Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Incident at Olivers Wyong
Last week I crossed a grim line in the sand, and there is no going back.
The scene: a large freeway café*. Early morning, half a dozen customers. A couple in their late 30s at a table eight metres away. They’re watching videos on their phone at full volume, like they were sitting in their own lounge room. The videos had shouty voiceovers, jacked-up laugh tracks and the sort of whah-waaaaa music effects that go with Dad taking a massive hit to the nuts from a toddler.
Phone makers have really beefed up their speakers in recent years. The average phone punches out as much volume as your grandparents’ TV. In an echoey café, enough to set off migraines.
After a week in airport lounges with people running Zoom conferences on open speaker laptops, I had really had it with this kind of selfish bullshit.
I had a powerful urge to go over and have a word. I don’t often have a word with randoms in public, but sometimes you have to stand up to maintain a civilised society. Flagrant queue jumpers. People who go full recline in domestic economy class. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept etc.
Then I realised the sands of time had run out for me in this specific situation. Because it involved a phone. A decade-ish ago, when I had glossy brown hair, I could have pulled it off, a polite but firm vigilante fighting to keep good manners alive.
Now, with my hair greying off, I couldn’t say anything.
Because if I did, now I would just be that Cranky Old Man. They’d tell their friends:
“Lol this cranky old guy came over and started yelling at us for looking at our phone. Those old people really hate phones don’t they?”
It was a bothersome combo of sudden powerlessness, and resentment of others who had been there before me. Because I’m taking the hit for all the other cranky oldsters who use phone usage as shorthand for “young people these days are lazy and no damn good.”
Curb your phone and avocado toast chat
I can’t allow myself to be cranky-at-phones guy, because being that is a massive liability in business. Especially in this skills shortage.
Like the perennial avocado toast, “they’re looking at their phones all day” permeates every yarn about young people work ethic. Here’s law firm boss Gerard Malouf, selected from this vast genre because someone sent it to me last week. And because he presents this literally as advice on how to be as successful as him.
‘He senses too many people have great ideas and dreams about what they can do but simply don’t work hard enough, and he’s particularly critical of Gen Y and Gen X.
“This is probably not a very politically correct thing to say today, but the younger generation thinks things are just going to happen; it’s all going to fall into their lap, and the digital age is the major reason for that.”
Today, Gerard senses that “because it doesn’t happen quickly it’s not worth pursuing. They pull out their iPhones, hit a few buttons and get whatever they want, but getting success doesn’t work like that.”
Thanks Gerard and best of luck finding staff who don’t like using those confounded iPhones. There were no lazy people prior to 2007, that fateful year when Steve Jobs walked out on stage and announced: “I’m about to show you something magical, something that will turn all employees into vain, fickle wannabe-influencers who will be bone-idle at work.”
Here’s old friend of the blog sounding off about young people and their phones:
This worn old trope is everywhere. Before you know it you’re nodding along at other employers’ tales of entitled lazy clowns who expect to be CEO in three years. And now you’ve got the mindset that will stop you hiring a lot of smart, high-performing staff. And really mess up your business medium-term because you have no new leaders coming through.
Yes, some people are lazy bastards and will use their phone at home to order a single Streets Honeycomb Crunch Magnum brought by a bicycle servant. Odds are that mindset will make them a bad employee.
Bad employees have been with us as long as employment has existed. You just steer them out of your business, that’s your job as a manager and it’s not hard.
If you’ve got it, age doesn’t matter
Good people are still everywhere, if you provide a supportive place to work and grow. We’ve been hiring a lot of people lately because the freelance pool is stretched thin and we get better results from people who are part of our culture.
A fair percentage of the new hires are young trainees, some straight out of school. We pay them to learn how to use expensive tech stuff and generally learn how the rest of the team does things. And damn there are some stars among them.
If you’ve got it, age doesn’t matter. We have twenty-year-olds who I’d back to outperform almost anyone ten years older. We’ve found plenty under 25 who have a 40-year-old business brain, and are moving from hands-on tech work into project management and wider management roles.
I’m troubled to hear of HR department policies – or even worse, AI application screening – that specifies “must have 5+ years of experience” to get an interview. There’s a generation of talent lost to you.
At the other end of the age scale, there are plenty of older stars being booted under similar policies and mindsets, and it’s a major loss to businesses that do that.
It’s no different to deciding you’re not going to hire Geminis or Capricorns, because we all know how they behave at work.
Don’t be a standard crusty employer
One way or another, the consequences of your actions roll around with terrifying speed. People you think of as promising up-and-comers have suddenly been with you eight years, and you need to find better things for them to do if they’re to stay with you.
And all the while, those up-and-comers are picking up on your vibe. Not your standard boss chat in the meetings. They’re hearing the little asides they overhear in the corridor, the way you talk to your most junior staff, whether you remember people’s names.
If you’re joking about lazy young phone addicts with your close work allies, the others can tell. And pro tip: saying “just joking” with a matey wink makes it worse. You’re a standard crusty employer, so why wouldn’t they look for somewhere better?
Anyway enough management chat, let’s get to the key point here. If you’re using Zoom in an airport or TikTok on a bus, without headphones: what the fuck is wrong with you? It’s sociopath behaviour, like something Andrew Tate would do. Please stop it.
* I chose not to go off on that side-road but Olivers is an interesting business. I respect their ability to provide drinkable coffee on highways, an achievement harder than it looks. For years they’ve terrified kids with their slogan “Would you like beans with that?”. I eat green beans, but there’s something about long drives that makes the idea of a box of beans super-weird. They’ve finally retired it, it’s now something like “More than just beans”. I hope they’re doing well.
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