Frans started his career at CERN as an engineer in 1992, after having worked for about 10 years in industry in his home country. He’s an ordinary chap who has progressed regularly in his career and has survived several reorganisations.
He’s always been loyal to his job, shouldering his responsibilities with diligence and professionalism. Now, with just a few years to go until he retires, Frans finds himself in a section of 35 people, and comes to see me to ask if it’s reasonable to feel the way he does: it’s not that he has any specific worries, just a vague feeling that everyone views him with indifference. He has always given his all to the Organization, has always seen it as a badge of honour to complete his projects on time and on budget, and has always shared his knowledge with his colleagues: to put it simply, he’s the model of a quietly efficient worker.
Frans has never asked for any particular recognition – he has always done what he was employed to do – but he feels like over time he has become invisible. When it comes to the section’s budget, no additional resources are allocated to acknowledge the achievements in which he has played a part, trips to conferences are reserved for his younger colleagues, and Frans sometimes feels overwhelmed by the digital revolution as he isn’t quite as on the ball as the others. But Frans has something unique and intangible that makes him a real asset to his section: experience. He knows the history of all the installations, the reasons why particular solutions were chosen, and much more. He can help his younger colleagues to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. His experience provides him with a much broader context when any problems arise, and he can draw on past ideas to find appropriate solutions. He is able to put things into perspective and reassure his colleagues whenever they have doubts. Young engineers faced with a dilemma have often sought him out – and he was inevitably able to shed light on the consequences of their choices.
I don’t often see people like Frans – they don’t want to bother me – but I know that they exist. They have an essential role to play in keeping our systems working and are an invaluable source of advice. If you have a “Frans” in your team, make sure you give him the recognition he deserves, keep asking his opinion, show him respect and value his skills. An organisation like CERN thrives on the complementarity of the sharp minds of younger personnel and the deep understanding of their venerable counterparts. Our older colleagues can be considered the safety net that allows younger people to make the technological leaps necessary for CERN’s work. A team that both encourages young people and recognises the contribution of older people is a winning team!
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