Corporate execs need to drop out.
According to a recent report by the New York Times, Millennial and Generation X supervisors and CEOs are living in fear of their Generation Z employees in boardrooms and break-rooms everywhere. The reason is simple: Their kingdom to avoid being called a _______ on Slack.
“The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them,” the New York Times tells us: “Twenty-somethings rolling their eyes at the habits of their elders is a longstanding trend, but many employers said there’s a new boldness in the way Gen Z dictates taste.”
The Times is right about one thing: This is nothing new. Generational conflicts have been central to humanity since we started keeping records- and probably long before that.
You don’t get three-thousand year old edicts like “honor thy father and mother,” unless they are necessary. We don’t have child labor laws because we don’t need them.
Hewn cries of “Kids these days!” have been around as long as those same kids have been using insulting monikers to answer that charge. Yesterday’s “Relax Daddy-O!” was probably every bit as annoying as today’s “Ok; Boomer,” — or whatever kids these days are calling their elders now.
Teenagers and young adults in ancient agrarian societies probably called their hardworking farmer fathers “Dirtbags”. Teenagers in Ancient Rome probably told their paterfamilias frequently; “Relax, Sandals; I’ll be home by curfew.”
Name-calling is a psychological gambit; kids are the best at it because they get the most practice. By the time an 18-year old graduates from high school, they have spent the better part of 14 years taking and dishing out insults on a daily basis.
It’s not socially acceptable for an adult to call a co-worker with whom they are having a disagreement names while the rest of the meeting participants join in, snicker or look uncomfortable. That would be what adults call a “toxic work environment.”
As any hiring manager worth their credentials can tell you, employees don’t leave companies; they usually leave people. A boss, a bosses boss, a bullying co-worker; often when a disgruntled associate quits it is because someone at the office has made their work-life unbearable.
Because time is a circle, and the nature of the Tao is returning, now bosses are being terrorized by their cooler, younger employees.
William Blake may have been on to something with his theory of the Arc Urizen Cycle, where humanity’s every impulse eventually ossifies on itself and becomes its opposite.
The crisis of this new, reversed toxic work environment is easily solved for companies having this problem, though most of them won’t survive long enough to implement the solution. Plenty of businesses don’t make it in the long-term, especially those who spend vital central-planning time navel-gazing and trying to impress new hires barely old enough to vote.
The solution is to accept reality in the form of two fundamental truths that form the perfect compromise to humankind’s generational conflict.
20-somethings do not find 40-somethings cool.
Never have, never will; the sooner everyone in the office accepts and admits this fundamental truth, the better.
No 20-year old has ever thought a 40-year old was cool. Ever. Neither teacher, nor boss, nor parent; nobody. These tyrannical office Gen Zers wouldn’t find their 40-year old future selves cool if they were to meet via a time machine invented by the latter.
20-year olds find over 40s sad and vaguely terrifying for a simple reason; Ghost of Christmas Future.
Old age; some of us are taking the 8:25 train, some of us will be on the 11:35- buckle up, kids, cause we’re all going there eventually, if we’re lucky. Except for 20-year olds who, like all 20-year olds, tell themselves they are the first generation who won’t have to age.
Just wait until they learn about death.
Because it isn’t as if the office 20-somethings really have the upper hand. The over 40 set everywhere can next enjoy the soothing balm of a second universal, immutable truth.
Generation Zers might not know this yet, but:
20-somethings have no idea what’s cool.
While 45-year old vice presidents need to accept they will never seem cool to 20-year old interns, the 20-year olds will never accept the other side of that coin until they see it for themselves.
By the time they are 45, most will have long ago realized how utterly clueless they were at 20.
This is one of the coolest realizations anyone can ever have- the “Wow, I thought I had it all figured out when really I was just as clueless about the world as everyone else,” moment that marks the transition into maturity. The more often you manage it, the cooler you’ll be.
People who never have this realization will never be cool. But they are usually ego-maniacs with all the self-awareness of a deck chair, so they don’t care.
Worse for Generation Z- or perhaps better if it forces them to this conclusion sooner- is that while Generation Xers and Millennials strongly suspect they were kind of idiots from years 11–21, Generation Z will have irrefutable proof staring them in the face.
They’ve been self-publishing every random thought, half-baked social theory, stanza of bad poetry, emotional rant and tone-deaf proclamation to social media for all the world to see, enshrining it for all of perpetuity.
Considering how much unfiltered information so many social media users have shared with the world, we would all- 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and beyond- perhaps do better to be a bit less judgmental.
Setting ourselves free of the judgements of people who feel a compelling need to and justification for judging others is the gift that keeps on giving. The only regret most of us have is that we can’t go back in time and give it to our younger selves.
“It doesn’t matter one bit what other people think about you,” we might say to our 15 or 20-year old selves. “Focus on the things that really matter, because they will still matter 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now; family, faith and/or community, education, and making a difference.”
To which our younger selves would have given the age-old reply: “Get a life, Grandpa.”
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)