Intergenerational work relationships — like all relationships — are a two-way street
Millennials have been given a lot of grief over the past few years for their lifestyle choices and supposed lack of work ethic. Think about all of the articles you’ve seen offering tips for reaching Millennials or explaining what they supposedly like (avocado toast, ruining entire industries) and don’t like (buying houses and saving money).
But something I heard recently took that to another level; Some companies are hiring workers to come in and teach Baby Boomers how to interact and work with Millennials.
The idea behind it is that Millennials lack a solid work ethic, and therefore older generations don’t know how to work with them.
But the real problem here is not that Millennials lack work ethic, it’s that their work ethic is different, more self-centered. For example, many Baby Boomers would say that money and loyalty is the most important thing about their job, while Millennials might say it is passion for the work or being able to do something meaningful.
Some might say Millennials are resisting behaviors of older generations, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But the point of the resistance isn’t to be contrarian, it’s rooted in real issues.
Most Millennials have already lived through two recessions, several wars overseas and COVID-19, and the oldest of the generation is only 39 years old. In that short time they have also seen police violence escalate, the earth’s climate start to change, minorities and people of color mistreated, and a government that doesn’t work for the majority of its people’s best interests.
Seeing all of these things happen over one lifetime, it makes sense that Millennials want to do things differently. And yet, older generations still look at Millennials like they’re naive children from another planet.
But have you noticed how Millennials interact with members of Gen Z? From what I’ve experienced, they’re doing what Baby Boomers should be doing with Millennials: cheering them on.
Millennials tell Gen Z that they can change the world and to fight the flawed system. They tell them to find a job they love and are passionate about, and that money isn’t everything. Millennials support them and treat them as equals, and in turn, Gen Z has shown Millennials that they are willing to help change the world.
And what strengthens the relationship between Millennials and Gen Z is this shared view for a better world. For example, Pew Research Center found that Americans age 13 and older “see the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing, and they’re less likely than older generations to see the U.S. as superior to other nations.”
And aside from Gen Z being more diverse than previous generations, as well as better-educated, a main reason for the two generations’ similarities is that Millennial leaders, teachers, siblings, cousins, etc are instilling what they know and have learned in Gen Z.
Millennials and Gen Z are starting to share experiences, and those experiences shape their view on the world. It’s similar to the way Baby Boomers and Gen X’s experiences shaped their world view. A big difference, however, is that Millennials look to Gen Z in a way many Boomers never looked to younger generations: as teachers.
Millennials learn as much from Gen Z as Gen Z learn from Millennials. They don’t write Gen Z off as naive. They encourage them to fight for what they believe in. They’re more open-minded about Gen Z and want to hear and understand what they have to say. And when they have to work together, they don’t need someone there to be the middleman.