I work for a chemical company in a support function. I was in graduate school in the 1980s, and so have been in the workforce for about 25 years. I’ve been in my current position for some time, and it is one that has traditionally been filled by a mix of Ph.D. and M.S. chemists, usually mid-to-late career. However, as budgets have gotten leaner over the years, the positions in our department have been filled more and more with B.S. chemists, and ones who are earlier in their careers. I estimate that their salaries are about ½ to ¾ of mine.
Several years ago, I noticed a trend of the newer persons being given the better assignments, with more responsibilities and more visibility, compared to those of us with more years of service. The net effect of this trend is that we older workers have become marginalized, along with ending up doing more routine work.
Now, our division managers justify all this by saying that the newer people need to have opportunities, so they can ‘shine’ and advance in their careers. Some of these individuals certainly do rise to the occasion, while others really stumble along. Sometimes they will surreptitiously ask one of us more experienced individuals for help, and we give it, though we won’t get any credit for these contributions.
My take on all this is that we older workers are being positioned to be the next in line to be laid off, if layoffs come down the pike. We don’t appear to be important contributors anymore; with the work we do so routine, anyone could do it. However, I don’t share these thoughts with my older coworkers, because they are so in awe of the management that I don’t think they would believe me.
So, my response to all this is to look for opportunities in which I can get some visibility and find more interesting projects to work on. Asking my management for such work is useless; they’ve already decided to favor the younger workers.
Trying to impress my managers by working harder is also fruitless; I’ve watched my coworkers try to do so, with limited results. Instead, I’ve taken to heart some advice an older relative once gave me: You don’t have to impress your manager. You have to impress the people that your manager is impressed with.
So true. And the persons who impress my management are the managers and senior scientists in the departments for which we provide our support services. For the past several years, I have made a concerted effort to interact with these groups when it appears feasible, by asking to attend meetings and volunteering to aid them in their work. If they ask me for input on their programs, I always do somewhat more than what they’ve asked for. I also advise them on additional things that I can do for them, with emphasis on my areas of expertise, distinct from those of my coworkers, young and old. If I go to one of their meetings, I try to ask at least one question, with the aim to show that I’m interested in their program goals.
To further all this, I’ve also volunteered to give two talks to these other departments on the type of work that I and my coworkers do. I’ve made certain to put everything in terms that the attendees can easily understand and relate to. I emphasize how the services we provide help them to meet their business goals, and most of all meet the needs of our company’s external customers. To placate my own managers, I talk about all the different services my department provides, just so I look like the proverbial ‘team player’.
I’d say these multi-year efforts have been about 25% successful, and that 25% has made a big difference. I feel more in tune with what’s going on in our company, rather than sitting on the sidelines. And it gives me somewhat more control over my work, rather than having to be so passive (which isn’t my nature). My direct management seems to be of two minds about all this; they don’t appear to care for my greater visibility, but they do like that our department gets a cut of this visibility, so they’re not entirely negative about all this.
Now, I’m not striving to get any promotions out of these efforts. This is simply a job-preservation project, and so far it’s worked. As my friend Nancy, a sales rep at a wallpaper company, has told me “People our age work for three things. We work to pay the mortgage, to save for retirement, and to have health insurance.” So true.
Thanks to PQ for writing this food for thought. - CJ