Sunday, February 21, 2016

Do Software Conversions Force Older Employees into Retirement?

I’ve joined a real-life book club. Our first selection was Fredik Backman’s book A Man Called Ove.

What is A Man Called Ove about?
Ove is a grumpy old man. So when a chatty young couple moves in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, he has some choice words for them. But the altercation is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association their very foundations.

Highlights from our book club discussion:

Since Ove is considered a curmudgeon, we started the meeting with a definition:

From Merriam-Webster::
A curmudgeon is a person (especially an old man) who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains.

I was offended that Backman considers Ove, who is “only” 59 at the beginning of the book, as old and a has-been in the work place. (My fellow 50-something book club members nodded in agreement at this observation). Ove is forced to retire from a job he’d held for more than a third of a century because he did not have adequate computer skills. This led to a lively discussion about whether companies are properly guiding older employees through change.

The current trend at many firms is to convert their client-server business software to a cloud-based system. Supposedly this will eliminate manual processes and allow employees to access information from anywhere. Managers and business owners especially like the idea of better access to crucial information at their fingertips.

When I stated I had been privy to discussions at both my professional organization and in my own company of employers hoping these changes will frustrate older curmudgeon-like employees and force them into retirement, a book club member piped up:
In her twenty years of working as a manager of HR she has yet to see a company implement change properly. 

At my own company I’ve seen over and over where a software upgrade, a new program or tool is rolled out with almost no instruction or training given. This is after thousands of dollars have been spent on the new feature. If we are lucky, we are given a link to an on-line demo to review. The most adventurous of us may read the on-line tutorials and teach others, but the majority of the long-term employees continue to perform processes the way they’ve always done them or manipulate the new system into the old manually or with excel causing more work in the long run.

As to whether the soft-ware change will force the older employees into retirement:

I think not. Most likely these older employees would have already retired if they could afford it. They will continue to work holding onto that paycheck as long as possible, but will become more caustic. Making them even more susceptible to layoffs.

Behind Ove’s bitter exterior is there a softie inside?

All our book club members seemed to think so and that the circumstances of Ove’s life had made him bitter. Again I can relate this question to one of my co-workers. He is going on 70 and continues to work to pay for his wife’s in-home care and medical expenses. She suffers from M.S. and has been bed-ridden as long as I can remember. This co-worker is loud, abrasive and intimidating. Other employees are terrified of him. He is also at the top of the list of employees my company hopes will retire during the software conversion. For some reason, I’ve always gotten along with him and will volunteer to call him when others are afraid to. Just last week he told me how he had recently almost lost his wife. He choked up as he told me she was his sweetie. I asked about his dog (we both have labs) He mentioned how the dog wouldn’t play or eat while his wife was in the hospital.  I am positive I changed his mood for the better when I asked how the dog reacted to her homecoming. Definitely a softie at heart.

Can a relationship between two opposing personalities work when one is black and white and the other is rainbows?
Ove describes himself as a man of black and white. And his wife as color. All the color he had.
Our book club facilitator didn't think so, but the rest of the group thought it could work if they didn't have children. Again I can relate this question to my work place. Some of the largest conflicts in my organization are between departments or employees where one has a black and white personality and the other is rainbows. As my boss likes to say about a colorful employee, “I will agree to disagree with her.”

The one and only comment from the lone male member of our group – he enjoyed the Saab references.

In closing, I don’t want to give away any of the plot, so I will just say my fellow book-club participants thought A Man Called Ove was a good book. I thought it was good, not great, but an excellent book club selection. 

Have you read this book? Did you like it?

Does your company manage change well? Do you think too much change forces older employees out of the work place?

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Disease Called Debt


  1. Ha this makes me think of the book I just devoured this weekend - The Knockoff. Story of a magazine editor who comes back form sick leave, finds her print mag gone and turned into a commerce-driven app, has to get up to speed with a million new technologies (references to her PA having to print all her emails every morning in the old days) etc.

  2. The Knockoff sounds interesting and more focused on change. Ove's story was adapting to life after he was let go. We had a now-retired VP who had his PA print off all his emails too. He then dictated his response to her and she had to type and send his replies.

  3. I know for myself that I'm finding it harder to keep up with the rapid changes of being online. I can only imagine what it is like to have those constant changes in office as well. That said, I created a poll the other day on a social network and one of my son's friends said he didn't even know you could do that. So for all my feeling like I'm falling behind, I clearly am keeping up with how to utilize resources.

    1. Good for you Satia. I also think we suffer from imposter syndrome and are my adept than we give ourselves credit for.

  4. A friend of mine is rapidly approaching her 80th birthday and still working. She has made it a point to dive head first into every software upgrade at her company for the past 20 years - often finding the problem areas and immediately calling in IT and helping to move fixes forward for the whole company. She is 100% curmudgeon and proud of it. She is bound and determined not to let the comapny push her out over software. Not all that pleasant to be around, but you gotta give her credit for charting her own course.

  5. My former employer used to handle training very well for new software upgrades. As a financial auditor, I was responsible for reviewing their policy manuals and procedures to train people on the uograde. I think it depends on how big the change is. Going through an upgrade of a particular system may not cause as much commotion as going from a manual process to an electronic one.

    1. Agreed. An upgrade of our current software isn't too bad, but switching to a new system with new g/l account #'s and codes sounds kind of nightmarish. We shall see. The new company has baked in extra hours of training after meeting with us. I guess they surmised we were a little behind the times.

  6. I haven't read this book, but it sounds interesting and great for discussion!

  7. Theatre definitely doesn't do much in terms of training - you sort of have a foundation of knowledge and are just constantly thrown into unknown situations and technology that you just have to figure out. I do think it's why so many people burn out and there are few people in their 40-70s, especially touring.

    1. Also, I think theatre is grueling overall.

  8. I haven't read this book but I enjoyed getting to know a bit about it through this post! In terms of implementing change at work, my last employer was actually really good at this. We had a lot of software changes for example and every employee was told that they had to undertake the training. How they coped with that varied on an individual level, but at least the training was there.

    1. Good to know there are companies out there that require training. Part of my company's problem is we have a weak IT department. Hopefully some day that will change.