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No. 17 – A younger colleague said ‘OK, Boomer’ to me. What am I doing wrong?

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23 June 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, getting younger employees to listen to advice, re-applying for a job after rejection, and fighting for diversity.

I work with a lot of younger people who I find lazy and self-absorbed. When I try to give them advice, they don’t seem to listen and want to do things their own way. The other day one of them said to me “OK, Boomer”. What am I doing wrong?

I am a Gen X, and I am going to give it to you straight. The fact that you find your younger colleagues lazy and self-absorbed is disrespectful and reveals more about you than them. If you want to feel any respect from your colleagues, you will need to respect them first.

“OK, Boomer” is not a term of endearment and perhaps demonstrates the challenges your colleagues have relating to you. Good working relationships take effort from both sides, so it might be time to try a little harder with them. Should “OK, Boomer” come up again, why not ask your younger colleagues if something is cheugy and see how that conversation goes!

As one of the more experienced employees, you have a responsibility to cultivate a workplace of inclusion. Rather than feeling threatened by younger members of your team – who bring much welcome energy, ideas and diversity to work – I would encourage you to seek to understand them. Consider asking your workplace to set up a reverse mentoring plan where you can get to know some of your younger colleagues on a deeper level so you can learn from them and feel able to work more cooperatively together.

A job that I previously applied for (and got rejected for) within my current organisation has opened up again. Is it awkward to re-apply?

I am so excited for you. This is a fantastic second chance and I confess to feeling some perverse pleasure on your behalf because (a) it sounds like the person they previously chose didn’t work out and (b) now is your chance to show them who they should have picked to start with!

It is absolutely not awkward to reapply – you should go for it. You will look terrific for being prepared to put what happened last time behind you and show them that you still really want the job. Be sure during the interview to talk about how much you took on from their feedback last time and how much you have learnt since then. Good luck!

My organisation has organised a full day leadership and culture seminar but every speaker they have invited is male and white. This hardly represents the diversity of our business or the goals our leaders speak about when wanting a culture of diversity at work. What can I do?

It is hard to believe any event organiser doesn’t immediately recognise when something is a “manel” (an all-male event or panel) which you can find being called out on social media most days of the week.

If you are reading this and have anything to do with organising events, anything at all – a tip for free – do not do this. Do not have a line-up of speakers that all look and sound the same. No one wants to hear from in effect the same speaker all day long and particularly a speaker who may not have lived experience of the subject area. People with diverse viewpoints, diverse ethnicities, diverse genders and diverse disabilities are the people we want to learn from. The sad reality is that this event, which is no doubt well-intentioned, is going to lead to a large proportion of employees feeling excluded, making the whole event counterproductive.

You might want to consider speaking to the organisers and hopefully you won’t be the first to bring this issue to their attention. Have a think about women or people of colour you might recommend they invite to speak, or even offer to speak yourself!

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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