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opinion

Remember when baby boomers complained that millennials were the most self-absorbed and entitled employees to ever enter the job market?

Ah, the generational conflict of yore.

Well, grab your popcorn, folks. These days, millennials, who are increasingly hurtling toward middle age, have found themselves a new nemesis at work.

It seems millennials, now 26 to 40 years old, are feeling intimidated by – you guessed it – the new Gen Z cohort that’s entering the labour force in larger numbers.

Zoomers, as they are often called, aren’t just replacing millennials as the fresh-faced wunderkinder of the working world – they’re also showing them who’s boss. Apparently, millennials are actually scared of this crop of younger workers even though they’re supposed to be the ones in charge, according to a story in The New York Times.

Workplace tensions have been building as more Gen Z workers, who are 25 years old and younger, start their careers and replace older workers who are now retiring in droves. Statistics Canada recently reported that a record 300,000 Canadians retired over the past 12 months – a trend that is being led by workers aged 55 to 65.

The timing is auspicious for Gen Z. They will be in high demand to replace retiring boomers and will benefit from increased bargaining power with prospective employers because of labour shortages in certain industries.

In fact, these young workers are poised to become the most populous and influential generation in the business world. But this demographic shift isn’t sitting well with their millennial elders, the most vocal of whom appear eager to typecast new Gen Z recruits as pushy and presumptuous.

“They don’t listen!” and “Why are they telling us what to do?!” have become familiar refrains from exasperated millennials who seem utterly perplexed at Gen Z’s lack of deference to authority.

Pot, meet kettle.

Admittedly, this is a delicious development for older workers who’ve put up with years of millennial myopia in the office.

For instance, my generation can’t help but snicker at this power struggle. Not only were we Gen Xers, aged 41 to 56, dismissed by boomers (”You’re lucky to have a job!”) and millennials (”Sorry not sorry!”) alike, society often forgets that we even exist.

Now, much to our fiendish delight, our Gen Z children are teaching millennials what we’ve long known: Reality bites.

That tittering aside, HR professionals should brace for these simmering tensions between millennials and Gen Z to roar to a boil, as more companies order employees back to the office this fall.

Remote work has masked the severity of this problem, as many new Gen Z hires still haven’t met their colleagues in person.

Still, we’ve all observed flashes of friction over the past 2½ years. Whether it was someone giving side eye on a video call or sending snarky messages on Slack, the signs of trouble are already there.

That’s why the C-Suite’s renewed push for mandatory face time in the office will surely stoke these generational tensions over the coming months.

In fact, professional-services firms seem to be falling all over themselves to help companies prepare for more Gen Z workers, including by helping mystified millennials figure out how to manage these new reports.

Trouble is, many of these so-called insights are laughable.

“Heard the words ‘lit,’ ‘bruh’ and ‘major key’ before?” states one such report by consultancy Deloitte.

“They’re just a few examples of what you’ll be hearing from the mouths of Gen Zers as they use ‘lit’ to describe something cool, call a close friend ‘bruh’ and refer to something essential as ‘major key.’ This reworking of the English language is the beginning of Gen Z’s influence.”

Good grief. Are companies really paying for this advice?

The report goes on to say that while Gen Z “is not a completely different ‘species’ than previous generations,” its members “do approach the workplace in a very different way.”

How so, you ask?

It seems younger workers want companies to provide them with meaningful careers and appropriate compensation for their skills. Additionally, they want employers to behave like responsible corporate citizens and start walking the talk on diversity and inclusion.

In short, Gen Z wants their credentials recognized, better working conditions and a fair shot at success – just like anyone else.

Good on them.

Instead of deriding them as the TikTok generation, Gen Z deserves our respect. These young workers have a self-awareness that is strikingly absent in their workplace elders. We should all learn from them.

So, instead of feeling threatened by junior workers, millennials should help them shine. Stop throwing shade. You’re only proving those boomers right.

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