New Work: What boomers can learn from Generation Z

August 24, 2022

Ok, boomers, it’s nice to have you here! People can say whatever they want about Gen Z, but if we put aside the TikTok dances, low rise jeans and a scary amount of screen time, boomers (and millennials) can, in fact, learn a few thing from Gen Z. Especially when comparing approaches and expectations regarding work, where considerable differences for both generations come to light. 

Boomers, (post) millennials & zoomers

Those belonging to Gen Z (also known as zoomers or post-millennials) were born between 1997 and 2012, making them the first generation to be born into a digital world. Growing up surrounded by technology, they’re also referred to as digital natives. The situation of the boomers (short for baby boomers) was rather the opposite. This generation was born between 1946 and 1964 as a result of increased birth rates after WW2, so these kids and teens were still a long way from ever holding a smart phone in their hands. After the boomers came Generation X (born between 1965 – 1979), who also received the moniker “Generation Golf” in Germany. Filling the gap between Generation X and and Generation Z is – as you’ve probably alphabetically guessed – Generation Y, also known as the millennials.  

Each generation is influenced by the unique realities and life experiences of their times, with the resulting differences between the generations manifesting themselves in many ways. In particular, there are noticeable distinctions between the generations in regards to their professional lives. While boomers may enjoy criticizing Gen Z’s work ethic by viewing them as lazy (“when I was your age, I had already bought a house”), there’s actually a lot that boomers can learn from Gen Z, and no, we don’t mean just getting tips for making cool TikToks or Instagram reels. Below are 5 New Work approaches Gen Z has brought to the table for everybody. 

1. Secure and purposeful career pursuits

Lazy and lacking ambition - that’s how boomers often describe Gen Z. In turn, Gen Z accuses the boomers of only existing to work. The millennials, meanwhile, touted as the “purpose generation” for emphasizing the importance of meaningfulness in their work, is also the same generation which tends to be plagued by more overtime and burnout than all the other generations. Perhaps this is why Gen Z is striving for a happy medium. This generation wants purpose in their work, too, but is using a pragmatic approach to achieve it. For them, meaningful work priorities also encompass job security, a proper salary and work-life balance. Boomers could certainly learn a few things from this blend of purpose, security, autonomy and pragmatism. 

2. Redefined managerial responsibility

Boomers stereotypically have a highly hierarchical understanding of leadership. A higher rung on the career ladder imminently means more management responsibility. However, Gen Z prefers a different organizational approach. Some New Work companies have completely replaced their hierarchies with holocratic structures, and in general tend to distribute management responsibilites in a decentralized manner. Project-based work is not focused on climbing the career path, but rather acquiring as much expertise in specific areas as possible. Having this insight regarding shared work and leadership responsibilities makes it possible to distribute responsibilities in a more individualized manner, essentially by decoupling this distribution from career levels.

3. Flexibility in place of the ball-and-chain job

It’s not uncommon for boomers to spend their whole career at the same company. This is not usually the result of job satisfaction, but rather due to job security or identifying with their employer. These issues don’t play much of a role for Gen Z. It’s perhaps important that an employer’s values are compatible with their own, but equally important is that the job fits their way of life and won’t conflict with their plans. This generation’s employees are open for changes and development, and in turn their employers are as equally accepting of transformation. In short, Gen Z is flexible and seeking new challenges.

4. The new standard: a corporate culture with ample benefits

Baskets of fresh fruits, fitness studio memberships, flexible working hours and mobile working – companies not providing such perks won’t attract Gen Z employees. Boomers may consider this a workplace utopia, but for Gen Z it’s simply the New Work standard. This generation is not sacrificing itself for the sake of work – it’s creating compatibility between professional and private life. They are aware of the importance of maintaining their mental health and demand that their employers understand this importance, too. Here’s where not only boomers, but also the millennials can learn something valuable from the TikTok generation. While millennials might have paved the way for Gen Z by advocating the work-life balance, many millennials are caught up in the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, and are unable to achieve the very balance which they are proponents of themselves. Derek Thompson, staff writer for The Atlantic, attributes this to negative experiences the millennials had while being exposed to the poor job market created by the global financial crisis. The matter of course way with which the digital natives of Gen Z are calling for more self-fulfillment and support of their emotional and mental well-being is admirable, especially now, amidst the Corona pandemic and an unstable job market. 

5. Engagement: in and outside of work.

For Gen Z, a job should also make positive contributions to society and the environment. Many of them spend time outside of work involved in movements such as Fridays for Future or Black Lives Matter. Understandably, they also carry this sense of engagement with them to the workplace. Who said there’s no room at work for making the world a better place? Certainly not a zoomer - and that’s the sort of thinking all working generations can benefit from.