OK Boomer: Making the Workplace Inclusive

By Jamie Belinne posted 11-05-2019 07:17


So many organizations ask me to train their young people on how to be more professional. I get that. I run a professional office with a diverse group of employees, including many young people. And as I’ve said many times before, young people are, by definition, less experienced, and therefore benefit from coaching.

With that said, young people bring a tremendous amount of value and a fresh perspective that we ignore at our own peril. Our digitally native Gen Z is the future, and the rest of us are becoming dinosaurs. They are already evolving and adapting to the next economy, so they see things that those of us who came of age with microfiche, fax machines, and modems don’t.

And they’re sick of being ignored. The “OK Boomer” movement, recently profiled in The New York Times, is sending a giant “Whatever” from the youngest generation to their elders.

In the 1967 film, “The Graduate,” the advice to the young boomer was: “I just want to say one word to you . . . Plastics . . . There’s a great future in plastics.” 

It’s not surprising that Gen Z, is a bit frustrated with what they perceive as the environmental messes created and perpetuated by older generations.  As fears around climate change grow for the generation most likely to deal with the impacts of these changes, Gen Z’s anger around what they perceive as the climate complacency of older generations increases.  It’s no surprise that the face of climate change activism, Greta Thunberg, is a Gen Z teenager.

And in the 1987 film, “Wall Street,” the young Gen X was advised, “Greed is good.”

Is it any wonder that Gen Z holds the previous generations responsible for the financial crisis of their youth, and that they have lost their faith in the stability and integrity of corporate America?

So what can you, as a Boomer, Gen X, or even Millennial (yes, you're aging, too), do to make your workplace more inclusive and appealing for this next generation of idealists and change activists?

  1. Listen. Encourage young people to share their ideas and perspectives on how we can do things better, and don’t immediately dismiss things that initially seem counterproductive. Young employees often see ways to increase productivity that older generations do not.
  2. Keep a Sense of Humor. If you take yourself too seriously, they won’t take you seriously. Be willing to play at work. When Southwest Airlines crews started wearing shorts and being silly on their airplanes, people said it was unprofessional and counterproductive, but who’s laughing now?
  3. Walk the Talk. Gen Z will look at your corporate values and quickly recognize if these are only stated values, and not practiced values. “Be the person your dog thinks you are” in your interpersonal and business dealings, because actions speak louder than words with this generation.
  4. Show You Care. Demonstrate through your policies and actions that your organization cares about its employees as people who can bring their “whole selves” to work, and that the organization sees itself as a contributing part of a larger, interconnected world.
  5. Include. Most companies give time and resources to the idea of creating an inclusive workplace. As the most diverse generation ever, Gen Z has no tolerance for intolerance. This means having an inclusive mindset that goes beyond protected classes to all sorts of people who bring all sorts of diversity to the workplace. The most respected employers encourage and celebrate diversity rather than just accommodating it.

Jamie Belinne is the author of The Care and Feeding of Your Young Employee: A Manager’s Guide to Millennials and Gen Z. Belinne surveyed more than 13,000 Millennial and Gen Z employees as well as hundreds of their employers, to write The Care and Feeding of Your Young Employee: A Manager’s Guide to Millennials and Gen Z. Belinne shares stories and data demonstrating the differences and best practices for managing expectations, communication styles, productivity, motivation, and recruiting with the youngest and largest generations in the work force today.



11-05-2019 16:53

Great Post!  I especially like the "Walk the Talk" and is true for any employee, no matter the age.