Tag Archives: Baby Boomers

New Management for the New Millennium

June 7, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kids today…they’re entitled, disrespectful brats who can’t write a complete sentence and are always playing with their phones.

Harumph.

You know, those so-called Millennials born between 1980 and 2000 with the silver spoons in their mouths. The ones who lost, but still got a trophy. The ones doing all the Snapchatting, Tweeting, and Tinder-swiping.

They roll in late, take long lunches, and then leave early. Then they whine for a pat on the back.

Funny thing is, none of that is really true. It’s just a variation on what every older generation likes to say about “kids these days.”

We are surrounded by Millennials—about 55.9 million of them are in the workforce today, the largest of any cohort. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers number about 49 million in each group, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Millennial1WebEvery year it grows increasingly more probable that a millennial is signing paychecks. They’re making important decisions at businesses everywhere. BVH Architects, for example, is announcing a restructuring of their organization this month. This includes putting into key positions people such as 35-year-old Mark Bacon, their new creative director.

To understand the influences a Millennial might have as a manager in the workplace is to understand that Millennials are just a product of their parents and the times—times that have seen remarkable technological advances in the last 30 years, taking us from rotary phones and fax machines to the wonders of Google and the full breadth of human knowledge readily accessible from even the cheapest smartphone.

Alec Levenson, a Yale-educated economics professor at the University of Southern California, has studied generational differences for most of his career. His book, What Millennials Want from Work, carries one inescapable theme: “Millennials want what older generations have always wanted—an interesting job that pays well, where they work with people they like and trust, have access to development and the opportunity to advance, are shown appreciation on a regular basis, and don’t have to leave.”

While they may not be all that different from those who came before them, they are a complex mix of privilege and disadvantage. They came of age as the smartest and most educated—but also the most indebted—generation ever, during one of the worst U.S. economic periods since the Depression.

It’s a tough world out there for Millennials, made tougher by skeptical older generations who are unwilling to step back.

Kristin Streff Barnett, 33, is the director of Employment Services at First National Bank. She manages a couple of millennials, but most of her staff consists of people in the Gen X or Baby Boomer classifications.  As a manager, she invokes a laid back style and tries to be as flexible as possible.

“I am more relaxed than my team desires at times,” she says. “The bank is not the most important thing in your life.”

Nonetheless, she understands that as a younger manager, she needs to built trust and credibility with any team she manages.

“There’s a certain amount of proving yourself I have to do,” Barnett says. “I don’t see that as part of my age. I’ve had seven years of management experience, and I think it’s gotten easier with time.”

Although Barnett works at a bank, the dress codes and flexibility of the company have become more relaxed as the company evolves. She has been known to wear a suit, but she won’t be seen in flip flops at the office. And she knows how to answer an office telephone and leave voice mail.

Bacon is transitioning from a non-management position to managing a team of 52, but he doesn’t see himself barking orders at minions. “It’s not hierarchical, it’s much more about collaboration and integration with project teams.”

Moving millennials into management is often more important than bosses realize. Brandi Goldapp, the 45-year-old owner of  Omaha event planning firm, A View Premier Event Venues, needed help connecting with a younger generation. After decades of success in the industry, something changed.

“Our product didn’t change,” she said. “But there was a disconnect.”

She realized something. Her clients were millennials, who nationally account for roughly 81 million people—many of whom are now entering the life stages of marriage and building families.

So she put a few Millennials in charge.

Her business has now expanded to two additional locations, including the construction of an entirely new building. Most of their venues are booked solid several months in advance, and most of that traces back to the tireless energy of her management team—a pair of dynamo Millennials.

“I believe my business is as successful as it is because of them,” Goldapp said.

Staying ahead of the curve usually involves keeping a close eye on a smartphone, which can be aggravating for the older set. But those phones are for more than Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. The gadgets allow them to be constantly “on the clock,” accessing email, contacts, documents, and calendars. Anywhere, anytime.

The tradeoff? Just as they don’t mind working from home, they expect the boss to accept some of their personal life bleeding into work.

“I think it’s important to remember how important all aspects of their lives are to them,” Barnett says.

Nonetheless, they want to work. Another key piece to understanding Millennials is their need for a sense of ownership, or making a contribution to the larger whole, in a real, tangible way.

“That people are forgetting the fact that there’s still integrity at work,” says Rachel Tew, the 28-year-old tattooed marketing specialist at Mid-America Center. “My work stays at work, but my mind is always looking at opportunities. An older generation believed in work…If I have a deadline, I never miss a deadline.”

Another key piece to understanding Millennials is their need for a sense of ownership, or making a contribution to the larger whole, in a real, tangible way.

Goldapp promoted Millennials in her event planning business as she started developing plans for a new building to accommodate the company’s growth. She brought in her young protégées for input. Together they sketched plans on napkins and visited the construction site.

Goldapp described the process from her small 12-feet x 12-feet office in the new building. She shares the space with her two managers. It’s crammed with two desks and a small fridge. One wall is painted bright orange, another is painted gold, and she loves every bit of it.

“I’ve never had an office,” Goldapp said with a wide grin. It never even occurred to her to include it in the plans, but it did to her 24-year-old sales manager, Britney McRoberts, who had to make a workspace wherever she could.

McRoberts laughed as she recalled the conversation with Goldapp: “If you want us to work smarter and not harder,” McRoberts said, “then we need a desk and a place where we can shut a door. And then you need to paint the walls gold.”

McRoberts also helped rebrand the business, which continued to grow. That meant there was going to be more work for everyone, but not enough to justify hiring more help. Goldapp said they didn’t complain, or ask for raises. They saw the bigger picture.

The bigger issue for Levenson is that problems with management in the workplace are systemic.

“One of the biggest problems we have in organizations,” he said, “is that people get put into frontline management roles without any evidence that they can actually work as managers.”

Corporate policies for hiring, training, and retaining talented leaders leave a lot to be desired across the board, not just Millennials. Changing policies and practices that benefit Millennials would benefit all, he said.

Goldapp laughs at the idea of generalizing the Millennial generation in anything less than flattering terms.

“If you want your business to survive, you better make some changes,” she said.

Goldapp put down a few swaths of gold paint, had a few conversations, outlined expectations, and let the kids take care of the rest.

What Happened to My Lincoln Logs?

September 17, 2015 by

The interwebs tell me that the academic term I’ve been searching for is something called “structured block play.” You know, LEGOS, building blocks, and the like.

My 5-year-old grandson, Easton, is particularly enthralled with structured block play. Such toys in the hands of growing minds have many benefits in childhood development. Besides the obvious of honing fine motor skills—that ability to dope out how this piece fits into that one—there are higher cognitive functions at work here.

Children must be able to envision a finished product, one that begins with nothing more than a mental blueprint of their own making. They are confronted with a hodgepodge of disparate parts and must somehow envision a cohesive whole. Along the way they learn about spatial relationships, geometry, math, and problem-solving.

But that’s not Easton’s game.

He almost never sets out to build anything. Sure, he’ll occasionally erect a towering skyscraper of sorts, but his structured block play is almost always a lot less…well, structured.

He can occupy himself for what seems forever assembling intricate two-dimensional patterns on the floor, ones that seemingly serve no purpose other than to fuel his imagination. Some look like abstract art. Others evoke images reminiscent of those spindly models of molecules seen in science labs. The only common denominator appears to be the establishment and repetition of pattern for pattern’s sake.

Further distancing himself from the intended purpose of his toys, he eschews the “connectedness” functionality of the blocks. Instead of joining the pieces together, he lays them end-to-end.

Easton is usually at a loss for words in describing his convoluted creations, and I learned long ago to consider his installation art as something dwelling in the realm of the arcane, even the trippy.

I’d give anything to get inside Easton’s head to survey the workings of his brain as he puzzles through these puzzling arrays. Just what the heck is going on in that noodle of his as he conceives such fantastical explosions of variegated color?

I intended to begin this column reflecting on childhood memories of playing for hours on end with a set of Lincoln Logs. The problem is that such a statement would be a lie. It was impossible to tinker with toys like Lincoln Logs for any period of time without quickly losing interest. Maybe that’s because they represented an entirely different form of play, one decidedly lacking in possibilities compared to the limitless selection of block toys available today.

No, young children now have a more unfettered mode of play. Millennials are the first generation to have had the benefit of such free-association upbringings, and they’re the people who are defining a brave new world where imagination is the most prized of skills.

Baby Boomers like me had the endgame—the desired finished product—handed to them for all to see right there in the picture of a fort on that box of Lincoln Logs.

Easton is learning to think outside the box.

DWilliams1

Editor David Williams

Blocks1

Older, Educated, and Still Looking

February 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in Spring 2015 B2B magazine.

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Mike Gawley punctuated the day he was let go from his job with a thud.

As he was cleaning out his desk after 30-plus years at a company he had grown and nurtured, Gawley could feel the tension tightening around him. He hadn’t eaten very much that day nor did he drink enough water.

“And I passed out,” he says matter-of-factly, with no dramatic gestures. “I passed out that evening during a prayer service. I knew then my health was going to be the most important thing.”

Keeping his mind and body as free from stress as possible is perhaps the reason Gawley, 58, gathers his thoughts and measures his words carefully about the difficulties in finding a job—as if he’s still trying to grasp what happened to him upon hearing the words, “Your services are no longer needed.” On a June day in 2013 Gawley went from president and CEO of Oakview Construction, a developer of commercial properties, to just another name on the Great Recession’s roster of its hardest-hit demographic: skilled workers ages 55-64.

“We try hard to avoid recessions because they’re not a shared burden; their cost (in joblessness) tends to fall disproportionately on certain people in an unpredictable way,” says Dr. Eric Thompson, an economics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As director of the Bureau of Business Research, Dr. Thompson crunches a lot of data, but he’s sensitive to the human toll the numbers represent. “People hear, ‘Oh, the economy has recovered,’ but it hasn’t recovered for them because their skills haven’t transferred to a position comparable to the one they lost.”

Even by Nebraska standards, the last downturn—technically pegged from December 2007 to June 2009—was pretty tough overall. The unemployment rate of 55- to 64-year-olds stood at 2.2 percent statewide in 2006 (pre-recession) but rose to 2.8 percent in 2013. Nationally, the jump was much greater—3.1 percent in 2006 to 5.8 percent in 2013. Nebraska did outpace the nation in one area, however.

graph“There was a growth in discouraged workers here, greater than the national average, among those 55 and over,” says Dr. Thompson, referring to those who stopped looking for jobs.

Mike Gawley had never looked for a job before. He didn’t have to. As a construction engineering major at Iowa State, the tall, lean farm kid from rural western Iowa hooked up with Oakview Construction in Red Oak during the summers and had a job waiting for him upon graduation in 1978. He oversaw a variety of building projects before opening a branch office across the river in Omaha in 1987. Within five years the new Omaha site bettered its Iowa counterpart in projects and revenue. Gawley became President of Oakview Construction in 1997. They were licensed in 48 states, including Nevada. That ignited the company’s downfall.

“At the beginning of the recession, about 15 percent of our work was in Las Vegas and the projects, mostly warehouses and offices, were financed by banks, including Lehman Brothers,” says Gawley, citing one of the biggest investment bank failures on record. “As the banks went under, we couldn’t collect the money. So we had to be sold.” When Gawley’s three-year agreement with the new owners of Oakview was up in 2013, he found himself on the outside looking in.

“The construction industry doesn’t have much interest in me,” says Gawley with resignation. “They say I’m too old and too senior (in position). I was a CEO and that’s where people think I fit. But how many companies are looking for CEOs?”

Not too many, and the prospects for a supervisory position aren’t much better since companies have learned to do more with less. “The middle layer of supervisors was eliminated during the recession, so now it’s just the workers, mostly young, and the top people,” according to Debbie Christensen of the Nebraska Department of Labor. “That’s a big issue. There’s not that stepping stone [to the top] as much as there used to be.”

Christensen, who works at the Omaha Career Center, encourages older workers to “say in their cover letter, ‘I understand I’m starting over and my pay will be different, but I’m willing to do that.’”

Gawley has worked with a job coach and has posted his new resume online. Every day for a year and a half he has followed pretty much the same routine: wake up early and get to Lakeside Wellness Center by 5:30, exercise, shower, put on dress pants, a starched white shirt and a sports jacket, drive home to Elkhorn, go downstairs to the computer, check the want ads, trade magazines and his job networking schedule, and make phone calls that all too often aren’t returned.

Why get dressed up? “To give me the right mindset of, ‘I’ve got to work now, I can’t get distracted’” he says.

A quiet, gentle man by nature who displays an almost pastoral approach to people, Gawley finds solace in his church, St. Patrick’s, his wife, Colleen, their three married children and five grandchildren. He admits he hasn’t found his job niche yet, but he’s grateful for his friends in Omaha’s business community who have proven the most valuable in helping him with leads. Gawley has also accepted a credo straight from a job coach’s handbook.

“My expectations now are much lower than a year ago,” he says, but he remains optimistic his niche is just over the horizon.

 

The Reinvention of Retirement

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the past, many people began to contemplate retirement as they approached age 60. However, today’s Boomer generation is taking much the same approach to retirement as they did toward life and career choices in their 20s: They sought out jobs that would make them happy, fruitful, and independent.

And since today’s Baby Boomers are now in their 60s, as well as being 78 million strong, they have over a quarter of their lives yet to live. They are living life with the very same passion that they had in their 20s. Carbon copies of former retiring generations they are not. Instead, they are reinventing their lives and changing what we used to call retirement. Many are branching out into second careers with zest and highly anticipated enthusiasm. Personal choice, freedom, and individuality mark the Boomer generation in 2013.

One such person is Pastor Larry Peterson, 65, who was the executive pastor at Bellevue Christian Center from 2004 to 2011. He then stepped down to pastor the 250-300 seniors in his church community. He also presides over the faculty and business aspects of the church and center. Formerly, he had successful military and business careers that allowed him to travel to many places.

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Larry Peterson, former pastor

“Despite my life experiences, I felt that there was a void that I just couldn’t explain nor fulfill,” says Peterson. After settling in Bellevue, his soul and faith in humankind deepened as a result of everything that he had previously learned in his earlier careers. It was that enlightenment that became the vessel that would lead him onto his next journey.

Now in his third career path, he has truly found his calling in life.

Photography is also a passion of Peterson’s. That’s just one more path that he travels. Peterson keeps active by playing softball on a team for seniors called “Midwest Express.” His team recently placed fifth in the nation.

Another boomer who decided to follow her dreams and to transform her life is Dr. Kathy DeFord, 60, who now has her own dental practice in Papillion, DeFord Family Dental.

Her first career started out as a stay-at-home mom to four children. “When our children were all in school, I got a part-time job working in a dental office doing light office work. Occasionally, the dentist would have me help him with a patient when his dental assistant was busy. I loved those times. I asked him if he would train me in dental assisting and he agreed.

Kathy DeFord, D.D.S.

Kathy DeFord, D.D.S.

“One evening when my husband, David, and I were sitting at the dinner table chatting about the days’ events, I mentioned casually that if I could have any job, I would work as a dentist.

“At that moment, I had a silent but strong impression that this was something that I should pursue. I had not been in school for over 20 years. I enrolled in Houston Community College to brush up and eventually was accepted into the Honors’ College at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. I graduated from Creighton School of Dentistry in 2001; the same year two of our sons graduated from college and our youngest son graduated from high school. I spent several years with a group dental practice, Dundee Family Dental, before opening DeFord Family Dental in Papillion. I really enjoy my work,” DeFord says with a smile. “This is my heartfelt destiny.”

Having her own dental practice has been extremely rewarding, DeFord shares, “I have always loved working with my hands and helping people.”

DeFord spends her spare time keeping active visiting her four children that are spread out all over the country. Every three years she plans a family reunion at a different destination. A quiet retirement at home for her…no way!

Many potential retirees are pursuing new businesses ventures late in life as well. Mark Leichtle, 61, has gone from firm administrator in a large Omaha law firm to becoming the proprietor of the Old World Oil and Vinegar store in Rockbrock Village shopping center.

Leichtle has dozens upon dozens of mouth-watering flavored vinegars and oils to delight your palette and expand your cooking and eating pleasure. He also has many varieties of dried exotic mushrooms and special sea salts from all over the world.

“In my younger years, I was a maitre d’ and chef at a restaurant that did much of its cooking tableside. It was there that I learned about various cooking oils and special vinegars that would enhance and enliven foods to the delight of the customers.” – Mark Leichtle, owner of Old World Oil & Vinegar

When asked how he decided to go into this type of business after a long and fruitful career, Leichtle says that several things in his life had led him to what he’s now doing (and loving it!).

“In my younger years, I was a maitre d’ and chef at a restaurant that did much of its cooking tableside. It was there that I learned about various cooking oils and special vinegars that would enhance and enliven foods to the delight of the customers,” says Leichtle. “I enjoyed it so much and never forgot the wonderful experience of making food so delicious.”

Leichtle and his wife have a daughter in Minneapolis who showed them many stores that carried fine olive oils and aromatic vinegars. This awakened his love for cooking and using those special vinegars and fine oils that he once used in his earlier years. It was then that he began a quest for finding more specialty food stores all over the country and learning more about the newest and most delectable oils, vinegars, mushrooms, and sea salts available. Thus, came the inspiration for his store.

As you have read above, Omaha’s boomers are truly forever young and fervent about recreating and reinventing their retirement years. They have new career paths, vitality, enjoyment, and most of all, time to seek out passions and fall in love again with life.

Not Home Alone

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the largest generation in American history, often referred to as the post-war “Baby Boomers,” begins to reach and pass their 60th birthdays, the sheer size of the population is predicted to overwhelm the current facilities intended to meet the needs for assistive care and skilled care. That fact, along with many seniors’ desire to remain in their familiar, comfortable family home, have prompted many Americans to turn to companies and resources that can help them stay in their homes safely, happily, and productively and at a reduced expense.

The “Aging in Place’ trend has gained steam in recent years, and is expected to continue to grow in popularity in the next decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined “Aging in Place” as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably regardless of age, income, or ability level.”

Finding quality providers of at-home products and services is one of the most important aspects in preparing a successful plan for aging in place. Omaha has a wide selection of service providers, caregivers, and equipment providers who can work with the individual or the family to make aging at home a viable option.

Matt Nyberg, owner of Home Care Assistance of Omaha, says that while the majority of “Baby Boomers” haven’t yet reached the point of requiring home-care products and services, his company is preparing for the deluge of demand ahead. His firm provides seniors with non-medical, hands-on assistance with activities of daily living, bathing, and transferring, with what he says is an innovation in the business. Each client has an RN (registered nurse) who assesses needs, manages services, and attends doctors’ appointments, if requested. The RN then communicates with the family (with the client’s permission) in order to keep the family up-to-date on the client’s condition.

Laurie Dondelinger, marketing director at Kohll’s Home Care in Omaha, recently took this writer on a tour of their 10,000-square-foot showroom, which contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of assistive devices from canes to stairway lifts to walk-in tubs to ceiling lift tracks which literally lift a disabled person out of bed and motor them anywhere in the home where the ceiling track has been installed. Kohll’s has in-house contractors who can install assistive devices as well as remodel a home to accommodate such devices.

Dondelinger tells of a satisfied client who installed a stairway lift in his three-story house. He is so thrilled with the ease in moving from floor to floor that he feels as if he now lives in a ranch-style home, and he’s no longer faced with having to sell his beautiful home on the river where he has lived for many years.

Bob Sackett, owner of Complete Access in La Vista, got into the home-accessibility business because of a personal crisis facing a family member 25 years ago. He is now a licensed elevator sales and installation provider specializing in modular ramps, stairway lifts and elevators, for the home serving customers in western Iowa and central and eastern Nebraska. His company sells both new and previously owned products, allowing him to meet the needs of even tight budgets. Like so many in the stay-at-home business, Sackett has a true fervor about his business, which he says is not only cost-effective in keeping people in their own homes, but also improves clients’ quality of life.

However, Sackett says that, in his initial assessment, he looks and listens to learn whether or not the person can survive happily at home. If his accessibility services could result in a person living 24 hours alone with no human interaction, then he isn’t interested in the business opportunity because then he would not be providing a high quality-of-life service.

Spirit Homecare is a newcomer to the Omaha home-assistance market, providing skilled hands-on care such as administering medications and treatments per doctor’s orders, as well as non-medical services via homemakers and companions, including meal preparation, transportation services, and light housekeeping. They also provide supervised hands-on assistance with personal care needs, help with prescribed exercises and medical equipment, and much more. Up to 24-hour care and live-in companion services are available as well.

Spirit Homecare is part of St. Jude Healthcare, a company that provides services in Wisconsin, Nebraska, California, Arizona and Kansas. Although non-medical assistance is not reimbursable by Medicare, sometimes Medicaid and private long-term care insurance does provide reimbursement. Tom Moreland, CEO of St. Jude Healthcare, says that his company is the only one in the Midwest that provides services in a manner consistent with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services.

The above providers are but a tip of the iceberg of services, providers, and products available to assist with aging in place. It cannot be emphasized too much that if one wants a future at home, one should begin the planning as soon as possible.