“OK, boomer.” With those two words, the New York Times made the new generation gap official. Millennials and Gen Z were done listening to their elders, personally and professionally.
But generational discomfort goes both ways. Workers over 50 may struggle against ageist assumptions to find a new job and are often less familiar with recent terminology imported from college campuses. So, how can you keep your office from turning into Logan’s Run?
For tips, we spoke with Chris De Santis, business consultant and author of Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Intergenerational Friction at Work.
The millennial stereotype is being entitled; the boomer stereotype is being behind the times. Is that unfair to both groups?
De Santis: I don’t think that’s representative of them at all. When you see two or three young people saying, “I want a promotion now,” or a few that want to hear how wonderful they are, we assume the entire group is this way.
Categorization is a lot easier than dealing with the individual. Boomers will use technology if they can find appropriateness to it — they’ll make an effort to learn it.
What’s your advice to older workers for interacting with younger colleagues?
De Santis: Ask how you can support them: “I might not give a lot of positive feedback, but if that’s something you require of me from time to time, I’ll tell you.” … They don’t want just positive feedback; they want holistic, proportional feedback.
Vice versa, what’s your advice to younger workers?
De Santis: Older people want to help you — we are inclined genetically to help the young — but there’s a lot of anxiety: “I’ll say the wrong thing and we’ll get in an email about pronoun wars,” or “I can’t talk this way.” Be good listeners, give them the benefit of the doubt.
How does Gen Z’s emergence play into these office dynamics?
De Santis: They want to know more clearly what their opportunities are. … They’re less patient with ambiguity from an organization in terms of, “You work hard, we’ll see how you advance.” The metrics need to be clearer.
Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Intergenerational Friction at Work is available now.