A Story About Gen Z Written by an Older Person
“There’s a new crop of employees determining the norms and styles of the workplace. And they have no qualms about questioning not just emoji use but all the antiquated ways of their slightly older managers, from their views on politics in the office to their very obsession with work.” — New York Times
As her junior colleagues lashed her to a makeshift cross they’d constructed out of leftover standing desks, Ashley Carroll, a product manager at a mid-size tech company, began to regret greeting them with “hey you guys” before asking for their preferred pronouns.
“When I was growing up, that was a pretty common way to greet people,” said Ms. Carroll, 30, who was able to negotiate her way out of crucifixion by agreeing to post an apologetic video to her Instagram story. “I suppose times have changed.”
Like many Millennials, Ms. Carroll is struggling to find her footing in a culture quickly being remade by Generation Z (also referred to as “Gen Z” or “antifa”). This cohort—born between 1997 and 2012—is known for probably not having been alive on 9/11.
With the oldest Gen Zers now in their early 20s, the world is watching as they step out from behind the webcams they’ve used to launch multi-million dollar influencer careers and enter the real world. They’ve already developed a reputation as entitled crybabies for wanting things like climate action and a livable wage. How will they manage when they learn life isn’t just a viral TikTok dance craze inside a hype house?
“I just want to keep it 100 and go full send,” said Liam Jayden, 19, during an interview conducted entirely through voice memos on the communication app Discord. “Sure, I want others to stan me, but what’s most important is I stan myself.”
Jayden, whose pronouns include he/him, they/them, and she/her, enjoys minting NFTs from crayon drawings of characters from the HBO Series “Euphoria”—which he/they/she sells online for $25k a pop. Jayden’s using that money to launch a venture capital firm that’ll invest in “decentralization and weird flexes.”
“Real talk, our current capitalistic society is super extra, but our generation is gonna give it a glow up, high key,” Jayden said while smoking a Juul and cancelling Dave Chapelle. After a moment of reflection, Jayden added “yas queen.”
Meanwhile, Millennials—that group of people everyone hated until 2 years ago—are licking their wounds after being supplanted by Gen Z as the cultural tastemakers in (urban, white, affluent) society. Crucifixion incident notwithstanding, Carroll said she enjoys her younger colleagues because they’re not afraid to mention that no people of color work at the company. At the same time, she can’t help but resent what she perceives as their arrogance and self-involvement.
“They’d rather try and monetize their personal brands than work 60 hours a week helping boomers accrue even greater wealth,” said Carroll. “What a bunch of assholes.”
Older generations rolling their eyes at the young and hip is a tale as old as time itself. But what’s taken many aback is Gen Z’s insistence to talk about things everyone else feels pretty awkward about, such as gender identity and mental health. Carroll, who’s battled anxiety and depression working a demanding job in a male-dominated industry, was surprised when one of the junior members on her team recently said she needed to take a “mental health day.”
“She told me she’d seen the video of Donald Trump placing the candy bar on top of the child dressed as a Minion, and it really floored her,” Carroll recalls. “It took a lot of strength for her to tell me that. As a manager, I suppose I can do more to promote these kinds of candid conversations.”
Meeting the needs of their junior workers has become priority #1 for brands looking to tap into the sought after Gen Z market. Jax Peterson, the 24-year-old founder of consulting firm “OK Boomer,” has been advising brands on how to hire and work with Gen Z employees. Among his recommendations:
- Don’t be basic
- Don’t be suss
- Pay in crypto
“Gen Z really just wants what everyone else wants, which is to spin up a decentralized autonomous organization, use it to purchase the Rosetta Stone, and then edit out all the gendered and offensive language,” Peterson said. “What’s so hard to understand about that?”
Still, some feel a generation raised on school shootings, war, climate disaster, and a global pandemic has no conception of the harsh realities of life.
“Gen Z are of bunch of pussies,” said Archibald Wright-Thomas, an 80-year-old Harvard professor and expert on Gen Z behavior. “They stream television, order food online, and ride motorized scooters. It doesn’t make sense to those of us 60 years older than them.”
Gen Z is inheriting a world rife with inequality, injustice, and on the verge of ecological collapse. Will they be able to save us? Or will they get super triggered and run to the nearest safe space? Only time will tell.
“I have faith in the men and women of Gen Z,” Ms. Carroll said. “Oh, and the bigenders, genderfluids, genderqueers, non-binaries, omnigenders, transgenders, and agenders. Did I miss any?”