Guest Blog: OK Boomer? OK GenZ?

We all know that some traits can skip a generation, so it’s no big surprise to find that GenZ has much in common with the Baby Boomers, who are mostly their grandparents.

(I say ‘mostly’ simply because this writer is a Boomer and his son is definitely GenZ, and I know of others but, hey, generalisations usually work.)

At first glance, it may not seem like they have much in common. Boomers are berated by the younger generations for burning up the world’s resources, taking all the money and retiring. Boomers, if they can be bothered, can also point out that when they were young they had no plastic bottles, no ready meals, no chance of getting their avocados flown in every week – and so on. Many Boomers also didn’t have a television or a fridge until they were into adulthood.

But Boomers also felt that, since they were born out of the wreckage of WWII, they had to build things up, start again, get things working. It was an exciting but also a tough time – don’t forget that rationing in the UK didn’t even end until 1954.

For GenZ the situation is not as severe but they too have seen things bomb badly. The 9/11 horror, the 2008 global financial meltdown to name but two – and now here they are in Covid-19 lockdown with rationing not only of their access to food and drink but also to their friends, family and outdoor life. No, we’re not comparing being bombed by the Luftwaffe in your Anderson Shelter with having to stay in your luxurious house playing X-Box with your remote mates but, even so, these things shape character.

The Boomers used their experiences to start some of the biggest corporations in the world, they got us to the Moon, they invented technologies which we absolutely rely on today. They also started quite a few wars, although GenZ would be quick to point out that more Americans have died from Covid-19 than died in the entire Vietnam War.

So what will GenZ do with these experiences and insights? They seem to have the same burning desire to make things, to make things better, just in a different way. They need purpose and passion in their work more than previous generations, and they want it all to happen in a more moral way. Someone like Richard Branson, the original young Boomer entrepreneur, may have been hugely successful but he leaves behind a long trail of stories of him being less than honourable and straight in his dealings.

It looks likely, but not certain, that GenZ will behave a bit better than that. One thinks of the young Grace Beverley, making fashionable gym wear out of 92% recycled material, or the move away from the Millennial perfection of posts on Instagram to the more ‘real’ and less polished videos on Tik Tok.

GenZers also like to recycle stuff and wear recycled clothing, or indeed clothing from the 1990s (for some reason), so they have that in common with the Boomers. But GenZ also like things that don’t involve looking at a screen, usually for downtime. Reading a book, playing a vinyl LP, or, for reasons that escape us, playing a cassette tape.

As things stand Boomers tend to be at the top of corporations and GenZ currently near the bottom, although they’ll be working on changing that at astonishing speed. But we’ll bet the two groups find plenty in common and not just that live version of Jimi Hendrix on vinyl.

The Boomers just have to accept that GenZ needs training in different ways to how they were trained or like to be trained now – while Boomers like more formal classroom training, GenZ want to learn in their own ways and in their own timeframe, in a less structured but nonetheless professional way. Together, the two generations could bring a fantastic energy to any multi-generational corporation.

Graham Scott has been a professional award-winning writer and author for 40 years and has run his own agency and so understands the complexities of bringing motivated new talent into the marketplace – and retaining it. He has rough-traveled extensively and has a penchant for axe throwing and single malt whiskey, although ideally not at the same time.

Graham is a part of GenZ Insight which delivers consultancy and training to HR and all professional support functions on how to attract, train, retain and develop GenZ talent. GZI believes that people – not processes or technology – make organizations successful.