I’m a retired baby boomer who thinks Gen Z and millennial workers are smart to push back on return-to-office mandates


MAY 4, 2023

More companies are making employees go back to the office at least some of the time. Sergii Tverdokhlibov/Getty Images

  • Many Gen Z and millennial workers are rejecting old corporate rules and return-to-office mandates.
  • Some baby boomers might see these young employees as lazy and entitled.
  • But one who shared his thoughts on Gen Zers with Insider says he’s cheering on younger generations.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a retired baby boomer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy. Insider has verified his identity and past education and employment.

There might be a misconception that people my age — I’m in my 70s — view remote employees as lazy. There might also be a sense that since we boomers paid our dues, we see Gen Z and millennial workers — particularly the ones forming unions and pushing back against corporate rules — as entitled.

From my perspective, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been retired nine years. Now that I’m sitting on the sidelines of the workforce, I’m cheering on these younger generations with all my might.

The emperors had no clothes

After graduating from MIT and getting my Ph.D. at a large state school, I began my career in 1981 as an engineer and scientist in corporate America. That’s about the time some companies began implementing mass layoffs. Before that, if you were a good, loyal worker, you were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment. That changed when certain captains of industry came along: Jack Welch of General Electric, then Lou Gerstner at my former employer IBM, and later others.

Those CEOs appeared to view employees not as an asset but a cost. They seemed to care only about shareholder value and the bottom line. Pensions disappeared, and mass firings became a regular occurrence.

I shake my head at what my colleagues and I put up with — toxic work environments, management’s constant gaslighting and gatekeeping, and the endless hoop jumping that was expected of us. But I realize this only in hindsight: The emperors had no clothes.

Gen Zers and millennials, it seems to me, have a clearer grasp of what’s going on. Many of them seem quite hardworking and commonsensical. They watched as their parents and grandparents worked so hard and got so little. These younger generations see through corporate nonsense. Employers have lost credibility, and that’s why today’s workers are pushing back and demanding more.

Some of us baby boomers do not think highly of Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan who’s demanding workers return to the office and disparaging those who prefer the flexibility of working from home. I applaud the people who are resisting back-to-office mandates, which I see as nothing more than employers’ attempts to regain complete control.

When it comes to where you work, the question should be: Do you get the job done? If you do, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re doing it while swinging from trees in the Amazon or from an igloo in Alaska, provided that the company’s security is accounted for.

The office is not some magical place

Portraying the office as some magical place that builds morale and boosts company culture is, in my opinion, absurd. The office didn’t do that 30 years ago, and I can’t imagine that it does today. Over the course of my career, I saw plenty of people who worked in an office and didn’t get the job done.

The latest argument to get people back to working in person is that it’s a way for young people to receive feedback and development opportunities. In my experience, the only employees who ever got feedback were the folks management took a shine to, but OK, sure.

Being in an office at the beginning of a job can be useful, of course. It helps to have a break-in period. It’s also true that face-to-face interactions between colleagues are sometimes necessary when you’re trying to solve certain kinds of problems. But forcing workers to commute five days a week just so bosses can watch them do their jobs is ludicrous.

Back in my day, we sucked it up because we didn’t know any better. Today, with the rise of social media, workers can share their experiences and show the world how their employers mistreat them — all to achieve some gain in earnings or profits.

I, for one, am happy to be retired. And I sympathize with my Gen Z and millennial counterparts who have decades of work ahead of them. Keep fighting the good fight.

Courtesy/Source: Business Insider