Keep calm, carry on, boomers (Guest commentary)

Individuality, self-expression in younger generations

I probably wouldn’t have hired Mary and I would have been wrong. One of my senior managers did the hiring and I was worried about the fit, armed with my preconceived notions and values. I was frankly concerned she was “different” from previous hires.

“I won’t be offended if you mention that I’m pierced, tattooed, my hair’s a hot mess and you think my fashion sense leaves something to be desired,” Mary told me while I drafted this column.

Despite my concerns, Mary turned me around. She does a good job, makes few mistakes and is an important part of our team, which I acknowledged to her recently. Her comment: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

As a baby boomer, it proved a seminal moment in our hiring practices, reinforced months later at a client lunch.

At the time, Mary helped me manage a client account and I was concerned Mary’s “look” might cause our client to think our hiring standards had slipped.

My fears were groundless. Our client joined us at lunch with her assistant, Melanie — who was sporting a nose stud.

From a boomer’s point of view, this form of individuality and self-expression doesn’t sit so well in a corporate environment. Which is why I wasn’t expecting it from this fairly conservative company.

I later called the client to share the irony. “I couldn’t help but notice that Melanie had a nose stud,” I said.

“Ah yes,” she said, and I could almost hear her smiling. “That caused us some angst, major discussions, many meetings and, eventually, we decided to go with the flow. Melanie does a good job, so why make it an issue?”

As boomers, we have to come to terms with the ideas and values that other generations bring to the table, and accept the “package” in which they come.

Our value system is different. We’re demanding bosses. Many of us are workaholics, living to work. We still think our values are sound and don’t always understand the values of the youth around us.

Many of us have loosened up. We often accept things we wouldn’t have accepted several years ago. With increasing numbers of gen-Y entering the corporate workforce, we’ll need to become even more flexible. But we have some experience to share, which won’t be transferred if we get hung up on appearances alone.

That’s we why we say: Keep calm and carry on, boomers.

Roger Davies is the CEO of McLuhan and Davies Communications in Toronto. For more information, visit www.mdctraining.com or www.thinkonyourfeet.com.

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