Jennifer Leppington-Clark is surrounded by Gen Z’s at work. But instead of going down the grumpy elder path (mad respect, that’s easy to do!) she’s decided to embrace the youth around her – while at the same time, teaching the young’uns a thing or two herself.
I work at a company that has a handful of Gen Xers (myself included), many Millennials and a growing number of Gen Zers. Many of the latter I spend a lot of time with, and they’ve actually become really close friends. Despite the age gap and our different ways of viewing the world, I’m learning a lot from these gals – in fact, I’m learning something new every day. So, I wondered if they feel the same.
I chatted to two of my colleagues Odette and Elizabeth* to help me write this piece, really hoping that I have indeed been teaching them something. And trust me, what I heard was fascinating and touching. Here are the top four things Gen Z are teaching me:
A new vocabulary. If you haven’t yet heard the terms “slay!” “it’s giving” and “yass Queen”, where have you been? They should be used frequently and in every conversation – seriously. I also recommend bookmarking the Urban Dictionary for a quick scan of what things mean when in doubt. I asked Elizabeth if it was cringe for me to use these terms as an older person. She says, “It depends. If you just try and slot it in anywhere and it doesn’t make sense it’s cringe, but if you understand it’s use and use it correctly its totally slay and amazing!” I’m pleased to report that I have personally received a nod of approval about how I’m doing here.
A new approach to how you need to show up. When I was having a rough day and feeling a bit down, I told Elizabeth that I felt I shouldn’t be expressing this at work as I should “be more professional”. She was very clear on this one. After her initial reaction of “eww gross”, she tells, “We’re friends (and family) and work so closely together. Why should we conceal our emotions during work hours, especially when we spend more time with each other than anyone else? It is so fine to open up. In fact, it helps everyone around you! You’re not supposed to ‘be’ anything!” This concept of not having to ‘be’ something is a completely different viewpoint to what I’ve heard before and very liberating.
A new – and more genuine – approach to inclusiveness. In my experience Gen Zers are significantly less judgmental than my generation. As Elizabeth says, “there is no reason to exclude a person based on anything to do with how they look or dress or identify.” In effect, someone’s value is not in conformity, it’s inherent to the person. The takeaway? There’s room for all of us, whoever we are, however we are. I really love this.
A new way to find and consume information. While we used books (I’m looking at you Encyclopedia Brittanica), the library, Google and news sites to keep up to speed, Odette and Elizabeth would like you to consider social media, especially Tik Tok as a first point of reference. Odette’s pro tip when you find yourself confused about what your younger colleagues are talking about or if you want to know what songs are currently viral, is to open a Tik Tok account. Yes, it will get to Instagram (and then maybe, months later to Facebook), but to understand the current zeitgeist, you need to be on Tik Tok. The One of your Girls trend is peaking right now. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Type “what is the one of your girls trend” in the Tik Tok search bar…
But it also swings the other way – here’s the four biggest things that I, a Gen Xers, are teaching the Gen Z’s:
An old approach to work based on both freedom and support. Odette says how she appreciates how I’m willing to give her more responsibility than she thought she could handle in terms of work tasks. She reckons that what’s key is that I’m there to help her if she needs it but that she has the room to grow – to ‘try and fail’ or to ‘try and win’ in a safe space.
An old approach to how you view yourself. Odette is very clear about this one. She tells me, “You’re so good at remembering who you are and the importance of making yourself a priority. You choose things that make you happy and you are your own cheerleader.” This is something that I think has come with being older – I recall being concerned about what people thought of me when I was younger. And while I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone, I’ve figured out who I am and what I want.
An old approach to energy. There are so many things in life that we have no control over, but we can control what we give our energy to. Both Elizabeth and Odette tell me they value how I can take things in my stride and how I don’t get worked up or too stressed when things don’t go to plan. Says Elizabeth, “I love how you are able to know – and help me figure out – what is worth stressing over (and what isn’t)”. “You’re very patient,” says Odette. “You don’t see things as a failure or a catastrophe. Instead, you take the view that this is what the situation is right now. And then you ask, what can we do here to change it?”
An old approach to friendship. Even though there are many years between us, I have formed really strong bonds with both Odette and Elizabeth. Yes, I’m technically old enough to be their mother but that’s not really an issue nor is it getting in the way of our friendship. And they agree. “While there are lots of years between us, we get on really well. We like the same things and we’re quite similar,” says Elizabeth. “I don’t ever really think about the age gap. Just that we’re friends and that we care about each other and show up for each other in good times and in bad.” Perhaps exactly what friendship has always been about. It’s giving slay!
*Not their real names. No Gen Zs nor Gen Xers were harmed in the making of this piece.