I remember a time when I was the youngest person in the office. Back in the late 90s, when I was first starting out in the workforce, I had big ideas about my future and how I envisioned my daily work-life balance. The baby boomers that I worked with implored me to see the big picture and when I ignored their calls for reality they mused, “she has NO idea”. I truly believed that I would be different. I would break the mold!
Now I am on the other side. I work for a company that is consolidating its resources, potentially moving toward a downsize effort, and even in this state of chaos Milennials hold on to hope. They are not jaded in the way that I am after a 20 year career in banking and tech. They have not had to jump from job to job hoping that their current position would be the one that lasts. They haven’t had their dreams crushed by years of making ends meet with credit card debt stacked so high that the job they hate becomes the job they have to keep doing.
They are green with the newness of their careers and I am green with envy.
I wish I could go back to my ‘pie-in-the-sky’ days. Those days of believing that if I just hung on and worked REALLY hard, I would move up the corporate ladder. That if I stuck around long enough I would eventually make a 6 figure income and be able to be a philanthropist. That if I continued to do an excellent job, the promotions would come. That promotions were merit-based and I would move up until I was able to retire. That retirement, with a pension, would even be a thing.
But I cannot go back. And they will learn much sooner than I did that jobs are fleeting. The Boomers were the last generation of Americans that were able to work a long-term career in a field that granted a retirement package at the end of many committed years of service to the corporation. And, honestly, as I read that last sentence I think to myself, “I don’t even want that.” That is the absolute truth. I want to have the freedom to do something that I love and not just have a job that pays my bills. Working for a corporation is always going to be soul-sucking because they really only care about the bottom line. The workers are just line items on a spreadsheet. They are living humans with dreams and goals, but to the company, they are merely expenses.
So although the title of this post may seem like a setup to pit Gen Xers against Millennials, it is really more of a call to action for the younger generations to learn a new way of working together for a better future. There are so many terrible things going on in the world right now and a lot of that mess was made by the Boomers. If we are to survive and thrive in our workplaces, Gen Xers and Millennials (including Gen Z, slowly making their way into the workplace) need to stick together and make things better. We need to find new ways to work toward the good of all, rather than just padding the pockets of the super-wealthy and be more than just line items on corporate accounting spreadsheets.
Great! So how do we do that?
Yes, we must learn to work together as a team, rather than letting the Boomers get in our heads about each other. The Boomers have expertly used the pitting of Gen Xers and Millennials against each other in their favour for years. If the generations behind them are fighting for scraps, then they can continue to quietly lead without much effort. But if X, Y, and Z start working together as a collective, we can overthrow the Boomers years of tyranny. Moving forward, we can create better working conditions, an overall sense of happiness, and a better ides of our collective worth. Appreciation of each others efforts in the workplace can go a long way to making our generations more prosperous.
Gen Y and Z need to find their mentors in Gen X, not Boomers. This is a big one because sometimes it is difficult for the younger generations to interact in a meaningful way and we all tend to look to the Boomers for advice, but it is high time that we start leaving behind the Boomer wisdom and move forward with our own expertise. Millennials have a lot to learn from Gen Xers who have been in the workforce for many years and if they can overcome their drive to be competitive at all costs, Millennials can really gain a lot of insight from the trials and tribulations of the Gen Xers work-lives over the past 2 decades. Gen Xers had to contend with a stock market crash and housing market collapse that saw many of them lose their jobs and start again and that type of commitment to self is a valuable tool moving forward in the world of work.
Overcoming Anxiety and Fear
We cannot be afraid to stand up to the bullies in the boardroom. X, Y, and Z need to lose the fear that comes with challenging the status quo. It may have worked for the Boomers, but it is a new day. We are living in the future when it comes to technology and those of us in the younger generations understand that tech a lot better than the Boomers do. They pretend to know things, but they really only have a surface level understanding of the intricacies of the Internet and Social Media. We are the workers of the future, but we need to make that future today and start moving the needle on our own innovations in the workplace.
Intersectionality in the Workplace
Gen Xers and Millennials need to fully diversify the workplace. Although the Boomers speak to the ideas of diversity and equity, they haven’t done much to really make change in those areas. Our generations can work as a team to improve working conditions and opportunities for all employees. We can make the workplaces of the future more inclusive and diverse through efforts to enforce truly merit-based hiring and promoting within current and future organizations. The structure of work often mirrors the structure of society, so as a collective of generations we need to come up with ways to circumvent the usual practices that have maintained the status quo for far too long.
Working together, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z can make a better tomorrow for all the generations to come. We can make workplaces where we feel valued for our expertise which allow us to innovate without fear of job loss. We can move away from bottom lines and buddy based promotion systems and move toward a merit based system of bringing together the best and brightest in each industry to improve career trajectories for everyone. We can be the generations that fix work. We just need to be able to work together as a collective, against the historical ways of the workplace, and push for equity across all humans. We are not robots and we must refuse to be treated as such. We need to see each other as humans with great ideas and work to move the best ideas forward while leaving the ‘money is the only thing that matters’ mentality in the past.