Jul 13, 2015

The Aging Employee - Reflection, Humor, & Direction

It's Monday morning and I race for an 8:00 a.m. meeting.  The venue? Immersive video. No wrinkle is safe, no sunspot covered. Dress code for team meetings is business casual.   

As the remote locations appear on the screens, there she is bigger than life. She is tall, thin, and not "business casual". She has an MBA from NYU. She is a new member of our team.  I'll come back to Katarina in a bit. For now I have drifted off pondering change...

The definition of a great employee has changed over the last few decades.  Gone are the days when loyalty and tenure are recognized as valuable assets.  As a corporate sales and marketing veteran, companies are doing more with less. But are companies paying less for more? And if so, how?

As tenured [aging] employees receive higher salaries through normal progression, these same employees become a burden to the business.  Finance and Human Resources often tag these employees as “red-zoned” because they have reached the peak of a salary range for a specific job title or abstract.  As a result, the organization’s goal is to move them on or out and to replace with management development candidates with lower salaries.  There are fiscal effects of the population aging in the United States.  And, there are new policies that address old age.

My corporate career began in my twenties. The NFL cities were launching cellular networks and telecommunication companies were hungry for young talent. During this time I was leasing commercial office space for a highly regarded firm.  I resigned and began working for a wireless company at the encouragement of a friend. After all, I lived in one of the start-up markets and would be the first of few initial employees. With an aggressive commission schedule I hit the road.    

You might imagine my husband receiving the news.  He was less than enthusiastic.  Days of suits and conference rooms were replaced with chaos and highway mileage.  My client base changed which required demonstrating cellular technology to construction workers. 

Specifically, the days began early and sales leads took me to all areas of town. I arrived at job sites to schlep phones and demonstrate features such as horns blowing to alert drivers of an incoming call.  Or, should a missed call roll to voice mail, workers were notified by vibrating pagers strapped below their waist lines.  My days insured mud, men, money, and more of it tomorrow. I could hardly wait until tomorrow.  In fact, I was driven to excel, promoted, relocated, and divorced all within a year’s time. 

Oops, Wake Up! It's thirty years later and I have drifted off again while sitting in this meeting. There is no problem here. I am still working in technology and have a seat at the table.  

Once settled and past the pleasantries, our Manager recites today's agenda. Wait! Where is my time-slot? What do you mean the schedule has changed?  I worked until after midnight preparing 15 slides representing best practices of a recent sale.  Instead we were to be introduced to our newest team member. Yes, remember Katarina?

With her education in Finance and twelve month management development training, she would secure the banking and financial services' accounts. Unfortunately my peer, John, currently served these accounts. When our Manager made the announcement, John laughed loudly and torpedoed a large muffin to the floor. John has worked very hard developing relationships with his accounts and had five years invested.  He recently closed two large sales guaranteeing positive revenue streams and healthy commissions. He had worked these accounts knowing they would close any day.  They would close tomorrow!  His "tomorrow" cut short in a matter of minutes.  

As I began to squirm about, my shoe hit the side lever of the chair dispensing my body downward until my chin almost hit the top of the conference table. The writing was on the wall but I couldn't see it without my reading glasses. A flash of heat starts at my scalp and runs to my red ears. Another young inexperienced hire joins our team.  We are chronologically, mentally, and physically decades apart. I was once Katarina sans the dark hair, MBA from NYU, and height.  So what do we have in common?  The
 investments made today for promises of success tomorrow

Another meeting comes to conclusion. Reality raises its ugly head and I think, where will all of us [old people] go?  Oh dear God, I’m 54!!  I hope my peer will be o.k. and not reassigned the “Hunter Module”! He will be processing credit checks instead of orders and rethinking flight time instead of redeeming frequent flyer mileage for his vacation.

Corporate Sales roles demand a tremendous amount of flexibility. We are praised for the relentless pursuit of a win and encouraged to deliver larger results year over year.  So we run, we sell, we are reassigned, and reassigned again. And then some of us notice a slight yet uncomfortable change.  

It's subtle at first.  Announcements within organizations may reach us through less than normal channels. Products and sales incentives are discovered only after hearing of accolades extended to others. Responsibilities change. Is this my transformation?  Transformation turns to fear.  Fear is confirmed by avoidance and irrelevance.

Unfortunately, Aging Employeesare moved to unbearable assignments requiring rudimentary skills, relocation, or worse. Employees with thirty years' tenure are victims of early retirement tactics, issued formal performance improvement plans, and finally terminated.  The promises of tomorrow do not paint a pretty picture. And for many aging employees this is becoming far too common.

As I begin my commute home this evening, I remove my flats and bra while driving with a snicker. I am comforted by the thought of wine, pajamas, and three dogs waiting to greet my tired body.   I pull into my dark garage and turn off the engine. I sit for a moment and ponder my current state. How did I get here? I live among many town-homes in suburbia. It's become difficult to find time to visit family and ride my horses. I am divorced and without children. Shouldn't the years of tenure with one corporation yield comfort and satisfaction? Or did I trade these things for the promises of tomorrow?  This is my wake up call. This is my ah-ha moment.  My tomorrow arrived today. 

There will always be Katrina and twenty-somethings entering the business.  There are more corporations forcing red-zoned, tenured, and loyal, workers out. These companies work around age discrimination laws by placing unrealistic ultimatums on employee working conditions.  

There are no guarantees in life or in a career...certainly none in sales. But is there a lesson to be learned here?  For me it is this: 

·         Before making significant investments today for promises of success tomorrow, capitalize on strength, skills, and your relationships today.  I would never suggest risk avoidance; However, I do encourage looking within and identifying sources for motivation. 
  • Take ownership of your own success and understand the priorities of large corporations are to its shareholders and rarely its employees.
  • Measure your success personally and individually.
  • When describing someone [or yourself] as successful, remember this;  there are varying forms of success.  It may be personal and it may be financial.
  • There are many loop holes within the EEOC laws. If faced with ultimatums like the above scenarios, adjust to change or move on.
  • No matter what decisions you've made, this is the past.  Have no regrets.
  • Balance work, family, friends, and time off. Trust me on this one!
  • Always go with your gut. Always.   
My dogs are excited to see me.  They are barking, wagging their tails, and demanding my attention.  I promise myself that I will not think about tomorrow and enjoy my success today.  


1 comment:

  1. This is an unfortunate trend. Your friend should write about this company on Glassdoor so others can see. Thanks for sharing his/her story and I hope they make out.