Let’s be honest, making a decision to restructure an organisation is not an easy one. While the economics, technology and delivery methods sometimes make it a necessary decision, it doesn’t make it any easier for those involved in the conversation. If there are mature workers involved in the transition, the impact can be broader than for early career stage employees.
Before you add twenty years and think we’re talking about someone really old, a mature worker is classified as anyone over 50 years old. In reality, 50 only seems old until you get there. For some they’re only part way through a productive career path, as well as in the midst of an expensive life phase due to housing and educating a family.
There is some positive news with organisations embracing age diversity and individuals embracing lifelong learning. The reality is, change takes time and effort which, for many mature workers leading busy lives, there’s not a lot of time available.
Few organisations or individuals change just because they feel like shaking things up. Instead we’re motivated by an imperative to survive.
How do mature employees experience workplace transition?
With the rate of change and uncertainty, being able to focus on ‘business as usual’ for many employees would be a welcome relief. Resistance to change occurs because it’s uncomfortable and uncertain. To compound that, the conversation around what change means for their mature workers is danced around, and often never directly addressed. With many mature workers sensitive to ageism, this avoidance creates further uncertainty and distrust.
As human beings we tend to avoid raising a conversation or addressing a problem, we don’t have a positive solution for.
The role of HR in communicating change
If you have the unenviable task of communicating organisational change and displacing employees, there will be employees that you feel comfortable in their ability to transition successfully, because their market is buoyant and they are actively connected.
But what about the employees that have been with the company for years, even decades with personal plans and identity connected to what they do and who they work for? What about employees that are possibly not far from retirement, but not quite ready?
Instead of avoidance, we need to have constructive conversations about where to next throughout their employment experience and well before the discussion of outdated skills or a restructure develops.
Challenges for the long term employee facing redundancy
Over the last few decades, an employee with tenure over 10 – 15 years with one organisation may be viewed as institutionalised or stagnant. If we look a little closer, it may be less about the length of tenure, but more so of long tenure with no demonstrable change or development over that time.
The biggest challenges that long term employees confront when faced with sudden change is:
- Siloed specialists – This employee has been with the organisation for years – an expert in the organisation, industry, systems and their subject matter within it. If the industry has been stagnant or the organisation has not kept pace with technical change, the individual can find themselves with outdated and narrow skills that makes their transition challenging, and potentially open them to long term unemployment.
- Lack of active network – If maintaining an active network is not a natural instinct, or part of a job function, the busyness of life can relegate maintaining a network to the bottom of the priority list. An active network can not only open doors to opportunities, but also provide the needed moral support and inside knowledge essential for transition.
- Lack of perceived options – When we’re starting a career, the world of work can be an adventure laid out in front of us. But flag a challenging situation during mid to late career and often the advice from peers quickly becomes narrow and anxious, reflecting their own fears. Many careers consume all of our time and head space, so when looking for options, the result is often limited to the view from the fishbowl.
Redundancy is like a divorce the employee didn’t see coming. Through our outplacement programs, we see many individuals that have worked long and hard for one organisation, trading their expertise and commitment for security and identity.
When this arrangement is suddenly broken, the organisation has plans to bounce back following the announcement. But for long term and mature employees, the grief cycle can be exacerbated, mental health impacted, and a risk of long term unemployment very real at a vulnerable point in their lives. This can go some way to explaining why long term unemployment spikes in the 55 – 64 year age bracket.
As our careers progress, life gets more complicated and unique, not simpler. Like marriage counselling, career development discussions are best done when people feel safe and secure. If we can keep one eye on the future, and build the conversation around adapting to change and future proofing careers through consistent and practical actions, there is an opportunity for redeployment or transition to occur faster. Maybe change could feel less like a divorce.