Last Word

Rick Bell

Everything Old Is New Again For Gen Z

Everything Old Is New Again For Gen Z


never made a commencement speech. Class salutatorian or valedictorian? More like class clown.

My kids would probably tell you that the wisest piece of advice I offered them at our post-graduation party was, “Order the chicken; the burgers are really greasy.”

But that won’t stop me from providing you, the graduating Class of 2018, a bit of advice. I know, you’ve already heard the insights and anecdotes of irrelevant politicians, has-been actors and ol’ State U’s biggest donor. Serial, what can the Black Eyed Peas’ possibly impart on any graduating class?

So I didn’t create anthems like “Let’s Get It Started” or “My Humps.” may be a wizard of the soundboard but let me be your workplace sounding board.


Hear me out, ay? Gen Z is predicted to occupy over 20 percent of the workforce by 2020. I can help launch your career and simultaneously boost the spirits of the fine folks operating Chez Mom y Dad by prodding you out of your cozy suburban bedroom and into the cold reality of a two-room studio with a rotating flow of roommates and god-knows-how-many random visitors crashing on your couch, floor and bathtub.

No probs, you’re Generation Z! Boomers existed when there were just three channels on TV. Generation X thought Billy Idol was cool. And millennials? They’re just … old. Fail!

You got this. Except … well, those millennials. They’re gonna be your bosses.

Gen X will be your bosses, too. And yes, even some of those ancient boomers will be your bosses. In other words, you are on the low rung.

Cheer up. We’ve all been there. Do you think for a second that boomers were running Eastman Kodak or Ma Bell (Go ahead, Google it; I’ll wait) in the late 1960s as they en masse entered the workforce?

They were protesting the Monsantos and Dow Chemicals of the corporate world, not to mention smoking weed and tripping out on Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock.

When the 1980s rolled around and that sullen, self-absorbed (some say independent and self-sufficient) cohort we call Gen X was joining the workforce, they could only look up as Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak built their tech empires.

And then there is the millennials. Be happy you are not among them. Generation Y has been poked, prodded and overanalyzed in the workplace to the point of near-paranoia.

Over the past decade I have watched this jaw-dropping fixation. Hundreds, if not thousands of books offer overhyped drivel like, “what’s wrong with millennials in the workplace” to “tips to help you manage millennials” to simply “understanding millennials in the workplace.”

Swap out millennials with any generation, fam. Bosses and co-workers of past generations had the same concerns as they do today: How do I deal with these whippersnappers?

This generational obsession is a load of crap. I never got it and still don’t, even on the cusp of you all joining us in our workplace sandbox.

Gen Zers will be adulting just like we fossils did: with difficult and awesome bosses; overbearing and enjoyable co-workers; layoffs, downsizings and offboardings; pay raises, bonuses and pay cuts.

Today’s headlines trumpet that there are more jobs than people who are out of work. Hooray for jobs!

That is, until the next recession hits, like it did in 2008 (totes ask millennials about that one), and in 2001, and 1991, and 1980, and … well, you will tolerate several during your working life.

Then as senile boomers and sullen Gen Xers phase out, you and those doddering old millennials will roll your eyes at new generations of workers. And they will have the same workplace experiences as all of us from that bottom rung.

Some experts contend that you can be choosy about your job in this economy. Don’t accept your first offer, one so-called culture expert wrote, since you may be stepping into a dangerous company culture.

What an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement. You can’t even know if there will be a second offer. And if you have to move out of state for a job — say, the new weekend news anchor at WOMP in Tublone, Texas — experience eats culture for lunch every day of the week and at 5 and 11 on weekends.

I don’t know if “Let’s Get It Started” played during USC’s commencement ceremony, but if so, may have imparted some perspective on those grads after all. Gen Z, as you begin your careers, just like the rest of us when we stood in your Adidas Superstars, you defs have no where to go now but up.

Rick Bell is Workforce‘s editorial director. To comment, email