In 2015, something monumental occurred: the largest shift in human capital in history. For the first time in more than 34 years, Baby Boomers were no longer the workforce majority. In fact, Boomers were no longer the population majority. A larger generation rose to power globally, churning up controversy in their wake. The Millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, became the first generation raised in the post-Industrial era and the most studied generation in history.
Here and now, attention is beginning to turn to the next generation – Generation Z. The oldest Zs are entering their mid-20s, moving into early adulthood, and transitioning into careers. Leaders globally are curious about what to expect from this generation, now realizing they did an insufficient job preparing for the arrival of the Millennials.
There is always another generation, and the passing of the metaphorical baton always stirs up emotions and controversy.
Since the beginning of time, youth and young professionals have introduced new ideas and pushed us to contemplate change and question what is relevant. And since the beginning of time, the arrival of a new generation has been met with resistance. Delve deeper and you’ll understand why: Young people are the personification of change. They are a reminder change is necessary and unyielding, which is a difficult truth to accept.
Rooted in our social structure, discrimination toward young people goes back thousands of years. It’s a ‘kids these days’ attitude which translates into low expectations of young workers, expected to maintain a hard-working but humble profile as they learn the ropes from more experienced colleagues.
A spike in age discrimination occurred when the Millennials came of age alongside the mainstreaming of the home computer. Even though they had no power over the technological advancements and parenting shifts that influenced their upbringing, Millennials were commonly referred to as coddled, entitled trophy kids, and self-centered snowflakes.
This isn’t funny. This is age discrimination—the last accepted form of discrimination in our society—and it’s getting worse.
New research from New York University reveals workplace discrimination is at an unprecedented high. Researchers described the attitude older workers have towards young people as hostile, negatively impacting career trajectories, contributing to toxic workplace environments, and fueling employee turnover.
Here again, the pressure to change and stay relevant is evident.
Workplace hierarchy has always prized seniority. Young workers used to start at the bottom and slowly climb their way up the career ladder. But technology altered this trajectory, giving young people increased access to skill development, ample job opportunities, a fast track to leadership, and platforms to project their voices.
Now, hierarchies are called into question, executives are held accountable for their choices, and the data proves gaps exist. For the past 20 years, engagement has been declining, especially among younger generations, in workplaces, membership organizations, and even religion.
This is the result of young people feeling disrespected, overlooked, and misunderstood. Quite literally, our inability to embrace change is alienating entire groups of people and leading to the untimely demise of countless organizations.
Can we fix it?
Yes. But we’re going to have to accept and embrace the concept of change. The only way to do this successfully is to spend time in the community with youth and young professionals. We must flip everything we know about leadership and hierarchy on its head to humble ourselves and be willing to learn and listen to the next generation.
If you did this, you’d better understand where the gaps in engagement exist both personally and professionally. If you did this, perhaps you wouldn’t be so quick to judge young people or dismiss them.
The young professionals of today are the first generations of the Post-Industrial Era, raised in a world driven by technology and globalization. They have been impacted by the Great Recession, school shootings, terrorism, political conflict, climate change, and global pandemic. They are the best-educated generations in history, and also the most debt-ridden, most stressed, and most protected and supervised generations in history.
These characteristics have shaped their career trajectories and personal values, making them more likely to change jobs than previous generations. It’s important to them to be in stable, healthy, positive work environments, and to find jobs that tap into their Post-Industrial values for education and collaboration.
Employee engagement is more challenging to achieve among young professionals because they feel:
- Most businesses have no ambition beyond profit;
- Their skills aren’t being fully developed by their employers; and
- They aren’t a respected, valued part of the team.
Rather than delve in and seek to understand the motivations of the next generation, we resist. A fear of becoming irrelevant kicks in. Plus, our history has taught us to be quick to silence young people, and that it’s acceptable to criticize or dismiss their new ideas, questions, and challenges to think differently.
It’s time to put a stop to discrimination in the workplace. The only way forward is to prioritize the practice of listening to and learning from people representing different ages and experiences. We are not the same, stereotypes do exist, and ignoring these truths will do more harm than good. We must accept our diversity, not ignore it.
When we can recognize, understand, accept, and celebrate our generational differences, the controversies and conflicts will subside. Then, and only then, will our organizations successfully engage people of all ages, create inclusive communities, and establish roots with every generation – including the generations yet to come.