This month Jan Masters, our guest columnist and founder of the insightful online magazine , takes an amusing look at the ever-increasing complications that are being added into the modern workplace. Whether it’s the jargon being used, endless meetings or the seemingly pointless data collection: “the culture of work is changing fast”, she says.
I’ve been having conversations with my 50+ friends about work. Turns out quite a few of us believe our age makes it harder to get a new job. When I was sending out my CV two years ago, I deleted all dates. Didn’t want to let on I was at uni back when Bonnie Tyler was having a Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Of course, I shouldn’t have felt the need. Not only is ageism unlawful, I don’t qualify for state pension until I’m 67, so there was nothing odd about applying for jobs at 58, especially as we have an ageing population – although I prefer to call it a population with experience. Or more to the point, a population with experience that is often under-utilised by employers.
Yes, the culture of work has been changing fast. But in the modern office, if us oldies ever fall silent or look confused, don’t assume it’s because we can’t hack the pace. It’s often because we’re wondering how, in the name of sanity, did straightforward stuff become so unnecessarily complicated.
It starts with jargon, the knotweed of the corporate office. Why ask if something is ‘baked in’ when you mean ‘included’? Why announce you don’t have the ‘bandwidth’, when you just haven’t got time? Or take a deep dive (analyse)? Drill down (analyse)? Cascade the information (tell everyone)? Arghhhh. How I want to squeeze that ‘low hanging fruit’ (easy goals) until they scream for mercy.
Talking of bandwidth, why have meetings multiplied uncontrollably? Sure, a number are vital. The trouble is while some people’s jobs revolve around calling and chairing gatherings, others’ jobs are more practical. More do-y. So when a meeting finishes, the organisers get to tick off that task, while the rest have an even longer list - projects they never finish properly because they keep being called into bloody meetings.
Much chin-scratching time is also devoted to pursuits such as identifying brand pillars and agonising over mission statements. I’ll give you a mission statement. ‘Stop faffing about and serve your customers better’. An example; I went into a large chemist for a mascara. The compartment in the fluorescent display was empty. It continued to be so for well over a week. I stopped bothering. But looking at the display, I imagined the tortuous process that doubtless went into creating it. Models. Photographers. Flights. Late nights. But here’s my tip. If you want to sell more product, fill it up.
As for endless data collection, don’t get me started. Well do. Because just how useful is much of it? The other week I was collared for a supermarket survey on the way out. I told the researcher I shopped there every day but he insisted I rate, on a scale of one to ten, how memorable the experience had been. I repeated I shopped there every day. He pushed for an answer. I shoulder-shrugged a seven. He then wanted to know why it wasn’t a ten. Good grief.
At this point, we heard shouting in the taramasalata aisle. Despite the fracas, he asked me to choose from a lengthy list of reasons why I’d bought the items in my basket. I explained with such a wide selection, reasons would differ but he needed to mark just one. So when I said, ‘Well, the flowers are a gift, but clearly the cheese isn’t a present’, he, unhearingly, expressed astonishment I was buying cheese as a present. As the contretemps in condiments turned nasty and the police were called, he continued to flash pictures of celebs, asking if I recognised any who had fronted different store campaigns. Distractedly, I volunteered ‘Sienna Miller’. Now, no doubt all those ridiculous answers have been extrapolated at some meeting into a distorted conclusion that two plus two equals Amanda Holden.
The truth is a lot of my mature mates are quietly shocked how much money businesses inject into internal navel-gazing. On consultants. Change-makers. Disruptors. In my day, disruptors were two blokes arguing about Spurs. Now it means someone comes in, throws everything up in the air, and then, quite often, leaves. What might be useful (and cheaper) is to ask everyone on the ground – both young and old - what isn’t working and then make changes if they sound sensible.
I know you can’t generalise but I do think many of us mature types can offer action not distraction. Because we spot old ideas dressed up as new ideas. Bad ideas disguised as good ideas. If only more of us could find our voice, we could be an asset. Champion the notion there’s no point in change for change’s sake. And to demonstrate that the truly confident employee is the one who fixes what’s wrong, fast, and is prepared to recognise when something is fine and leave well alone. Then go home. Maybe even on time.