Generational tensions are nothing new, both in the home and the workplace. They've been around for centuries, and there's little reason to expect complete inter-generational harmony anytime soon. What does change is the generations in question and the specific points of tension. The Traditionalists/Silent Generation thought the Baby Boomers were too rebellious and liberal, both felt Generation X was a "generation of slackers," and now Baby Boomers see Millennials and Gen Z as too entitled and unwilling to "grow up."
Recognizing, and Respecting, Real Differences
Of course these are all broad stereotypes focused only on the negative aspects of what are often very productive and amicable inter-generational relationships. Still, there is value in understanding these stereotypes. They highlight in that they highlight—albeit through exaggeration—the real differences that exist between generations and how they perceive one another. Understanding those differences and perceptions is key to fostering greater inclusion and acceptance among the multiple generations that make up our modern workforce.
A great example of intergenerational tension was on display recently on the far side of the world in New Zealand's parliament, as Gianluca Mezzofiore writes in an article for CNN. "A 25-year-old New Zealand lawmaker giving a speech supporting a climate crisis bill was heckled by an older member of Parliament. Her witty response baffled her audience, to the delight of millennials everywhere," she writes. "Chlöe Swarbrick was speaking about the Zero Carbon Bill, which would set a target of zero carbon emissions for the country by 2050. When she was heckled, she casually dropped a sharp-tongued retort—'OK boomer'— and, unfazed, continued talking amid the puzzlement and silence of the room."
As the New York Times explains, "OK boomer" has become a succinct retort for Millennials and Gen Zs frustrated by what they see as the inability or unwillingness of older generations to understand them and their world view that has exploded through the "meme-to-merch" cycle, appearing everywhere from Tik Tok videos to hoodies.
The use of the "OK boomer" retort by Swarbrick in the New Zealand parliament is informative for two key reasons. First, it demonstrates the very real, and growing, importance and influence of the world's youth—Swarbrick is only 25! Second, it demonstrates the frustration felt among many within this demographic group toward older generations. Business leaders should pay careful attention to both of these trends as they look to recruit, retain and leverage the best young talent today and in the future.
Inclusion, as we often say, is for everyone. That is certainly well illustrated here. Be inclusive!Related: Addressing Barriers in the War for Talent