By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist
Returning to work can be daunting at mid-life. However, many people choose to do so, often for financial reasons or to remain engaged in life. I, too, have returned to an industry where I previously worked — and that process has been eye-opening.
First of all, it’s not that I haven’t been working. It’s just that I haven’t had an “8-to-5 job” in a while. For the past five years, I served as an adjunct teacher at a university, ran a career counseling business, did volunteer work and was a caregiver for my mother. In the years before that, I worked in the corporate world.
However, it’s been almost 10 years since I have worked in a college setting. I recently decided to go back to a traditional, full-time job at a university. That move – which offers a steady income and benefits — will allow my husband and me to get to our retirement goals a little sooner and has the added benefit of being physically closer to our families.
That’s all good but, boy-oh-boy, was I unprepared for how much has changed in the college workplace. Or is it me who has changed? I will let you decide.
As a “woman of a certain age,” a Baby Boomer and someone with almost 40 years of work experience, I am finding this transition in returning to work more difficult than the start of any previous job. What follows are a few things I have learned in my first four weeks on the job.
The Great Divide – The biggest difference I have noticed is that the younger generation operates very differently than we did at that age. My Millennial colleagues and students are much more willing to speak their mind and disagree with their bosses and senior colleagues. They seem to get their feelings hurt at any suggestion that there might be another way of doing things.
This age group also don’t seem to be as resourceful as previous generations, but I admit they can be very creative and productive when given the right guidance. They can figure out new technology, even when they have never used it before (I had one help me with my office phone’s voice mail). However, they don’t seem to like following the rules if it doesn’t suit them.
The biggest irritation for me is that they don’t make an effort to communicate well. The student may or may not show up for an appointment they have scheduled with me. And when I text (Lord knows, they don’t reply by email or answer the phone) to ask if they are still planning to come, I still get no reply.
I know I am making broad generalizations here, but these are the patterns I see. Perhaps I just don’t have as much patience with others as I used to.
Technology – With more reliance on technology, we have more glitches and inefficiencies. For example, on my first day of work I was told that I needed to “claim” a user name. It should have taken five minutes but I wasn’t able to do so. Therefore, I couldn’t get “into” the system to see the documents on the server I was supposed to read. I couldn’t email and wasn’t able to start my online training.
Four days later, someone in a department called Identity Security — which none of my colleagues even knew existed — found the glitch in the system. Finally, I was good to go – but this experience reinforced that I don’t have the patience I once did.
All the Sitting – Related to my last point: because everything is online now, university staff — even those of us who work with students — spend hours a day at a desk in front of a computer. I have discovered I don’t like sitting for long periods of time anymore. I have aches in places I never had aches before. Now, I’m working on better posture and getting up to move every 20 minutes. I’m not sure I have the patience for all this sitting.
So, So Many Trainings – In four weeks, I have participated in five one-on-one trainings with specialists, gone through 12 online training modules and attended four workshops. This is in addition to reading oodles of operations and policy materials. And I still have three more workshops to attend and about seven more subjects in which I need to get trained. And, yes, all of this involves a lot of sitting, and my impatience is clear once again.
Less “Me” Time – Working a standard 8-hour day, 5-days-a-week job means that I can no longer shop at 10 a.m. on weekdays when few people are at the stores. I’m doing errands on weekends along with most other people. That means I have less time to relax and do fun stuff with my husband on the weekends. I will probably get into a good routine and flow before long. I know: I need to be more patient in getting there.
It’s Not All Bad
I don’t know if it’s the anthropologist in me or the career counselor (or maybe it’s just because I love learning), but I have found on-boarding at my new job to be quite an interesting experience. The differences from a decade ago are fascinating to observe and record.
The best and most appreciated change I’ve seen is the strong emphasis most organizations now have on diversity and inclusion. Some of those trainings I complained about were welcome responses to decades of prejudicial and discriminatory practices and inappropriate behaviors by some employees.
In addition, most of my “work” in the past five years has been in isolation. It’s been quite nice to hang out with other people and exchange ideas. Because I worked off and on at this university between 1984 and 2007, I also have a historical perspective on things. When people ask about how things once worked, I can be helpful and offer the big-picture, long-term point of view.
Finally, returning to work has been a great way to reconnect with long-time friends and familiar places once again. In some ways, this job feels like “coming home.”
I’ve already made some new acquaintances whom I feel certain will be life-long friends. And which one of these new friends do I have the most in common with? Well, she happens to be a Millennial. Go figure.
So, the biggest lessons learned from this Boomer’s foray back into the workforce: 1) Focus on the good stuff, and; 2) Be patient!