How generational shaming is destroying productivity and collaboration in the workplace
We know, we know. Millennials are cold-blooded killers of industry. Ridiculous headlines about failing businesses have littered our newsfeeds and media outlets for years all pointing blame at the fickle millennial generation. Millennials are killing diamonds. They’re killing beer and killing chain restaurants. These young people born roughly between 1980 and 1995 aren’t consuming in the same ways as previous generations, so any sluggishness in our economy? Yeah, blame those stingy Millennials.
The criticism gets personal too. How many times have you heard that Millennials are snowflakes who can’t exist outside of politically correct safe spaces? Or that they’re entitled trophy-kids? The story we’ve all heard over and over: Millennials are weak. Or at least weaker than the generations before them. It should be no surprise that some young people are making an effort to distance themselves from being called Millennials. No one wants to sit in the generational hot seat and take all that abuse. Who wants to be stereotyped and seen as less than?
While Millennials have largely taken the criticism of older generations without significant recourse, Gen Z isn’t being so polite. The retort of the generation born after 1995 to any idea or judgement seen as antiquated: “OK, Boomer.” This simple, yet inflammatory phase has ignited conversations from media to politics, and even in our local communities because it turns the blame away from younger generations and puts it squarely on the people who’ve been running society — a flip and reframe of how we’ve been viewing generations. For years, it’s been acceptable in culture and media to say Millennials are “wrong” in their values and beliefs. But now, from Gen Z’s point of view, the metal for generational shame should be affixed on the lapel of the Baby Boomer cohort.
Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer at an event for formerly homeless youth who are now entering the workforce. Small groups of young people accompanied by board members of the supporting organization met with business professionals in a speed networking type of environment. The young people were very curious about my work creating futuristic workplace cultures that bridge the gap between generations.
When the conversation came up around what generation everyone belongs to, many of the youth said they identify with Gen Z while the board member sheepishly revealed, “Yeah, so I think I am right on the cusp between generations…”
With uncanny authenticity, a young person blurted out, “WAIT, YOU’RE NOT A BOOMER, ARE YOU?”
The board member let out a somewhat embarrassed laugh before confessing, “Yes…I am a Baby Boomer…unfortunately…”
As we all shared a collective chuckle I thought, “Wait a minute! Since when does the Baby Boomer generation ever need to apologize? I thought that self-loathing quality was the Millennials’ debt to pay!?”
Indeed, while some in the Baby Boomer generation are apologizing as a response to “OK Boomer,” others are fighting fire with fire. Just last month, Myrna Blyth, a Senior Vice-President at AARP weighed-in with her response to the critical phrase, retorting “Okay Millennials, but we’re the people that actually have the money.” Unsurprisingly, Ms. Blyth’s words were not-well received by younger generations leading to outrage on social media shooting back at Blyth. Maybe rubbing wealth in the face of generation that is over $1 Trillion in debt isn’t the best way to extend the olive branch. Not surprising, in the generational culture clash, olive branches are hard to come by. While it might seem harmless to sling names like “Boomer” and “Snowflake” back and forth at each other in editorials and social media comment sections, when it comes to this tit-for-tat in the workplace, embracing such stereotypes is actually very destructive.
Workplace Culture Evolution
Companies and organizations are facing a serious challenge. Different generations are showing up to work with divergent values and expectations about how work should be conducted and as a result there’s a lot of tension around workplace culture. Today, Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force meaning by sheer numbers their opinions are having an impact on policy. Meanwhile, decision makers — especially those in the C-Suite — tend to be more experienced Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers with the age of the average CEO across industries being 58. This disparity results in a major disconnect with many Millennials not feeling represented by leadership. This in turn leads to lower levels of engagement at work and often times younger generations quitting jobs all together. Gallup estimates that Millennial turnover is costing the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.
Without a doubt, the workplace is not immune from our intergenerational struggles. But what if instead of the generational finger pointing, companies and organizations leaned into a workplace culture that embraces the strengths of each generation? Older generations are able to offer a great deal of experience and industry knowledge. This should be taken as the perfect opportunity to provide mentorship to the younger generations that yearn for it. Also, younger generations are able to offer fresh perspectives which aid businesses in taking more innovative approaches.
Lindsey Pollak, workplace expert and author of The Remix, How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace, recommends as her number one rule for creating a healthy multigenerational workplace: Stop the Generational Shaming. She suggests we replace shame with empathy. What’s possible if we cut out the name calling and harmful stereotyping and instead choose to be curious and understanding? What if we started viewing different generations as assets to the team instead of liabilities who “just don’t get it”? Such an attitudinal shift not only improves relations at work, but also comes with monetary value. With incivility at work leading to higher rates of lost work time, turn-over and overall employee disengagement, if companies are concerned with their bottom line, they would benefit by finding ways to acknowledge and utilize all generations.
No matter one’s personal opinion on the shifting generational culture clash, it cannot be denied that it’s creating a huge social and economic impact. The key is to understand that we’re more alike than we are different. Professionals of all generations want to be fulfilled at work and be led by strong leaders. And now is the time for leaders across generations to stop shaming each other and come together in a united front. Indeed, no one, regardless of generation likes to be ridiculed and stereotyped — especially because of something they have no control over like when they were born.
So let’s stop the generational shaming. Ok, Humans?
By: Zach Handler