I didn’t know that at 38 years old I would work for someone who was literally half my age, but let me explain why it was a refreshing experience:
- A 19 year old could do your job. The CEO I was working with every day had almost everything he needed to run his company. “At first I made quite a few mistakes because I had no idea how to manage funds and people. It has been a steep learning curve, and every day I keep figuring it out,” he explained to me. With as much verve as any baby boomer I know, he negotiated with partners, clients, and employees, kept a guiding hand on the image of the company through PR and communications, prepared documents for future investors, planned events and held meetings. Because being the boss is not about knowing everything, but about knowing your strengths and hiring people who are strong where you are weak. And then of course, listening to them and letting them do their jobs to advance the whole organization.
- They are cutting out several steps on the road toward figuring it all out. In contrast to millennials, many people I know in their late 30s and early 40s are making a significant life change to put more meaning into their professional life. I see a friend leaving a corporate job for an NGO, another getting an MBA and changing sectors in pursuits of her passion, and some are scaling back to have a family, get more time with children, or travel more. However, the younger generation looks for meaning first, perhaps avoiding the need for a midlife identity crisis. Said one twenty-something colleague, “I already went through a period where nothing seemed to matter. When I got this job, it really motivated me to invest myself because the organization has a noble purpose.”
- They won’t sacrifice their personal lives for their professional lives. “I don’t open my work emails at home,” said one colleague from the team. “When I get home, I have dinner, spend time with people, and I also need a lot of sleep.” That meant that there was considerably more time concentrated on working intensively while actually in the office. There was very little tolerance for any work practice that was seen to be wasting time (long meetings, too much email, but also things like planning for an event and brainstorming). And whenever someone brought up a problem, the usual reaction was: “Ok would you please fix it or take it to the person concerned by the problem?”
- They are conscious of injustice in the world, and believe that it is their job to do something about it. When I asked one of my colleagues what was at the core of his motivation at work, he said: “I traveled a lot and have seen a lot of poverty. When you travel as a tourist, that can be shocking. But when you live for a while in another country, you see how the whole thing works. You see that you were lucky and that other kid doesn’t have the same opportunities. So I have a lot of expectations from my company, that it will bring a community together to act.”
- They are extremely inclusive and appreciative. While I was only there for two months, and I was twice as old as the youngest person in the group, I found myself invited into group pictures and included in lunches and evenings out. In fact, compared with other work settings that I have been involved in, these people said thank you more often, were better listeners, commented on the utility of each other’s contributions, and seemed more solution-oriented. But this inclusiveness was also extended to those we did not know. “I was a student and totally broke at one time. What I like about working here is this idea that you’re not alone anymore. Even if you don’t have money, you can participate in what we’re doing here.”
*For two months, I had the experience of working as a consultant in the Goodeed Home Office and accompanying the international launch of its website. If you haven’t yet heard of the start-up Goodeed.com, I invite you to discover this platform that allows you, the user, to turn advertising revenues into humanitarian aid for NGOs such as UNICEF, the UN World Food Programme, WeForest, and soon WWF and others.