When the time comes for everyone to write their development plans, it’s usually the most experienced workers who challenge me on why they need one. I get it. How can an HR person two, three, even four decades your junior have the knowhow to nurture your development? What can they teach you that you don’t already know?
It probably feels like I’m interrupting your meal just to say you’re eating it wrong.
There is a myth that experience workers are disengaged because they are awaiting retirement. Working with a number of highly skilled and experienced workers, I find this not to be true. Experiences however, play a big role. A job might barely resemble what and experienced worker was first hired to do. Mature workers can feel like they are no longer wanted, essentially being asked to give up their seat at the table. Some mature workers have always been super engaged and have never come up for air on a topic like ‘development planning’ before. So why now? For an experienced employee, development planning can look a lot like dessert. Tantalizing but unnecessary.
I would argue, however, that it’s dangerous to skip dessert. A dismissive career stance that puts mature workers at a higher risk of becoming disengaged from their jobs. Continuously improving and growing your value to your employer will make you more engaged and fulfilled in the long run. There’s no reason to rule out the role development plans can play in that. With a thoughtful and collaborative approach, they remain powerful tools for mature workers.
Having said that, I’m not trying to hold up development plans as the silver bullet for career-end disengagement. There is no magic cure, but here are some ways I’ve seen mature workers stay engaged:
Mentoring and being mentored: Everyone can benefit from mentorship. I’m in the camp that says ‘reverse mentorship’ – millennials mentoring boomers – is a flawed concept. Mentorship is mentorship, and all kinds are beneficial. For mature workers, being a mentor and being mentored is a great way to stay engaged. There’s a satisfaction from passing your wisdom onto a younger generation, and embracing the challenges of learning new technologies and ways of working can keep you mentally involved. It’s been said that skipping a generation is the most effective way to do mentorship, so don’t ignore those fresh faces. They’ve got a lot to learn, and a lot to teach you.
Innovating: There’s nothing about your age that prevents you from being at the forefront of innovation in your company. In fact, your expertise and experience can give you an advantage over those entering the workforce. Your brand is established. Your reputation is solid. It’s time to take some risks! If there’s a project to plan for the next generation of your job, get involved. It takes a lot of courage to open yourself up to future-focused endeavors. The risk matches the reward: it’s the area where you are most likely to truly develop yourself and build a legacy. If you’re a mature worker who’s learned a lot about the business line you work in, it’s the best way to expand your knowledge even further and apply your experience. It can even be fun.
Being a health and wellness ambassador: Mature workers have had more time to understand important health issues in the workplace. They’re more likely to have seen the effects of burnout, physical dangers and other hazards of employment, either firsthand or through colleagues. They’ve also seen what it takes for people to have healthy, successful careers. Passing this knowledge onto younger workers, serving as a ‘health and wellness ambassador’, can add more value than you might initially think, and certainly has a feel-good aspect to it.
Changing what you value at work: Millennials value flexibility and quality of life, and it just so happens you could learn a thing or two from the ways they work. If you’ve become disillusioned with the 9-5 grind over the decades, taking a step back and shaking up your schedule could give you a new lease of life. If your peers see that you’re adapting to shifting workplace cultures, they’re more likely to respect what you have to offer and work alongside you productively.
The first three of these four goals have something in common: if done well, they can result in recognition from your colleagues and higher ups. I’m a firm believer in the idea that recognition is what motivates people. And if you take your development plan seriously, you’ll get even more of it, because HR will be actively looking at your goals and results.
Think of your career like dining at a restaurant. You stayed patient throughout the starter, building the skills that prepared you for the main course. You pushed through the main, hopefully gaining some hard-earned recognition and financial security along the way. So why skip the sweet, fulfilling conclusion? Save room for dessert.
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