Politics Work

To break or not to break

Even though I got the capacitors and transistors in for my Wurlitzer 200A, I decided to write about something else before I started documenting the hopefully successful re-build of my vintage piano.

Generation Y has a strong reputation of feeling entitled and wanting to do things their own way. The question I have today is:

To break or not to break?

Should the spirits and ideas of young upstart Millennials be squashed in order to show them the ways of a company? When we bring in new employees into an organization, what is their greatest strength? Is it their new ideas? Or is it their ability to perform the normal tasks, but maybe better than their predecessor? Is it their ability to stand out or to fit in? Is it to buck the bureaucracy or to massage it? Let’s look at some situations.

Any time an employee comes into a new situation, you might expect them to have some modesty or humility. Apparently with Generation Y this is not happening, they instead expect to be placed into positions of authority, without knowing much at all. I know, I was a perfect angel :-).

What are some of the things that new people might shake up when they move into a new job?

  1. Offerings from employers – We see this happening in preparation for the new employees of the younger generations. Look at Google, Facebook and any other young software company. The culture isĀ  a more all-encompassing experience and more is being offered to younger workers. What they don’t tell you though, is that even though there may be all those great perks like free meals and dry cleaning, they expect you to be working…a lot. A friend of a friend who now works at Google claims he has been there for months and still hasn’t plugged in his refrigerator at home.
  2. Methodology/Paradigm – This is the change that requires the most caution. Sure, sometimes the methods have been developed because one person or another wants to keep their job or because “that’s how it’s always been done” (no one remembers why). But sometimes, things are done a certain way because they are keeping it simple and it just happens to be the best way to do something. It is also possible, it is the lesser evil among many other options. It is in these situations, where it seems glaring that changes are required, that newer employees might be tempted to shake things up, but in fact would be disturbing things. (Completely Random Side Note: who doesn’t love the word paradigm? If you say it like it’s spelled, you sound like you’re calling out the mascot for Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks Cereal!)
  3. Workplace Culture – More and more young people entering the workplace have seen Office Space and read Dilbert before they’ve experienced it. As such, they have certain biases and are immediately looking to make workplaces more laid back areas where they feel comfortable doing work. There could be an entire discussion regarding the idiosyncrasies of Gen Y, but I’ll leave that to others.

These are not necessarily bad things for any of the generations involved. But a lot of people already in these jobs will be inclined to “break in” or “season” some of the new recruits, especially when it comes to point 2 above. Of course hazing comes to mind, but really I think a better way to say it is “institutionalize” or “teaching”. There are often certain ways to do things that are better than others. One example might be teaching a newer employee how to best measure the current of an op-amp. The new employee might have TONS of ideas of how to do this (probe the voltage across an output resistor or capacitor, crack open the case and probe the tiny silicon chip, simulate the entire thing in SPICE and try to correlate it to a real world model, etc). However, the learning could have been guided by a senior adviser who might know the fastest way to do that task.

In my first job, we were consistently told that we were brought in to shake up the organization. They wanted to hear our ideas and for us to give our input. The problem was that we had never done anything like what we were tasked to do, so much of our input was either ridiculous or ignored (I will point to my own examples first, I was crazy!). I believe the reason they brought us into the company in the first place as inexperienced new workers was to quickly acclimate us to the new environment and type of work. Sure, there won’t be too many great new ideas from the new employees, but they had shown us how things should be done from the beginning. The asking for ideas of the new employees was instead a really great way to appease our needs to contribute, even if it was never implemented.

Is it bad that younger people want to try something new at a job? Should their ideas be squashed if it is “known” that there is a better way? (quotations imply there might be a better way that had never been found)

I’d say it’s fine to try stuff out and even to try and change things at a new work place. The important thing is to remind the younger and new employees to consider all of the costs involved with changing something. It can be expensive and time consuming to do something a new way and in the end might make it a worse solution. If anything, Generation Y needs to know that their ideas are alright to have and even to act on, but that sometimes the best thing to do for a company and for ones own time is to use solutions that are readily available.

What do you think?

By Chris Gammell

Chris Gammell is an engineer who talks more than most other engineers. He also writes, makes videos and a couple podcasts. While analog electronics happen to be his primary interests, he also dablles in FPGAs and system level design.

7 replies on “To break or not to break”

I think asking for ideas is great, but I think that there needs to be a mutually beneficial reality check.

But I think you’re also right…companies can get very stuck in their ways.

Another problem is that companies worry about how to do things quickly and cheaply and ignore potential long-term solutions because they want something which provides faster results, even if it is more expensive and time-consuming.

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