There is quite a bit of (mostly) lighthearted banter in online spaces between Millennials and Gen Z. Like most time-adjacent generations, Millennials and Gen Z seem to be perpetually confounded by each other, finding each other’s lingo, aesthetic, and interpersonal style “cringe.” I find this interesting, as Millennials and Gen Z are actually remarkably similar on most fronts. We care about mental health, about justice and equality, about redistribution of wealth and anti-capitalism. These are all important issues that we seem to be on the same page about.
I think it’s critical that we Millennials remember not to treat the generations coming up behind us the way the Boomers treated us. Do you remember how incredibly invalidating it was to be told that our ideas about the direction society should be heading were stupid, childish, and ignorant? Or being called the “entitled, everyone gets a trophy” generation by the generation who decided to give everyone trophies? We had some really progressive and innovative ideas, which we have been at the forefront of bringing to bear for ourselves and the next generations. But we have had to fight the older generations tooth and nail to get there.
One area in which I think we need to pay very close attention to Gen Z is their thinking about the American corporate workplace. Gen Z is reshaping the American workplace by championing digital integration, advocating for remote work flexibility, pushing for diversity and inclusion, fostering an entrepreneurial mindset, emphasizing social and environmental responsibility, prioritizing mental health, promoting open communication, and driving adaptation to changing trends. They are at the forefront of conversations about not working more than your salary requires, not working overtime if you’re not being paid for it, and not buying into the corporate hustle culture that requires employees to provide free and often unappreciated labor if they hope to advance in the company.
I’ll admit that last part really bent me into a pretzel.
What do they mean by don’t work harder than your salary requires? How do they expect to ever succeed in the workplace if they’re unwilling to make sacrifices, to “be a team player,” to do whatever it takes to ensure that the company meets its targets?!
It’s taken me over a year to really confront those opinions I held on this topic. Where did they come from? What was informing them? And was it possible that Gen Z was right—that maybe I’m clinging on to an outdated, obsolete idea of how the workplace should operate? Maybe, in fact, I am participating in the very capitalistic structures I claim to despise?
As I sat with these questions, I realized that Gen Z isn’t wrong. Sure, their insistence on doing things differently, on not playing the capitalistic game that promotes the health and success of corporations without concern for the health and success of the people who occupy them, may have short-term consequences. They may be looked over for promotions and networking opportunities. They may hit a corporate glass ceiling for a time. But isn’t this how most important social movements start—choosing a potential short-term setback in service of a larger, more important, long-term goal? How are we supposed to inspire social change if we keep playing by the rules that were meant to only serve the people at the top?
Gen Z is stepping out of that hamster wheel. They are saying no to a corporate culture that exploits its employees. And as they continue to say no to the unfair expectations laid at their feet, the workplace will, by necessity, begin to shift. The only way this can be done is by leaning into the very mindset that Gen Z is so boldly proclaiming. It means embracing the fact that they got it right on this one. Rather than scoffing at their convictions because they are different from the ones that were handed down to us by our Boomer parents, pastors, and employers, we should listen. Consider. Re-evaluate.
It’s something I’m pleased to begin doing. We Millennials find ourselves straddling two generations — Boomers who embrace tradition and conformity, and Gen Z who embraces progress and questioning authority. (I’m deliberately leaving Gen X out of this one because they really are just our cool older siblings who prefer to stay out of the drama). We have a decision to make. Do we conform to our Boomer predecessors, belittling the progress the next generation is trying to make in the same way the Boomers did to us? Or do we embrace progress, change, and forward-thinking?
This Millennial is choosing the latter.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.