Paul Butler: ‘OK, Boomer’

Paul Butler

There’s a phrase going around social media presently, spoken by millennials in the workplace (ages range between 24 and 39) about those in the workplace (ages range between 55 and 75) and it simply goes like this: “OK Boomer!”

It’s not so much a sign of disrespect but more of a light-hearted comment used to dismiss or mock attitudes stereotypically attributed to the baby boomer generation. The phrase, “OK Boomer” was popularized as a reaction to a video of an unidentified older man, in which he declared that millennials have the Peter Pan syndrome: They don’t ever want to grow up; they think that the utopian ideals that they have in their youth are somehow going to translate into adulthood. The video inspired the phrase “OK Boomer” in retaliation.

Although I think this is all intended in good jest, it did set me thinking that we have to be careful that as we advance in years in the workplace, we don’t stand still in the present. I actually purport there’s an even worse position to be in as a boomer in the workplace and that’s to remain in the past.

I sat with someone recently who squarely sits in the boomer generation. It’s almost as if his soundtrack was stuck on rewind. Every anecdote; every example — in fact every word was about the past. It’s as if he’s not aware of the present and has no concept of tomorrow. I can imagine him being a very difficult person to work with and for. See, boomers like this just don’t see the talent around them that needs to blossom as all roads lead to themselves and their perspectives on how it should be done. OK Boomer.

This concept of being stuck in the past hit me again recently when my wife and I checked in at Burbank airport. Have you ever paid attention to the recorded music being piped through the airwaves down there? It’s all from the 1980s. Seriously! Check it out! It’s awesome (well at least to me). I have this vision of someone coming into work one day, nearly four decades ago and sneakily slipping in a ‘Best of the 80s’ multi-CD and it having been played every day, 24 hours a day, ever since!

The only vision worse than this is if some manager at some point in the past declared this was “good music” and had the explicit, formal authority to dictate that was what should be played every day at Bob Hope Airport while on his watch.

My guess is the staff members at the airport don’t hear the soundtrack anymore. They’ve closed their ears to it. That’s my fear for my older friend at work — if he’s playing the same old soundtrack every day, chances are no one hears him.

We have to be careful to not fall prey to all these generational differences in the workplace — there’s enough already to get people wound up at work. What I believe is the common denominator between all people of all ages, of all cultures at work, is the value of being valued. Whether we want to label them “Boomers,” “Gen-X” or “Millennials,” we should take care to show we care about each other. I think there’s no greater way to show we care than to ask for their ideas, their input and their suggestions. Great organizations know this.

Boomers often complain that Millennials lack loyalty and will jump ship for a little more recognition across the street. There may be some truth in that but I believe the recognition we all seek, regardless of age, is to know that we’re doing work that matters — that we’re making a difference with the time we invest in the workplace.

So, whether we’re just sitting down chatting or working in the world of commerce side-by-side, let’s be sure we don’t drown out the soundtrack that others can sing because we stuck on some multi-CD from the 1980s. OK Boomer?

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