It takes a while to read and respond to 400 emails.
That's how many people voiced their opinion about an article recently that talked about a new survey claiming that Millennials really, really hate Baby Boomers. It was all about job prospects and workplace dynamics, but it took on a much broader theme.
It struck a nerve with every age group, and the responses were surprisingly sane in most cases. (To be clear: At least a dozen were incredibly annoyed with my article and a handful even resorted to name-calling and outright threats. Most made valid points.)
A theme developed quickly, though.
In reading and responding to the messages, I found that every age group--from Gen Z and Millennials, all the way up to older Boomers and beyond--voiced some clearly worded complaints about every other generation. I know that Millennial hate is a real thing (calm down on the skinny jeans, those of you under 37). I know that Baby Boomer hate is also a real thing (you're all happy in your cushy jobs and don't care to let anyone else take over, got it). Oh, and Generation X? You also hate MIllennials, and Gen Z, and Boomers. Might be time to stop listening to so much Nirvana and dusting your LPs.
It was actually quite comical after a while, and I decided to fully invest in the process of reading and responding to emails--even the abusive ones. Fun times.
Each age group that decided to express outrage at me specifically for the article also lumped me into the age group that was causing the problem. How convenient! To the Boomers who said I was excusing Millennials, I was a Millennial. To the Gen Z folks who said I was tone deaf about all of their workplace problems, I was a Boomer. In fact, out of the 400 emails, things were evenly split--I'm somewhere between 16 and 80.
But I also sensed something far more troubling in the emails.
We like to blame.
If I wasn't the object of their scorn, someone else in a different generation was. In all 400 emails, I only noticed maybe six or eight that accepted responsibility. One reader said he wants to go back to school. Another said he feels guilty about squandering his time after college. Those who agreed with my claims, which were mostly about how younger generations need to work even harder to find jobs and that the "best of the best" will likely find a job and advance in their careers, still found a way to blame.
I'm not surprised by that, but I was surprised at just how many people expressed downright hateful opinions about other age groups. The issue, in the end, is that hate is rampant.
Maybe we've defined the age groups too clearly--after all, if we determine a generation by how much we stare at a phone, then we're all part of the same generation, minus people with feature phones. Maybe there isn't such a big difference between Gen Z and Millennials, maybe every single Baby Boomer isn't to blame for taking all of the good jobs and not helping, training, and even promoting a younger workforce.
But the generalities about generations? They are searing. They are out of control. And I will accept some of the blame for that. I've certainly written about generational differences, but the truth is that every generation is struggling. Jobs in your field can be hard to find, and it doesn't matter if you are 22 and fresh out of college or 52 with a fully stocked resume.
What I'd like to see is less blame and more creative ideas. I'd like to see more generations coming up with new ways to solve their own problems. I'd like to see more helpful advice and less hateful abuse and rage. That doesn't help anyone, in any age group.
I promised a follow-up article, and this is it--blame is rampant and out of control. But what I'm really interested in is how to solve the problems related to generational divides in the workforce and how to solve the generational divides in all areas of life.
If you have ideas (and not just a complaint or another thing to blame), go ahead and pass it along. I'll do a second follow-up.