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Understanding Generation Z vs. Generation X in the Workplace

A GEN XER SHARES HER INSIGHTS ON HER GEN Z CO-WORKERS—HAVING RIZZ, CALLING IN SICK, PTO HABITS, AND MORE

About a year ago, I went back to work in an office setting. I’d been working from home for over five years. But a great job offer came my way, and I went for it. In that time away, a new generation entered the workforce.

employees at the office

GENERATION Z IS IN THE HOUSE! AS IS GENERATION X, GOOD OLD ME
In this new job, I work most closely with co-workers who are younger than my adult children. I am now too old to be their mother. Which, in its way, is freeing. I’m the quirky work grandma these days. Quirky Grandma is more fun than office-mom.

In my new work world, Gen X and Gen Z share office space, project goals, a dry-erase board, and mandatory cyber safety training. Somehow, with decades between us, Gen Z and I are on the same page most of the time. My Gen Z co-workers were born in 2000 or thereabouts. I admit, it’s slightly daunting to think I was 31 when these office mates were born, but there it is.

And there’s an entire generational cohort between us, the Millennials. There’s not a Millennial in sight in my neck of the cubicles. On paper, I’d have more in common with someone in their 40s. But to my delight, Gen Z is a delight, and we both agree that Cheugy-ness is the worst! (Cheugy: Pejorative description of lifestyle trends associated with the early 2010s.)

two women at the office

MY GEN Z COLLEAGUES HAVE TAUGHT ME A LOT, AND I’D LIKE TO THINK I’VE TAUGHT THEM A LITTLE
There’s a myth out there that the younger generation doesn’t want to work. The Gen Zers I know work hard and are conscientious about their output. They want to put good things into the world. They also want to be recognized for it. It was easy to see that my Gen Z co-workers appreciated when I noticed their effort and talent. Something I can’t ever remember my bosses worrying about when I was their age.

I used to think I was lucky to have a job, much less get kudos at that job. When I entered the workforce in the 1990s, jobs were hard to find. It’s the opposite today. Gen Z recognizes its value in a way I still struggle with. They understand that the labor market is tight, and that is powerful. Gen Z can be selective in ways I could not at their age in the 1990s.

I’ve learned that Gen Z takes all their PTO. They do not feel bad about it. Feeling guilty for having a day off is an unknown concept to them. Work-life balance is a goal for them, not a faraway benefit to achieve after “dues” are paid.

I’ve learned Gen Z will not put up with bad behavior in the office. They’re horrified by things that used to be said or done in the workplace prior to the “MeToo” movement. Respect isn’t a faraway benefit to achieve when you get to the top. It’s what all levels of workers deserve.

The concept of calling in sick is also completely different to them. Back in the day, you’d be praised for coming in with a fever and a cough. I anchored a 2-hour newscast in a whisper due to laryngitis. It was ridiculous. These days, everyone appreciates when you stay home. Got a cough? See you on Zoom.

two women using laptops

SO, WHAT HAVE I CONTRIBUTED?
I’ve tried to convey that emails don’t need to be novels. You can answer a question without the entire history of your thought process. Also, you don’t need to attend every meeting you’re invited to. And not to focus on how young you are. It’s neither a badge of honor nor a reason for your ideas to be undervalued. Age is just a number in both directions.

I’ve shared the perspective that everyone is under some pressure. As a younger worker, it can feel like you get the most guff. But take a look up and down at your workplace. Breathing down the neck of your manager is a Vice President; breathing down his neck is a CEO. Putting yourself in someone else's mindset helps you adjust your own.

It’s been fun learning that I have a touch of “rizz.” Accepting the observation that I am a bit of a try hard. And discovering that in today’s workplace I can wear whatever fit I want and we Gucci.

And here’s a flex, no cap: My Gen Z office mate and I can spot a Chad a mile away.