Don’t let an internet trend disrupt intergenerational bliss.
You are doing everything possible to protect workers age 40 and older from discrimination, and you follow every word of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Then you see “OK, boomer” and “OK, millennial” memes, hashtags, and comments on social media. What does this mean, and how can you ensure a trend doesn’t cause intergenerational disputes or complaints of ageism or age discrimination?
“OK, boomer” started as a sort of “digital eyeroll” used by millennials and Gen Zers (people in their twenties and thirties) aimed at older people who they think don’t understand their actions or experiences. These young people have suggested that they started the trend out of frustration at being criticized by older generations. While it mostly is all in good fun, some social media conversations on the topic have escalated into name-calling, finger-pointing, and stereotyping on both sides.
To keep this social media trend from affecting your workplace, take the time to reinforce intergenerational relations in your organization:
- Discourage stereotyping. Remind workers not to assume how a person will respond to a situation or event based on his or her age.
- Encourage holistic systems thinking. Promote a holistic view of mutual dependence, where teams understand the role and value of each member.
- Find common ground. Encourage people from different generations to bond over common interests via committees, task forces, workgroups, or even social events.
- Set shared expectations for success. When people are focused on common goals and objectives, they support each other’s successes; and this overcomes generational differences.
- Establish a culture of accountability. Focus more on shared accountability than generational differences. This gives everyone ownership of organizational success.
- Hold cross-training activities and ‘day in the life’ experiences. Give employees from different generations a chance to walk in each other’s shoes and learn from others’ experiences.
- Become more flexible. Consider easing strict guidelines on dress codes, work schedules, etc. Be agile and adopt, as possible and appropriate, new technology, workspace designs, and management styles.
- Foster appreciation/respect for differences. Establish a culture that values different work styles and problem-solving approaches. Don’t force people into boxes and/or pre-judge them based on their age, background, or job title.
Today’s older workers are better educated, are living longer and healthier, have more professional relationships, and are retiring later than previous generations. Be careful to discourage discrimination and outdated assumptions about who they are and how they work. At the same time, it is important not to forget that younger workers are generally more tech- and social media-savvy. Bring the generations together, and they make for a stronger, more agile organization. And according to research from AARP and other sources, most employees actually like working with people from other generations and appreciate what they can learn from their older/younger colleagues.