There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” With more new, “young” graduates entering the workforce, have the expectations and attitudes in the workplace changed? What are the secrets, old and new, to success and are the secrets of the past still relevant today?
Suzy Moutinho, a human resources administrator and one of Canada’s Top 25 HR Professionals for 2017, explains that it isn’t always the number of years a person has worked that ensures success. “Successful individuals come from a more diverse background,” she believes. So while some may argue that 20-plus years of experience in a certain field makes an individual more qualified, Moutinho says this is just not the case. “Personally, I think the key to success is having an attitude of curiosity and good work ethic as well as the ability and desire to learn different roles within and outside of the industry that an individual is working in.”
Moutinho observes that “younger” less-experienced employees sometimes have ambitious expectations of climbing the ladder very quickly or expect to be given key roles or promotions early on in their careers. “When I started my career, says Moutinho, “I was told that you needed to work your way up the ranks to truly succeed.”
PwC senior associate and “younger” employee Ryan Pernal says, “In dealing with ‘older’ employees I think there can certainly be differences in expectations and attitudes. Not necessarily in a negative sense, but people with years of professional experience demand more because of their personal experience and knowledge. As well, older employees are quite often more senior in their position, which certainly breeds some of that expectation. However, my personal experiences with older employees have been very positive.”
Pernal believes that an employee’s work environment and workplace culture combined with communication skills fosters expectations more than age.
When it comes to the secrets to success, Pernal says, “I’m not entirely sure what the past secrets to success are, but I assume a lot of it overlaps with what makes people successful today. To me, if you have technical capabilities, work hard, are a good communicator and treat others with respect, then you will find success in whatever you do.”
Peter Fraiberg, owner of Grumans Catering and Delicatessen, echoes Pernal’s sentiments. “The keys to success in the workplace still ring true today as it did in the past,” he says “Work hard, be respectful to your peers and customers, and be the best you can be.”
The restaurant industry, says Fraiberg, brings a combination of young and seasoned veterans together. “The more mature employees seem to understand right away what it takes to get ahead while the younger ones want it now and don’t realize the patience and effort it requires to get ahead. What people today think of as great service is quite different from what I remember when I first entered the workforce. Detail is so important in what we do and many of the young ones just don’t have that same attention to detail.”
Some HR professionals believe it isn’t necessarily the expectations that have changed, but rather the attitudes, primarily as a result of modern technology.
Eleanor Culver, founder of Calgary-based Real HR, believes that “older” employees were tougher, complained less and kept their heads down more than the younger workers today. “In fact, there weren’t as many options, compared to today, to voice your opinion. The younger employees now have many ways to express themselves beyond the office walls: Hello, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Glassdoor, Reddit and Instagram.”
Today, according to Culver, we see more of the younger employees turning to social media, rather than speaking directly to their managers, to air their grievances. “They are polling their tribe on Reddit. They aren’t complaining to their immediate family and a few dozen friends; they are tweeting to 1,216 followers. They are not filing a complaint with their HR representative; they are putting a scorched-earth review on Glassdoor or Yelp.”
Whether young or old, Culver lists six important key elements, which in her opinion, contribute to success: plan; embody integrity; know yourself; contribute; learn; and get over yourself.
Ross Marsh, president of Ross W. Marsh Consulting Group Inc., says, “One of the biggest differences I notice these days is speed or pace, whereas in the past there was an expectation that you had to ‘put in your time’ or ‘pay your dues.’ Today, in the era of technology and tech billionaires who amass fortunes before they are 30, younger workers have far less patience for those concepts.
“There are a number of key ingredients to success that still apply,” says Marsh. But these key ingredients – good manners, a proper handshake, appropriate business attire, the ability to speak and the ability to write – seem less and less common today, he adds. “For me, I’ll take enthusiasm and a good attitude over experience. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, if you are difficult or unpleasant with co-workers or customers you are bad for business.”
And what about work-life balance? Has this changed over the years, or has it remained relatively the same?
Depending on where you work and your role, says Pernal, the balance can be difficult sometimes. “I think the balance has moved more towards working hard – positions are becoming increasingly competitive and the workforce as a whole has become more educated. That said, success is relative to each person’s goals and their career is what they want to make it, so the balance will vary from person to person.”
Culver believes that, back in the day, it was easier to separate work from personal activities. “You left work at work because that is where it resided. Your computer and phone were attached to your desk. You could only take the work that fit in your briefcase home – and because it was on paper, that wasn’t much.”
Now, she says, everything competes for your attention constantly. “Successful workplaces co-create the expectations around when work takes priority and when your personal matters take priority with the understanding that sometimes one pops into the other.”
In the 35 years that Fraiberg has been in the hospitality industry, he says he has watched it evolve and change. “The addition of all the cooking shows, celebrity chefs and social media has changed the world of food, drink and entertainment. In some ways it is better, but the reality is the hospitality industry is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. But more than that, it’s a commitment. In order to succeed you must commit to be the best.”
Culver emphasizes, “What is required for innovation to happen is for us all to listen, really listen, to each other. Once we understand what each person in the workforce values, then we can start to foster success in each individual, in each company, and in turn the city as a whole.”
Bridging the gap between “young” and “old” isn’t always easy, but Marsh says, “Harnessing the knowledge and experience of older workers and the knowledge and energy of younger workers can lead to powerful outcomes.”