The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them

While twenty-somethings have been scowling at their elders for a long time, employers say that Gen Z is showing a new boldness in how they judge taste. (Jeff Hinchee/The New York Times).
Jessica Fain, a millennial who loves to lurk on TikTok and her skinny jeans and side-parts were on the constant march towards extinction. Fain, a product manager for a large tech company was shocked to learn that her favorite emojis, such as the laughing-sobbing faces, might be retiring.

Fain, 34 years old, stated that she used this emoji in a Slack channel.

She recalled that an older employee replied, "Yes, I use that emoji at my work for professionalism." H8 to break it down to 2 u Jess.

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Fain is old enough that she can recall when millennials dominated fashion: rompers and rose pink, craft beer (Nickelodeon), Netflix, chill. Fain now feels the dreadful sense that her AARP card is waiting for her. As generational shifts are prone to happen, a new group of employees is establishing the norms and styles in the workplace. This is subtle but not obvious. They are not afraid to question the emojis they use, as well as the outdated ways of their older managers. This includes their views on politics at work and their obsession with work.

Andy Dunn, 42 years old, co-founded Bonobos, an upscale apparel brand that was once the uniform for a small group of millennial men. That is what I have come to accept.

It is a fault line that crosses industries and addresses. Managers at a New York-based retail company were shocked to see young employees asking for paid time off in order to manage anxiety and period cramps. A Gen Z worker at a supplement company questioned why she was expected to work an eight-hour shift when she could finish her to-do list in the afternoon. In a biotech venture, the founder was given tasks by entry-level employees.

The youngest workers, across all sectors and startups, have called for a shift from corporate neutrality to openly express their values. This could be done through executives making statements in support of Black Lives Matter protests or by displaying their pronouns via Slack.

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The younger generation is cracking the code, and they're like, Hey guys, turns out we don't have to do this like these older people tell us. Colin Guinn, 41 years old, is co-founder of robotics company Hangar Technology. It is possible to do anything you want and still be successful.

The trend of twenty-somethings scowling at their elders is as old as Xerox and Kodak, but employers say there's a new boldness to Gen Z's way of dictating taste. Gen Z is defined as those born between 1997-2012 and anyone too young to recall Sept. 11.

Ziad Ahmed (22), founder and CEO of JUV Consulting, a Gen Z marketing company that has provided its expertise to brands such as JanSport. He recalled speaking at an event where a Gen Z female employee told him she felt her employer's marketing didn't reflect her progressive values.

The young woman asked, "What advice would you give to our company?"

Ahmed said to her, "Make you a vice-president." Instead of an intern.

Gen Z doesnt hesitate

The influx of millennials into the workforce began in the mid-aughts. There was a lot of advice about how to hire members of this headstrong generation. This is how young people will tell you when your yoga class starts, according to a 60 Minutes segment called "The Millennials are Coming" in 2007.

As millennials became managers, workplaces changed to reflect their vision. WeWork walls were covered with #ThankGodItsMonday signs. The once-heralded rise and fall of SheEO was a fact.

According to Millennials, this is a reminder that a generation of workers that entered the workplace during and after 2008's financial crisis felt fortunate to find work. RippleMatch conducted a fall 2021 survey to find out how Gen Z job seekers felt about remote jobs.

Companies that cater to a large millennial population are particularly vulnerable to generational frictions.

Gabe Kennedy, 30, is the founder of Plant People herbal supplement brand. He noticed that Gen Z employees were not interested in the rigid work practices that felt natural to his millennial 10-person staff. His co-founder and he were used to long nights at the office, obsessing about customer feedback and ordering Chinese take-out. His youngest employees preferred to choose their own hours.

Kennedy interviewed a Gen Z candidate to a full-time job. She asked if she would be able to stop working once shed had completed the tasks she set out. He said that her job was expected to be nine-to-five.

Kennedy observed that older generations were more used to working around the clock. Kennedy reflected on the fact that older generations were more used to punching the clock.

Ali Kriegsman (30), co-founded the Bulletin retail technology company. She wasn't sure how she would respond if her Gen Z employees demanded days off for their mental health or menstrual cramps. Kriegsman knew instinctively that she didn't want to be there today, but she was also aware of the risks associated with their paid time off.

She said that as an entrepreneur, I would like to be able to manage my team occasionally because of my period. However, I am in a position to persevere.

Kriegsman and other managers understand Gen Zers' instinct to protect their health and to find a balance between work life. However, some are baffled at the openness with which these desires are expressed. In other words, they are not used to being defiant of the workplace hierarchy.

Lola Priego (31-year-old CEO of Base lab testing startup) had to giggle when a Gen Z employee sent her a Slack messaging giving her a task. Priego took this to mean that her 15-person team doesn't find her intimidating. However, another member of the upper-level management was shocked.

Polly Rodriguez, 34-year-old CEO of Unbound's sexual wellness company, stated: I wouldn't have delegated my job to my boss when I was starting out in the workforce. Gen Z is not afraid to do this.

These are political tomatoes

Have you checked in on your children? They are talking differently, texting less, wearing the wrong clothes and still texting. Are they ever able to put their phones down?

This phenomenon is known as the "kids these days effect" and has been observed for many millennia. Cort Rudolph, an organizational psychologist, stated that it is a natural tendency for people to complain about anyone younger than themselves.

Marketers and workplace consultants can rebrand each generation as a new generation that is uniquely self-focused. The me generation was first, followed by the me, me and me generation.

Many managers believe that it is impossible to ignore the gap between the slightly younger and the slightly older. It influences hiring. It also shapes marketing. It has also influenced the way companies react to a country in turmoil over the past year.

The Slack channels of corporate America were faced with their own reckoning in June 2020 as protests against Black Lives Matter erupted across the country. Rodriguez's story began with a Saturday morning telephone call.

Rodriguezs cofounder at Unbound (which sells vibrators), called to inform her that their social media manager, who is younger, wanted to know how the company would support the protests. Rodriguez did not normally receive calls on weekends; she knew this meant that Rodriguez was in a state emergency for her employees. She wanted to be able to plan her teams' response. Her company quickly hired a diversity and equity firm to provide trainings for employees and launched a fundraising campaign for a group that supports sex workers of colour.

Rodriguez was one of many managers to recall her Gen Z employees as being the first and loudest in asking companies to support the protests following George Floyd's murder.

Tero Isokauppila (37), is the president of a food company. He was contacted by junior staff to ask if his company would create a black square as a gesture of solidarity with the #InstaGram movement. Elaine Purcell (34), co-founder of Oula, a maternity care startup, received a Slack message in March from one of her younger workers asking what they could do to support Asian Americans.

This is a welcome change for many corporate leaders after decades of silence on racial injustices within their workplaces. Managers are having trouble balancing the demands of their employees to engage in politics with their own opinions about what is appropriate for their brands.

Talk to the elderly and they will say, "Dude, we sell tomato sauce. We don't sell politics," Kennedy, the co-founder of Plant People (a certified B Corporation), said. Younger people are more likely to say, These tomatoes are political. This is political tomato sauce.

Rodriguez stated that many people are well aware of the fact that mistakes can cause backlash or calls from staff. Rodriguez also said that some former employees are more open to tearing down bridges. It seems a bit naive. It is worth it to get gratification via social media, but then trash someone who could help you professionaly.

Dunn, who quit Bonobos to start a social media company, hired Gen Zers to review a draft of his book and inform him of any insensitive or inflammatory words. In just one day, she had made 1,100 comments on the document. Dunn is also trying to control his gendered language at work.

Dunn said that I was like, Lets go, even though I'm from Illinois. Around Juneteenth, I had a wake up when someone asked me if I was alright.

Dunn said it was a reminder about how much he depends on his younger employees. Although he is fluent in millennial but not all of the Gen Z sensibilities, he does know enough to be able to communicate with them.

He understood that knowledge is key to his bottom line. He might be criticized by entry-level employees, but they also know their peers. Dunn stated that you want to be part of the culture.

Many businesses give Gen Z employees more freedom to create their own culture. Emily Fletcher (42), who runs Ziva Meditation noticed that the most relaxed people at her company retreat were the ones who are more comfortable straying from the boundaries of what is professional conversation.

The staff discovered this when they participated in the "Suffie Awards": they sat around a campfire, sharing their personal sufferings from the previous year, and trying to outdo each other with corny award show music. Fletcher stated that it was the Gen Zers who were most vulnerable, speaking out about their partners cheating or being in isolation.

Fletcher stated that they celebrate human emotion and not a rigid framework for what corporate should look like.

She said that her company culture has become more relaxed since the departure of her oldest employee (48 years old) Everyone feels more free to be themselves.

Through their own rise in the workplace, the millennials made it clear that one generation can quickly become the new norm.

Ahmed, the Gen Z consultant, stated that he believes it is already happening. Are you sure we have the power? No. We were pushing the envelope.

He confirms, for his part, that the laughing-sobbing Emoji is dead. It's ironic, it's kitschy. I'd usually say LOL.

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