I'm getting really old. And cranky. This story is tongue-in-cheek humor, I get that, but days after I read it on More.com, it’s still annoying. (And by the way, I absolutely act old on my cell phone. I really, really miss landlines and being able to hear every word on every call and never having a battery die mid-sentence. There. I said it.)
I re-read it and wondered if I could substitute the words “like a woman” for “old” but then I realized that wasn’t the problem. The piece was aggravating because apparently being “old” at work is also code for “responsible” and “authoritative” and “focused” and “reliable.” Clearly, these are attributes few people value in an employee these days. It's aggravating because there is some portion of the workforce that actually agrees with every single point in the article because they are, well, not "old."
You know I'm right. Who has time for such mundane things like punctuality, planning and learning from experience in our status-updating, tweeting, checked-in everywhere we go, pinning our latest fancy, youth-obsessed world? I ask you: Why go to work if it isn’t fun, or at least a little freakin’ awesome every day?
What follows are the “rules” about how NOT to act old at work, with my comments following each. Once again, I get it: it's humor, and it's directed toward people of a certain age. Fine. Lovely. But somehow this feels like the joke could be lost on an entire generation, which troubles me.
How Not to Act Old at Work
Hint: Don’t bring the donuts.
Don’t arrive at the crack of dawn and make everybody feel guilty for not being there as early as you. If you’re bushy-tailed and at your desk by 6:35, at least have the good grace to keep your mouth shut about it.
Translation: How to act young and awesome: Stroll in just about on time and make everyone feel great about putting in just about 40 hours a week. I mean, we don’t live to work, right? How very “like your parents” of you to arrive early and stay late.
Don’t bring the donuts. You don’t need to be Mommy or Daddy to the entire office, showing up with coffee, remembering all the birthdays, making sure everybody signs the card.
Translation: This one I almost agree with. My overall feeling is this: we all have one birthday a year and we all get to choose exactly how much of a spotlight we want to shine on it at work each year. Once we all agree on this, we get to think about one birthday in the office: our own. If you want to display balloons and offer cake to the team that day, by all means start the party. On the other hand, if you want to let the day quietly come and go: fine by me. Or mix and match the options: keep mum about your own day but send a greeting card to everyone in your group or in your company if you want. Lovely.
But then again, having someone in the department who likes remembering co-worker birthdays and coordinating the celebrations means they’re probably just organized and nice. Why does that make them “old?” When did that happen?
Stifle the self-aggrandizing anecdotes. Reminiscing about the year you almost won the Pulitzer or that time you saved the company a million dollars won’t convince people you’re cooler than they already think you are.
Translation: “…Cooler than they think you are?” How about more accomplished? How about they may help younger co-workers realize you may just be able to teach them something about the business? When did accomplishments have to make you "cooler?" I get the feeling that anyone who has done anything at all noteworthy shouldn’t reveal it to younger co-workers because that will somehow diminish the feeling of awesomeness among them. No one likes a braggart but working with brilliant people? I like that.
Don’t be tough. The young gestalt is much softer and less direct. People ask questions and seem to defer to others even when they have a strong opinion. And if they want to do it their way anyway, they’ll just go ahead without discussion or confrontation.
Translation: This is almost too much to bear. “Much softer and less direct” means everyone is right and no one knows more than anyone else. Don’t be too demanding; don’t make anyone feel unprepared or uncomfortable or challenged. Remember: everyone is a winner and everyone can do anything they want to do.
Look, I respect and learn from the young people I work with every single day. They are bright, energetic and talented. But the idea of not being “tough” when the work calls for strong direction, leadership and yes, authority, because their sensibility is ‘much softer and less direct’ is ridiculous. This isn’t a support group. It’s an office.
Don’t stay glued to your chair. Rolling everywhere, avoiding getting up and walking across the room, and sitting there till your ass grows around the cushion is definitely acting old—and won’t do much for the way you look, either.
Translation: Go hang out in someone’s office; or in the break room, or in the conference room, or in the cafeteria, or wherever you’re not doing any work. Too much time in your office makes you no fun and feels too much like you’re trying to show up everyone else.
No long-range planning. Looking too far ahead, wanting firm commitments on times and places far (i.e., more than a day or two) into the future, is definitely an old thing. If you simply must plan (I know I must), do it in secret and be flexible if things change.
Translation: Awesomeness of any kind may be right around the corner and how could you be expected to commit to a Thursday morning meeting on a Tuesday afternoon? And if you think keeping your calendar up to date and informing coworkers of your schedule is polite and efficient, you’re wrong. It’s acting ‘old.’
Don’t be a human archive. There may be value in having someone at a company who can detail the résumés of everyone who has held a job there since 1981, who can remember what year manual typewriters were upgraded to electrics and when secretaries were replaced by voice mail. But there isn’t much value in letting that person be you.
Translation: Your experience is worth nothing. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that business is cyclical; that everything old is new again; that lots of smart people have come before you and, in fact, done some pretty successful things is thinking “young.” Let's face it: for some people of a certain (young) age, nothing is real until they've done it, right? What good can be gained from experience or tapping the knowledge of your older co-workers?
So what have we learned? If you've been in the workforce for more than one presidential term, and want to be perceived as young as awesome, keep your experience to yourself and /or risk coming across as too “tough.” Watch what time you show up in the morning and how much time you actually spend in your office (later and as little as possible are the correct options.) Don’t make any commitments to things like quarterly forecasts or God forbid strategic plans that outline the approach you'll take with the business over the next five years.
If these are the new rules of business, we’re doomed. Gold smart phone, anyone?