Don’t be the employee that everyone wishes would just retire — from the Career Opportunities Podcast
We have all seen them in nearly every place we work — employees that should have retired years ago. They do their work as if they are living in another era. They are left to plod along in the same way they have for years while others have to work around them. What is odd is they are often old before their time. They might still be in the 40’s, but their ideas, preconceptions and actions are old, tired and ineffective. Worse still, what if you are the employee that everyone wishes would just retire? What does it say about you, your attitudes and your work? What can you do about it?
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It is human nature that we can all become set in our ways. Over the years we discover our likes and dislikes — what food we want to eat, what movies we like to see, what music we listen to. In many ways, that is not an issue. We are all allowed our likes and dislikes. In work, though, change is more intrusive. We are presented with new ideas, new methods, new systems and expected to embrace them, use them, understand them. This is simply part of working as part of a group. We have to find a balance between our own desires and the goals of the company. For many, though, change becomes a battle of wills. They cling to the old ways and refuse to adopt the new. In the worst cases, they actually sabotage efforts to adapt to change.
For many people, change threatens their place in the world. New technology may route around the hard manual labor they once did. New accounting systems may reduce the importance of their day-to-day work. New computers may require the learning of a new set of skills and software. This is where rebellion and rejection sets in.
So, how do you make sure you don’t become the person that everyone wishes would retire? First and most importantly, you must understand that change will be constant no matter what work you do or where you do it. Sometimes it will be dramatic change and at other times it will be slow and steady, but change is not something you can avoid. Embrace change in your life and your work and you will be happier and more effective. Stress rises when we try to ignore or sabotage change in a misguided effort to protect our position.
In the workplace, there are several important ways of addressing change. First, do everything you can to keep your skills and knowledge current and useful. No matter what you do, certain parts of your skills and knowledge will be made obsolete on a regular basis. This isn’t something to fear or hate, but rather accept. It is simply part of today’s work and life reality.
Take myself as an example. With each new version of Mac OS X or Windows, huge swaths of my knowledge are no longer as useful or necessary as they once were. Add in the slow decline of other software, Internet services and social media sites and I would say that perhaps 10% of my knowledge or more is rendered obsolete each month. While I have my preferences in what technology I use in my personal world, life (and technology) moves on — at an ever faster rate.
Next, when presented with change at work, see it as an opportunity to grow your knowledge and your career. If you are involved early in the process you can have a great effect on how it is implemented and spot any potential problems. You’ll be seen as someone who is ready to take on new challenges instead of being one of those known for resisting the change (and probably complaining about it loudly in the break room.) It is easy to see on which side of that equation lies advancement, pay raises and promotion.
Third, take on the role of advisor, not adversary when presented with new change. Show clearly and unemotionally where the change may cause additional problems, but do not become a roadblock. After my 30+ years in the work world, I can tell you that roadblocks always suffer 2 fates. They are either driven over or they are routed around. Either way, you will be left behind as change passes you by minimizing your productivity, your effectiveness, and very likely, your career. Roadblocks are the most common type of people that fellow employees and managers would like to be rid of.
Finally, if you find yourself resistant to change because it means too much work, too much energy, too much new learning or simply too much of anything — maybe it is time you did everyone a favor and retire. If you are too young to retire, then perhaps you simply need to move on to another job or career that is more adapted to your wants, needs and desires. Whatever you do, don’t be the person everyone else is talking about and wishing they would simply retire. Eventually you will “retire” in some way, whether you want to or not.