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Let's shake on it... reaching out across generations offers the best outcomes for workplace management. (Picture used for illustrative purposes.) Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The generational divide just got nasty.

Forget Donald Trump’s Twitter jibes at Greta Thunberg, a one-minute TikTok video has done what climate change and social inequality could not. That is, push Generation Z to breaking point over the injustices they feel have been forced upon them by an army of grey-haired retirees who have ruined the planet and their futures.

The call to arms was a video-gone-viral posted by a man in his sixties (at a guess) who chose to voice his frustrations and defend his ageing kinfolk. “The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome,” he said. “They don’t ever want to grow up.”

His comments were met with annoyance among children of the nineties and noughties, but their comeback was as cutting as it was carefree: “Ok Boomer” – a defiant dig at the babyboomers who, as Gen Z sees it, have it good, but who have made it distinctly bad for the rest.

Latching on to what’s trending

Since the TikTok post, the catchphrase has itself gone viral, becoming the slogan of America’s disgruntled youth. And the business savvy amongst them haven’t missed the trick – scrambling to design a host of “Ok Boomer” merchandise from hoodies to water bottles for sale online.

The public battle waged via the video-sharing social network is good humored and light-hearted in part. But it has a serious side, and it could be manifesting in your workplace.

Workplaces as extension of society

As we know, workforces are complex. In many ways, they are a microcosm for society at large – the lines that divide it and the ties that bond. Ethnicity and gender are often the hot topics when it comes to equality and office politics, but age is a factor too.

In many a conventional company, seniority of rank comes with seniority of age – that’s just the way it is. The tech boom has heralded a new era of millennial CEOs and company founders, but in most fields, the top dogs have earned their places through decades of ladder climbing.

Meanwhile, those occupying junior positions tend to be starting out on the bottom rungs, not just of the corporate ladder, but of adult life. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, but when generations find themselves at loggerheads, then we have a problem.

Run on basics

Effective working environments rely on mutual respect between employees, and a willingness to listen and learn from one another. Where those vitals are absent, cracks quickly begin to emerge. So, if the office is the world in miniature, then we’re in trouble.

Every time a babyboomer directs a condescending remark at a twenty-something activist, and every time an outspoken member of Generation Z levels an accusation at an entire age bracket, the divide grows bigger, goals move further away, and solutions become increasingly difficult to find. On both sides, everyone is keen to be heard but no-one listens, not really.

The funny thing is, the “Ok Boomer” phenomenon shares the same irony as any other kind of discrimination against “the other”. That is: at the end of the day, we’re all pretty much the same.

Not much of a mindset change after all

It’s a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by readers of a “New York Times” article. Commenting on the “Ok Boomer” merchandise, Dan88 from Long Island pointed out that “Designing a sweatshirt and profiting off of Gen-Z’s anti-boomer trend seems… well, a very boomer-esque thing to do.”

Then there was Alan Pearlstein from Michigan: “Just change ‘Gen Z’ to ‘Baby Boomer Generation’ and ‘boomers’ to the ‘Greatest Generation’ and you have a statement that could’ve been uttered fifty years ago...”.

If there’s a role for “Ok Boomers” in the workplace, it comes from the feistiness of the phrase. The two-word retort challenges judgment and stereotypes, and in the face of doubt, it screams “I’ll prove you wrong.”

Don’t let cracks emerge in your workplace. Encourage your people to listen and learn from each other. Let them say “We’ll prove you wrong” to all those who claim boomers and bright youngsters can’t work together towards positive change.

- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and bestselling author. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.