I'm 51, have worked in media since I was 20 and have been working as an Assistant to female MD for the past year. I raised two daughters by myself - now both in their late 20's and I have a fantastic relationship with them both. I work very well with the MD but I find the interaction with the team very difficult. They are all at least 25 to 30 years younger than me and have been in the company a little longer than I. For them, this is their first 'real' job and they scoff at processes I introduce, treat me like I'm ancient and exclude me from their conversations. Always instant messaging each other and having private jokes. It's wearing me down and I find I am losing my confidence. I have spoken to my manager about this and have been told just to ignore them as they are just kids...
This situation is so poignant AK, it hurts that you are being made to feel irrelevant at the
tender age of 51, but this may not be about your age. It may be about territorial warfare, it
may simply be about ways of doing things or it may be that everyone is feeling disrespected!
Whatever the cause, this is not right. If your manager sees the team as 'just kids', what they are missing is that those 'just kids' are the leaders of tomorrow. Unfortunately, all of you
have been dehumanised in this situation. If you want to be able to enjoy your work and feel
respected, something is going to have to give. We spoke to Sarah Marr Group HR Manager
for PREM Group Ireland & UK, an international hotel group with over 1000 staff about culture
and how to mind it.
SARAH, GROUP HR MANAGER, PREM GROUP
I really feel for you in this situation, it is truly debilitating to feel that you're on your own,
which is where you seem to be right now. The behaviour that you're experiencing is not
good. But just try something for me, see if you can flip the situation AK ,and try to see things
through the eyes of your younger colleagues. It can be hard to listen and feel empathetic
towards people whom you feel are undermining you, but, I wonder if you were able to put
aside a natural inclination to feel defensive and actively try to understand why they are
resisting your processes, then that might be a good starting point for getting relationships
with your colleagues back on track. You may find that while the processes may be right for
you, they may not be right for them, for any number of reasons, good or bad. Maybe they
see you as bringing in rules for rules sake, and while you're genuinely trying to move things forward, perhaps you're unknowingly blocking progress.
What I would suggest as a first step is a department meeting to come to agreement about
everyone’s common purpose and common goals. As a team you can look at what's working and what's not and how you can create an environment in which everyone can thrive. Of
course, this is easier said than done in a climate where mutual respect is not top of the
cultural agenda. And there are cultural issues at play in this situation. Culture can unfortunately be affected by the lowest common denominator.
We're blessed in the company where I work, PREM Group, to have a culture based on respect. A company’s culture can’t just be established overnight. It starts with good and steady leadership and evolves over time. Not everything is perfect in PREM, but we all know what’s expected of us as people in this organisation and it starts with respect. Until recently, we hadn't captured our culture in written format, but we knew it was important to do so. In 2018 we went through a process involving hundreds of our senior managers ending up with a synopsis of our culture comprised of a written description of our values, traits and ethos. It all could be summed up in our mantra ‘do the right thing’.
When we had finished, we came across LIFT Ireland, a non-profit social enterprise that
embeds an roundtable programme, twenty minutes a week for eight weeks, to make better leaders of all of us, at every level. This initiative is beautifully simple and doesn’t take long to get off the ground. Immediately we recognised that the essence of LIFT was an exact reflection of the culture of our company. That's why we decided last year to bring LIFT into the organisation, because it meant that across the board, there was one simple system of ensuring we established a common language around personal leadership.
As a corporate partner we committed to grow LIFT and support it, to share the programme for free with those who could not afford to pay, or, in other cases, an amount appropriate to the profitability of the organisation. An individual, like yourself, can bring LIFT into an organisation for free if they like.
LIFT encourages participants to reflect on different leadership values (including respect,
accountability, competence and listening) and then apply them to themselves. It can focus your mind on what type of leader you are and where you have the potential to be even better. Imagine the impact on your company culture, AK, if everyone on your team were to do this.
If a company has a value set that sits as a plaque on the wall, that can easily mean nothing. It
certainly is not something that can be managed in peoples behaviours out of sight across
every level. LIFT is beautifully non-hierarchical. It has meaning for everyone, regardless of
their seniority in the company. A key appeal for us in embarking on LIFT was how easy it was for the programme to transfer across age groups as well as across levels of seniority. People with different skills, from different departments, different age profiles, different nationalities and different lengths of service worked together in the various roundtables and there is no doubt about it that it broke down barriers and created a better team spirit.
What I find interesting is how often LIFT is referred to in conversation, in a joking, not really
joking way, people would comment on how they were going to actively listen. Once you
become aware of what good listening is, it's very hard to go back. It has also made people
very aware of the impact of their words, particularly senior people. A culture of openness and
honesty has many positives, but it can lead to painful moments for someone who is less
confident or may find it difficult to communicate with someone in a more senior position.
They can be wounded by brutal honesty if it"s not tempered by empathy and context. Being
able to remind people of our company’s commitment to the LIFT principles is a fabulously
friendly way to say 'Hey, I'm not being listened to here'.
Once you understand these good leadership values, you simply can't un-know them.
To find out when the next free LIFT training session is on, click here.
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