David Demaree

‘Geriatric Millennials’

There’s a lot to unpack in this post by Erica Dhawan, and it took me a minute to decide which parts to excerpt. This passage, though, captures both her thesis and most of what’s wrong with it:

For organizations that are divided across generational divides between baby boomers and Gen Z, it’s beneficial to call on your geriatric millennials to help you translate the experiences of both digital adapters (baby boomers) and digital natives (Gen Z). It not only makes for a better internal culture but a happier clientele.

One geriatric millennial and head of HR, Sarah, told me that the new generation doesn’t treat video meetings in the same way they might an in-person meeting and she spends time getting them “up to speed.”

“During video meetings, I am surprised when some junior employees are not as conscious of their video background — it looks messy and unprofessional to me,” she says. Knowing that experienced (and older) team members are accustomed to more formality, even when they’re working from home, she now reminds her younger team members to fix their backgrounds on customer calls and wear clothing that they’d wear to the office. It signals respect, not only to clients but to other colleagues as well. On internal calls, she lets it go, adding, “We have to be willing to understand formality discomforts across channels and be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“Comfort” is an interesting concept to anchor on. The generation gap Dhawan’s concerned with seems to be the one between Boomers and younger workers; the idea that ‘geriatric’ millennials can help bridge the gap seems to stem from them knowing more about what older bosses and owners expect, and being able to teach new junior employees about workplace decorum. But this kinda seems to assume that the Boomers’ comfort should be a priority, whether they’re clients or internal, not the growing number of younger workers who’ve spent the last year working from home during a pandemic.

But does she even know which generations she’s writing about? Take this section:

Adette, a geriatric millennial and the CEO of Tinsel and In Wild Pursuit, addressed this problem on her team. She once hired a sales coach to grow her company. In his late forties, the coach was a digital adapter who kept pushing Adette’s team “to hit the phones and annoy and pester your prospects for meetings.” Adette remained skeptical, especially since she knew that her clients (most of whom were in their thirties) preferred texting, and in all likelihood ignored phone calls.

Someone in their late forties is not a boomer. That is a Gen Xer, and a younger one at that. It’s true that many Gen Xers entered the workforce before texting, chat rooms, and video calls were the norm, but merely pushing people to use telephones — which are still a preferred mode of communication for millions of people, including/especially at work — is not a sign of a ‘digital adapter.’ Rather, this seems like a much simpler case of someone who failed to listen and understand their market. Arrogance, sadly, spans generations. And while it may be problematic for a forty-something ‘sales coach’ to not know that millennials hate phones, it’s equally problematic for a leader to assume that that’s because the person’s age makes them a “digital adapter.”

Lastly, the term ‘geriatric millennial’ can be cute when used once, but as a serious label reflects a serious lack of understanding of what that word means. ‘Geriatric’ doesn’t just mean ‘old’ or ‘hecka old’ — it means ‘decrepit’, ‘outdated’, and in the medical context is used to refer to specialized care for older patients. Forty year olds (like me) are in no way geriatric; in fact, most of us are just hitting our career prime. It’s true that we’re well situated to help coach and lead younger millennials and Gen Z teammates, because we’ve seen some shit. It’s also true that there are more and more of us in C-suites and executive teams, especially in startups and smaller firms. But if a 40-year-old is geriatric, what does that say about someone who’s 50, 55, 60, and still in the workforce?

This is especially annoying because we have terms to describe ‘cusp’ millennials born between 1977 and 1983 — we’re xennials, also known as the Oregon Trail generation or (for the My So-Called Life stans) Generation Catalano. The phrase ‘geriatric millennial’ manages to communicate the same concept in more words, while also being borderline offensive?