I’ve worked with insanely diligent and humble Gen Z’ers, Millennials, Gen X’ers, and Boomers. And I’ve also worked with Gen Z’ers, Millennials, Gen X’ers, and Boomers whose outstanding laziness and sense of entitlement completely stifled progress, cooperation, collaboration, and the whole fucking mood of the project.
Somehow, it always seems to be the laziest and most entitled members in any of these groups who spend the most time ranting about the faults they find in generations outside of their own. It’s as if they’re projecting their own laziness and senses of entitlement, and doing so at a volume loud enough to drown out their own inadequacies.
It’s wild to consider how much energy would be saved and applied to progress if we stopped with the back and forth generational bullshit. If we consciously decided to first see individuals, not just as members of generations we’ve already qualified, but as other people who much like us, have hopes, dreams, feelings, and problems, both internal and external.
I know however, this is a little ‘let’s just all sit around the fucking campfire and drink some compassion cocoa,' and it’s not that simple. Unfortunately, as humans, we love to categorize. We employ heuristic modeling where we shouldn’t—most of the time because we’re too lazy, or were so entitled that we think we have both the right and intellect to sum up a person’s work ethic or ability to contribute based solely on their age.
We also love a sense of belonging, and experiences shared by a generation tend to bring members of that generation together. It’s easier for us to develop an ‘us versus them’ mentality because we feel safety in belonging. We also feel a sense of confidence when we find ourselves in a generational echo chamber of shit talk. We feel like we get it and the other generations don’t because they haven’t experienced what we have, and that can make our experience feel more real.
It wasn’t too long ago, when my generation was labeled as a collection of narcissistic, lazy, entitled brats. For years, massive revenue generating social media platforms—which, for the majority were built and run by Millennials—were flooded with memes, blogs, and videos about how my generation couldn’t contribute value to the workplace or society.
We were told by angry assholes born long before our time that, because of bad parenting, cellphone addiction, and our need for immediate gratification, avocado toast, and coffee, that we would never truly succeed in our careers, would never be fulfilled in life, and would never be happy or financially stable.
Rarely in that coveted and damning list of ‘Everything That Makes Millennials Awful’ was there mention of the fact that garbage economic decisions, predatory corporate structure, and terrible legislation made by greedy members of the generations before us had left us dealt an absolute dog shit hand. We were crushed with The Great Recession right as we entered the workforce, and we’ve been financially crippled by student debt, stagnant wages, ballooning costs of living, and a future plagued by economic and political insecurity. Just to name a few obstacles…
THIS was and is our reality.
Still, many members of generations before us refused to see their part in constructing our present and future, and we were entirely to blame. Even when we used the tools or technology, pridefully developed by preceding generations, we were made to be pariahs.
There’s irony in companies boasting about how their technology and innovative products or services will change the world, and then having a meltdown when it does. It’s like developing an ultra-warm, high tech snow boot, and then being upset that your children no longer have to walk fifteen miles, barefoot in the snow to school. I suppose you could always stop manufacturing the boot, but then your profits would plunge…
And now that I think about it, you know who always seems to laugh their way to the bank while individuals engage in the generation shoot out? The people at the very top of the food chain, swimming in money. The boot company CEO. Or as Boomer Hippies, or the original ‘Quiet Quitter’ Gen X’ers would call that individual: The Man…
It’s almost as if the real winners of the ‘your generation is a bunch of lazy and entitled brats’ seem to be some of the company executives who need a way to keep their current workers working and need a means of grooming the next generation for decades of unquestioning servitude.
But I digress.
I was spurred into writing this as I’ve seen members of my generation jump on the 'you’re all lazy and entitled' train against Gen Z. So before getting lost in that generational echo chamber, I honestly suggest that the Millennials on that train consider our reality, and then consider that Gen Z is dealing with their own reality. Or, as I alluded to earlier, maybe these train riders might consider whether they’re just projecting their own laziness and sense of entitlement onto an entire group of youth to feel less incompetent. Or maybe they're just pandering to an audience of Gen Z hating Boomers who hold the key to their next promotion. I've seen Gen X'ers do this too.
Gen Z started entering the workforce right as a pandemic—coupled with a recession—shut down the world. They’re witnessing the largest generational gap in history. They’re watching companies make record profits as people are struggling to keep the lights on in their homes. They’re wracked with uncertainty about how climate change will affect the world, and their place in it. As students, they saw school shooting after school shooting, and nothing change. They’ve seen black bodies murdered and maimed by police on social media, and nothing has changed. They’ve witnessed Millennials work tirelessly through recession, student debt, stagnant wages, and have seen that after all that time and effort, Millennials for the most part are still living paycheck to paycheck with a prospective retirement age of 75. And for some reason, some people are expecting them to fall in line and work just the way they did with a fraction of certainty that such a work/life balance will pay off, and they won’t be left penniless and ignored when the next wave of bullshit comes their way.
At the same time, they’ve seen their peers (and even some Millennials who have said ‘fuck The Man’s system’) go on to make millions with YouTube channels and other social media outlets. Something that enrages older generations who spent their lives working for The Man with little to show for it. They see other avenues of revenue that don’t require taking shit from a boss who pays you terrible wages, won’t promote you, or might lay you off at the next economic downturn.
Maybe they are seeing that a job doesn’t have to consume their entire lives, the way they’ve seen Millennials, Gen X’ers and Boomers be consumed by their jobs. Maybe they can work 40 hours a week at a job that’s enough to pay the ridiculous cost-of-living bills, and then spend the rest of their time doing side-hustles and living outside of work, as opposed to investing the limited time they have on this planet into a system that isn’t invested in them. Why should they work an extra unpaid 10 hours a week when it will cost them precious time and give them nothing in return? We constantly talk about ROI, and some of us are shocked when Gen Z’ers have analyzed it and realized it doesn’t work in their favor.
Does that make them lazy and entitled? I don’t think so, and from a business angle, it’s them working smarter. Furthermore, just because they won’t work hard for a shitty ROI, doesn’t mean that they’re not hard-working. As I’ve said, I’ve worked with plenty of Gen Z peeps who bust their asses. And it’s worth noting to the angry members of preceding generations; showing your face at work for a few extra hours and talking about how busy you are doesn’t always make you busy. Sometimes it just makes you good at looking busy.
As I mentioned before, we’re all people with hopes, dreams, feelings, and problems, both internal and external. And as I would like to think that any shred of altruism still exists in this world, wouldn’t it be rad if we could value and validate those hopes, dreams, feelings, and problems and help each other achieve or solve them?
Unfortunately, I also know what really makes the world spin, and that’s money. So maybe we can think about it this way to actually get things moving. Let me use my shitty, conference room, pitch voice: Ahhemmm, “Guys and gals! Just think about the potential market for helping these generations achieve their goals, and solve their problems!”
A few companies have figured this out, and are making it happen. They are the companies that will grow with this next generation, and while the rest are whining about laziness and entitlement, they are the ones acting, because they know they’re not above it.