Our society loves to bucket people into generational stereotypes. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Gen Z. All offer more ways to form preconceived notions of how a person thinks and acts.
These generational terms have typically been used to simply identify the approximate age of a person. Baby Boomers are retired or nearing retirement. Generation X is mid-career, and so on. But now, as younger generations enter the proverbial spotlight, exaggerated more by social media, it seems these labels are being applied with more of a negative connotation. Millennials can’t put their phones down or conform to the norms of your typical office setting. Generation Z lives life virtually and doesn’t need in-person interaction—an assumption only exacerbated by the necessity of virtual socialization during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More and more, it seems these labels are a form of ageism no one really talks about. They can lead to unfair assumptions and even discrimination. In fact, a LinkedIn profile caught my eye a couple years back because the woman described herself as a “high-functioning Millennial.” Knowing the bad rap her generation often gets, she felt the need to distance herself from this label.
Personally, I don’t like labels. They are counterproductive and even destructive, and often they keep us from forming our own opinions. Republican or Democrat. Blue collar or white collar. Baby Boomer or Millennial. We need to stop shoehorning people based on a single impression we have about them or what society tells us about them. The recent political landscape even further alienates people by labeling them.
I think back to myself as a 22-year-old entering the workforce, ready to conquer the world. I’m sure I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea back then, and I’m thankful for mentors who embraced my enthusiasm and helped me apply it in ways that allowed me to have an impact on the organization. We should expect young people to want to conquer the world! Don’t suppress that fervor and energy, harness it. Organizations that do will be infinitely more successful than those that don’t. The younger generations are more motivated than people give them credit for, so let’s give them a chance.
Ideas for Engaging Different Generations In the Workplace
For starters, younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Zeers, are digital natives. They’ve never really known a world where they didn’t have technology making things easier for them. Rather than scoff at this luxury, be open to their ideas on how to leverage technology to solve problems.
The Generation X crowd experienced an unplugged childhood but came into adulthood learning and adapting quickly to evolving technology. They appreciate technology and how it makes life easier yet do so with the perspective that it isn’t the solution to everything. This generation does just fine with direct, face-to-face interaction. Remember: they started dating during a time when you formed relationships without the help of social media and had to directly call up your crush on a landline phone to ask them out.
These days, the Baby Boomer generation is disrespected by young people responding, “Okay, Boomer” to anyone who seems slightly out of touch. What these kids don’t understand is many Baby Boomers’ youths were wilder than they’d ever imagine. While many in this generation are retired or thinking about retirement, in the workplace, their experience and perspective is invaluable to all of us. We should all embrace the opportunity to be mentored by them—preferably face-to-face, because that’s how they like to interact.
Despite the way our upbringing and environment has shaped us, we are all unique individuals with strengths that should be harnessed not suppressed. Embrace the perspectives each generation brings to the workplace and use it to create a well-rounded workforce.