In a society where the President of the United States takes “selfies” and people are judged by their number of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections or Facebook “friends”; it is easy for older workers to feel invisible at work. No one who knows me personally would consider me a shrinking violet by even a stretch of the imagination. However, even I was told by a former manager that none of his peers knew who I was and it made it difficult to “sell” me as a candidate for special assignments. His suggestion was that I do something “crazy” to get noticed. Then when he mentioned me again to the other managers they would remember me as the one who sang karaoke or did the splits at a sales meeting. After a nanosecond of careful consideration, I decided to decline his career advice.
After that discussion I began to observe other workers more closely and discovered a trend. In a room filled with multi-generational employees if a younger manager was leading the discussion; the older workers listened more and contributed less. If the manager was older (50s- 60s) the conversation was more collaborative with people of all ages participating. Watch in your next company meeting and see if holds true for your organization. I am not sure what particular dynamic this phenomenon indicates, but it has been consistent. Younger workers in their 20s and 30s exhibited an almost “Horschak” quality (fans of the mid-70s hit, Welcome Back Kotter will remember Arnold Horschak). When he raised his hand in class he wanted to be called so badly he grunted. And, so were the grunts of the Millennial and GenerationX’ers hoping to have their voices heard. Everyone has to be handed the microphone to make a comment.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a new book, The Invisibles by David Zweig that examines this from a management perspective not through a generational lens. It discusses people who are not necessarily at work to tout their brand, expand their platform or increase their Klout score. They are there to do the job and take satisfaction in completing work correctly. It sounds like many 40+ workers who take pride in a job well done. Every time they finish a project, they are not running to their manager for validation or firing off a series of e-mails or my new favorite term—humblebragging. (i.e. Humble Brag- when one consciously brags about themselves while couching it in a phony show of humility). Humblebragging is prevalent on Facebook and Twitter.
Invisibles are a management challenge. In some organizations they are taken for granted because they don’t survive on recognition or the jealous applause of their peers. I know older workers that have watched the rise and fall of self-promoting young peers that were given more responsibility than they could handle. (Who read the 1969 classic, The Peter Principle? His premise is true). How many corporate lay-offs have targeted people capably getting the work done and kept megaphone toting stars only to add headcount because they laid off the people who did the work? It is true there are older workers who also bask in faux modesty, banter about how hard they work and have pet names for their young peers---that is annoying too. Making sure people know you and your work is important in the current corporate culture. It is also difficult for many experienced workers who matured in an era that didn’t include social media, so strive for balance.