The following excerpt is Chapter 8 of Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace by Jim Finkelstein and Mary Gavin.
“It’s not who you are underneath; it’s what you do that defines you.”
—Batman Begins, 2005
Filmmaker Woody Allen is credited with saying that 80 per cent of success is showing up. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy. And business writer Hal Lancaster has suggested that getting fired is nature’s way of telling you that you had the wrong job in the first place.
What do these sayings have in common (besides some humour)?
A grain of truth and a lot of myth. This chapter takes a playful but discerning look at common workplace myths that can hamper both Millennials’ and Boomers’ peace, productivity, promotion, and prosperity.
The Top 12 Workplace Myths, as Commonly Misunderstood by All Generations
We’ve put this idiosyncratic list together over the many years we’ve been in the consulting business. These myths seem to cause most workplace misunderstandings and career catastrophes. They are pretty much in order of how frequently we experience their fallout in our work, from least to most (in reverse order, to save the denouement for the end!).
12. You have to like your job to be happy.
Partially true. You spend three-fourths of your waking hours at work, so enjoying that time is pretty important. But the correlation between your happiness and your job can be overrated. The most important factors for happiness are strong personal relationships and meaningful life activities. If you have great friends, family, and outside interests, you can probably be happy even if you hate your job. (Imagine a Porta-Potty cleaner who’s in love, or someone in a so-so job who spends his free time volunteering at a community food bank.) According to a 2010 study conducted by The Conference Board, Americans are increasingly unhappy with their jobs: only 45 per cent claim to be satisfied, and roughly 64 per cent of workers under 25 say they are unhappy in their jobs. That said, if you truly hate your job and it’s making you miserable, you should leave it.
Don’t let people who hate their jobs poison the well in your organization. Move them over or out as fast as you can, without hesitation. They’ll thank you for it, some day, and so will everyone else pretty quickly.
11. The glass ceiling doesn’t exist any more.
Yes it does. The Millennials who reviewed the draft of this book had never heard of the glass ceiling. They had yet to encounter one, except perhaps at a hot dance club, so they were intrigued to learn that it is a barrier to upward mobility formed by the prejudice of those in charge against those who are not like them. The phrase “glass ceiling” is usually shorthand for male bosses keeping female workers in lower-paying, nonexecutive jobs when the women can see better jobs above them. News flash: Women still do not have the same opportunities for advancement as men. The Fortune 500 CEO list contains 15 females. The boards of directors of the Inc. 1000 include only a handful of females. The recession has caused the earnings gap between men and women to shrink, but according to USA Today, women still earn only 82.8 per cent of the median weekly wage of men. You do the math. While you’re at it, try to find executives of major firms who are people of colour, gay or lesbian, disabled, etc. They are rarer than hen’s teeth. Millennials can change this, joining those Boomers who have worked to change it for years.
10. The hardest workers get promoted.
Nope. The most likable people get promoted. Your mother was right: Good social skills are crucial to your career. Across the board, people would rather work with someone who is likable and incompetent than with someone who is skilled and obnoxious. As Tiziana Casciaro of Harvard Business School says, “How we value competence changes depending on whether we like someone or not.” Besides, people lacking social grace are perceived to lack other life and work competencies as well. If you are currently invested in this myth, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Bantam, 2005) is a good guide. It will tell you what you need to know to build and accurately assess relationships. Our advice is to open yourself up to possibilities and explore the greatest potential of your unique personality, learning what you need to do to become more likable.
9. Everyone has sex with co-workers.
Sorry, no. Everyone might think about having sex with someone in the office, but many people allow their forward brains to take precedence in the office setting. However, many of us can chalk up an office romance or two. And why not? The workplace offers opportunity (men and women together), motive (anti-boredom), and geographic convenience (most employees live within a reasonable distance of the office). In fact, 41 per cent of employed Americans aged 25 to 40 have admitted to having engaged in an office romance, according to a joint survey sponsored by Glamour magazine and www.Lawyers.com. Here’s the kicker: Employers had the most problems with office dalliances when the romance involved a manager dating a reporting staff person. And remember, the spectre of sexual harassment is always present – especially once the affair is over. Most important, keep sexting out of the work environment. It is universally banned, for good reason.
8. Office politics is about backstabbing.
Wrong again. Sure, some long knives will be out wherever you go, but office politics can also be about helping people get what they want. Figuring out what co-workers care about, and how to help them get it, obviates the need to strong-arm, disparage, or manipulate them. We don’t mean to say that you can bare your soul to colleagues and expect your confidences to be kept any more than you would expect that in a random group of acquaintances. Jealousy will still rear its ugly head. Use your judgment. Become politically savvy!
Share the Idiot’s Guide to Office Politics or your personal battle stories with young employees. Millennials may need a crash course. Make this part of a mentoring or orientation process so they get off on the right foot.
7. Do good work and you’ll do fine.
Nope. As writer Sam Ewing says, “It’s not the hours you put in your work that counts, it’s the work you put in the hours.” And no one will know what you’re doing in your cube unless you tell them. Let people know what you’re working on and tell them – especially your manager and manager’s manager – about its success. No one else will do it for you. Recognize that self-promotion is an art form; be careful that you don’t oversell. Don’t take credit for someone else’s good work. Give your colleagues the credit they deserve and you will stand out.
6. A great résumé will get you hired.
Not true. Only 10 per cent of jobs come from sending unsolicited résumés. Most jobs come from people leveraging their networks. When you make a connection with a prospective employer, your résumé will simply be glanced at to make sure you have the required skills and to check for obvious problems. Expand your network instead of obsessing over which descriptive adjective best describes your PowerPoint skills. And never lie or experiment with the truth on your résumé. You will be found out and fired. And don’t forget that employers today are checking Facebook pages faster than other references. Make sure yours doesn’t show a side of you that makes you an undesirable hire.
5. It’s better to emulate Donald Trump than to be yourself.
Nope. It’s better to be yourself and to keep learning. As Penelope Trunk writes on Guy Kawasaki’s blog, “Figure out how to do what you love, follow your heart’s desire, and you’ll be great at it. Those who stand out as leaders have a notable authenticity that enables them to make genuinely meaningful connections with a wide range of people.”
4. Millennials don’t work for the money but for the fulfilment.
Nonsense. Ask yourself again: If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you go back to your job the next day? Work is about money – see the previous chapters on this topic. Money is about freedom to make life choices.
3. E-mail is always the most efficient communication method.
No! It’s hard to remember how we got along without e-mail, but it’s decidedly misused and over-relied upon today. Calling a person or having face time with him can minimize confusion, and builds relationships. Without visual and auditory cues, people often misinterpret the intent and message of e-mails, even if you use those perky emoticons :-) (which is why they were invented). Face-to-face rules; voice is good; e-mail is third choice.
Sleep isn’t overrated. Insomniacs need to resist the temptation to reply to e-mail in the wee hours or they risk creating a work force that never sleeps.
2. The generation gap between Boomer bosses and Millennial workers hampers productivity and the pursuit of workplace happiness.
Maybe yes, maybe no. Although there is clearly an age difference, we argue strongly that it’s not a gap but a mash-up, a potential fusion and co-generational melding that leverages skills, attributes, and perspectives. If we focus on the gap, we impede the possibilities. Clearly people of different age groups see the world in different ways and bring different experience and skills to the table. Lassoing those skills to get that bronco moving forward with all of its energy intact is the goal. It’s like any other relationship issue: If you ignore it, the relationship will fail. As research scientist Jennifer Deal notes, “The so-called generation gap is, in large part, the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, fuelled by common insecurities and the desire for clout.”
1. You can have it all.
Absolutely not. This is the biggest myth of all. Here’s how it works in real life: You can have the things you want most only intermittently. That means sometimes your job comes first. Sometimes your family. Sometimes you. Your priorities will never line up like bars on a slot machine. Chasing this dream will ruin you. But the clearer you are about your priorities and setting boundaries, the better your chances of striking your personal balance. At least on some days! This truth about not having it all is universal, not generational.
As the philosopher and psychologist William James said, “Happiness is reflected in the ratio of one’s accomplishments to one’s aspirations. This suggests, of course, that when it comes to feeling happy in our lives, we can choose one of two paths: continually add to our list of accomplishments – or lower our expectations.” We would add a third path: a career path free of illusion. Myths are by definition illusions, widely held cultural beliefs that live at the intersection of imagination and reality. They often inspire us to greater efforts. An uncritical belief in them, however, skews our understanding of reality. Better to be myth-busters than misanthropes.
CHAPTER 8 FUSIONS
The most likable people get promoted, not the hardest workers.
Broadcast the work you’re doing, especially to your managers.
Be yourself. Really.
Without visual and auditory cues, people often misinterpret an email’s intent and message.
You cannot have it all. You can have the things you want most only intermittently.
Full title: Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace™
Copyright 2012 Jim Finkelstein and Mary Gavin. All Rights Reserved.