Communication challenges between the generations aren’t anything surprising, but this new wave seems to have taken on a profound impact on both the Generation Z’s and the Boomer Generation. It started with a young professional in New Zealand who was heckled in Parliament based on her age, and her response was “OK, Boomer.” According to the New York Times, “OK, boomer” is an expression that some millennials (who are in their twenties and thirties) and members of Generation Z (who are in their teens and early twenties) use as a “digital eyeroll” when older generations don’t understand their actions.” It seems to have been forged out of frustration and fatigue of the crises inherited by a younger generation (primarily climate change and high-debt/ low-wage disparity), and from being perpetually misunderstood and undervalued, having been told they are lazy, high-maintenance, unwilling to put in their time.
Millennials and Gen Z’s seem to have reach a breaking point and are pushing back. “Saying “OK, Boomer” is an act of desperation, and it works as a way to steer the conversation in some ways. Young adults are mad and fed up… And the older generations? They don’t like being dismissed by a catchphrase.” (Inc.com)
There is a quickly deteriorating reciprocity of frustration and impatience with each other. Allowing this generational communication war to spiral down will only create taller walls and deeper barriers between groups that are already known to enjoy working together. According to Susan Weinstock at AARP, “[W]e have a lot of research that shows how much workers actually like to work together no matter the generation,” she said.
So what do leaders and managers do with this burgeoning crisis?
Evidence shows that building better relationships, which breeds greater empathy and yields improved communication, could be a significant solution. Creating intentional opportunities and purposeful projects that demand better connection and depth of understanding across generational boundaries will provide the space required for these relationships to deepen. These interactions could look like:
- Personal check-ins at the beginning of a meeting
- Communal coffee spaces and scheduled breaks to encourage connection
- Shared value or service projects with cross-generational teams
- Empathy building activities as part of team days or off-sites
- Generational education sessions: generations teaching each other their vernacular, priorities, experiences
It doesn’t have to be rocket science – it just has to be intentional, and treated as a priority. “… [M]ost workers of every age want to feel respected, be listened to, have opportunities for mentoring, understand the big picture, exchange ideas, and receive effective communication and positive feedback.” (SHRM Online). By maximizing and capitalizing on each space for intergenerational communication, we can help develop empathy which fuels connection, and this is the foundation for effective teams. Strengthening our communication to embrace understanding and connection will yield exponential results.