers. Yet, the federal workforce is shrinking even before sequestration. According to a New York Times story published in June 2013, about 45,000 government positions were eliminated this year. At the Pentagon, a large number of civilian workers will be required to be furloughed--off work and unpaid unless they have paid time off (PTO) for 11 days in 2013 to save money. Most of my business-owner colleagues dislike any type of government regulation and work hard to keep their businesses union-free. While I trust them and applaud practices they employ to keep their workforces equitably paid, treated well and safe---not all business owners take the same steps for their employees.

So, another Labor Day has come and gone. Surely, change is the only constant in workplaces today. For experienced employees, it is important to stay employed. Generating the highest income possible should also be a goal even it means taking a part-time job. Your money has to last a long time and as you get older your ability to earn unfortunately produces an inverse turn on the graph like the one illustrated.
HR and company leaders: Research supports the premise highly satisfied employees create increased  customer satisfaction. Company leaders also should also get out their offices and have face time with employees. Try catching workers doing something right. One corporate leader or business owner cannot change the statistics or troubling trends in employment. Employee bullying, lower productivity, devaluing others and workplace violence are on the increase. Each person charged with the management of subordinates has an obligation to engage with their workforce and leave the organization better than it was when they joined the department, division or company.