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Opinion: Enough with generational stereotypes

Truth Be Told

Posted online

“OK boomer” – millennial writing, let’s talk.

To start, I offer my apologies for the tone younger generations are taking toward you with this dismissive phrase. In a time when diversity and inclusion is such a hot topic, I’d say it’s time to address ageism.

Talk of differences among generations is nothing new. Older people have long been characterized as close-minded and resistant to change, while younger generations often are deemed self-absorbed and lazy. The difference today is the data. There are countless studies offering “proof” of these stereotypes, and that is fueling a generational divide.

While many news outlets report the phrase “OK boomer” has been around for a year, I just heard about the Generation Z and young millennials’ retort to their parents and grandparents a couple of weeks ago. The New York Times picked up the discussion in the article, “‘OK boomer’ marks the end of friendly generational relations.”

The phrase pointed at baby boomers went viral after a video was posted on social media platform TikTok of a white-haired man who said, “The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up. They think that the utopian ideals that they had in their youth are going to translate into adulthood.”

Across social platforms and in rallies, young adults have called out older generations for their apathy to climate change, income inequality, gun reform and social justice. Some members of Gen Z feel their generation has been left with a mess to clean up. “OK boomer” is their quick reply to shut up older generations who feel the ideas of reform are naive.

There now have been countless memes created using the phrase, and savvy young entrepreneurs are profiting off subsequent merchandise, like clothing and notebooks, donning the phrase. And this month, a 25-year-old politician in New Zealand shut down an older heckler by saying “OK boomer.”

The concerns by younger generations are real and pressing. But the tone of this conversation is all wrong. And that tone goes both ways.

I’ve long struggled with studies on millennials that attempt to explain my generation’s behavior, both as a consumer and an employee. I don’t see myself in some of these traits, yet, that’s how I am perceived. Older generations have generalized millennials as lazy and entitled, living with their parents while they nosh on avocado toast and complain about student loan debt.

These stereotypes are bad enough on their own, but think about how damaging they are in the workplace.

When an employer is more interested in pouring through data to learn about new employees than actually talking with them, something is wrong. It’s time to focus less on generational categories and more on people.

This summer, the Harvard Business Review reported an analysis of 20 studies representing nearly 20,000 people revealed “small and inconsistent differences in job attitudes when comparing generational groups.” The study goes on to say that individuals experience changes in their needs, interests, preferences and strengths over the course of their careers, but sweeping generalizations of generations just are not supported.

In our small but mighty 20-person staff at Springfield Business Journal, we span four generations. That has strengthened our brand and publication in many ways. Institutional knowledge informs our path forward, and new ideas help us grow.

On a wider scale in the Queen City, we have recognized the benefits all generations bring to the table. I see this firsthand as a young professional involved in the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s The Network and Rotaract Club of Springfield. These groups, and the young professionals within them, are respected within the community for their ideas and expertise.

As for older generations, Springfield highly values their wisdom. That’s most recently evidenced by a new mentorship program launched by the Efactory and the Small Business Development Center at Missouri State University.

The Harvard Business Review report states that although actual differences among generations are few and far between, the belief that these differences exist affects how people are managed and trained. It also leads to conflicts at work. The writers of the study suggest managers start dialogue about stereotypes, emphasize shared goals and refrain from putting employees in a box based on studies or past experiences.

I’m a big fan of data. But using studies to perpetuate generational stereotypes isn’t helpful to anyone. Data can be used as a baseline to learn about the five generations in the workforce, but then let’s get the rest of the story. That comes from dialogue.

“OK boomer” – millennial writing, let’s talk.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

Comments

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Randy Baker

Christine Agreed, my generation born 1959, so grew up late 60s mid 70s was branded by my parent's generation as "Rebellious blue-jean wearing hippies." Whether this issue, or any other, dividing us is never ever the answer, as that era clearly proved. Why so many throughout time have chosen to waste their time dividing people is beyond me? We see it in every aspect of our culture. The answer is to encourage others to see this "path of division" is not a good course of action and begin to view our similarities instead of our so-called differences. Once we meet face-to-face and view these similarities many find themselves putting down their verbal swords. Have a good day and thanks for reminding us!

Thursday, November 21, 2019
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