By Luc Jones
Not so long ago, I turned 40, which back home (In Britain) would be an excuse for a huge party yet in Russia this particular anniversary is considered superstitious and isn’t celebrated with gusto. Luckily, I was abroad on that particular ‘life begins at 40,’ day but it got me thinking about my future in the workplace.
Every year Antal places almost 1,000 mid-to-senior level people into new jobs in the CIS region, yet our most recent salary survey showed that only around 1% of these are aged over 50. Surely this isn’t purely a Russian phenomenon? In fact, the problem seems to be even more acute in more established markets where people are living even longer. Having said that, Russia seems to suffer less from an ageism problem that many Western countries. Many expats celebrate the fact that they are able to work in Russia whilst they are often well past their ‘sell by date’ in the West.
As global longevity increases, European governments in particular have been forced to make unpopular announcements that their population of working age citizens will be required to toil for several more years before they can qualify for a State pension. At the same time, many business commentators readily admit that if you were to lose your job in your 50s, you are likely to find it extremely difficult to get yourself back into decent, permanent employment.
Yet all the talk from major employers is about Millennials; the focus is very much on attracting and engaging generations Y &; Z, with even generation X-ers beginning to worry about their future. So what chances do the Baby Boomers have, and can anything be done to influence this situation?
Let’s begin by looking at the symptoms: candidates can be guilty of pricing themselves out of the market or losing self-motivation and failing to engage with their staff. Managers can also be accused of moonlighting. In a recent assignment we were asked to replace the Country Manager of a particular organization as he was only seen in the office three days a week. Another General Manager decided to hedge his bets and was found to have built up a network of other business activities, some of them even competing with his main job!
Secondly, self-awareness and planning are crucial as losing your job can happen much more quickly than one might expect. There are businesses which cease to exist as a result of an acquisition, and the inevitable fall-out of duplicating personnel; other firms plan redundancies due to lower-than-expected performance during tougher times. Some may pull out of the Russian market altogether thanks to the Russian economy being viewed as a liability, perceived or otherwise by their regional or global HQ.
It is also crucial not to over-estimate your importance. Yes, you have done a great job of growing the business from $1m to $10 million but don’t forget that you have been paid (& most likely bonused) for this already. Past successes rarely secure your future in an organization; nobody will be interested in your old stories anymore, in particular your new boss and those staff who joined afterwards. A prospective employer would want to know if you capable of now taking it from $10m to $100m.
Engagement is also key. Do you consider your staff to be fully engaged or are you already living in a different world, far removed from the day-to-day running of the business? You can easily check this if you run meetings and presentations. Try to measure both the amount of time, and the frequency your people use their mobile phones and gadgets, surfing social media during your talks.
One tactic is that the best form of defence is attack, rather than sitting around and waiting to be contacted. Openly talk about possible moves with your superiors, colleagues and HR. The initiative that you are, for example, ready to take a step forward, backwards or sideways, such as to become an ‘advisor’ to the next generation should come from you.
Finally, how tech-savvy are you? Is your Linkedin profile up-to-date, and have you added all your colleagues, ex-colleagues, clients, partners and key people whom you studied with? Your profile should be kept fully updated not only during an urgent job search or after you have been made redundant (by which time it’s possibly too late; you’ll come across as desperate), containing information on your achievements, responsibilities and achievements which help you to stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from those younger than you who have only known life glued to their iphone, and on that note, don’t underestimate the power of social networks which you may consider to be irrelevant to the business world. Facebook might appear to be a world away from work but in Russia can be valuable source of information – just check out some of the groups you can join.
In the case you find yourself ‘surplus to requirements’, there are some steps you can take and also some things to avoid: do let people know that you’re now available, both on social media and in person (& don’t think that you are too important/cool/proud/busy to do this). Yes, it might have come as a shock and/or a blow to be let go after so many years of diligent service to your employer but that’s all in the past now. Your ego might be bruised but you need to get the word out that you’re now available for new opportunities.
Don’t take it personally and certainly don’t ever bad-mouth a former boss or company (either in writing or in person). Oh, and don’t even think about feeling sorry for yourself; it’s just business.
Do look at what your key attributes are and more importantly where they could be put to good use. Does your company have global operations, and if so, is there a place for you in another market? Loyalty might count for little but a strong track record together with positive words from your co-workers, especially those in high places can work wonders, particularly if your skills are transferable and you are flexible with regards to new locations.
Don’t expect to be instantly re-hired on the same salary/package as you were previously on. If you were posted to Moscow & paid in Euros or $US, once the rouble crashed, you suddenly became twice as expensive as a local hire, and that’s before taking into account your generous Expat package. Today, a Russian will happily do your job for a rouble salary and won’t need copious add-on benefits. If you wish to remain in Russia, you will almost certainly have to accept a local salary (and before you ask, yes – I am on one myself; and always have been).
Do be realistic and flexible in terms of the type of job you are ready to accept. You may well have been a General Manager in your last posting but the more senior you become, the fewer such vacancies there are, and most companies prefer to promote from within, wherever possible.
Don’t simply wait for the offers to roll in. Be proactive and reach out to former clients, colleagues and friends. Send them an updated CV but more importantly add some bullet points to your letter stating where you can add value to the organization. Most jobs are never advertised and just because there isn’t an actual vacancy doesn’t mean that management isn’t considering making a change as the existing person is thought to be underperforming. I have witnessed numerous examples of companies creating a position for a good person.
Consequently, if you are over 50 and reading this, my hope is that you will be contacting us (Antal Russia) to help recruit staff for your expanding organization since you are doing an excellent job. With any luck, your regional superiors have given you the green light to go ahead and make additional hires; not because you have recently found yourself on the scrapheap and ready to accept almost anything simply to remain in Russia. You’re only as ‘old’ as you feel, so your future is indeed in your hands.