Lindsey Pollak, speaker, author and thought leader, joins the program to share her diversity story, including her struggles with anxiety and how she found her passion while mentoring others. Lindsey discusses the concerns that she has about the emerging workforce, the strengths that each generation brings to the workplace, and how different generations can support each other during this time.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- How Lindsey discovered her passion (13:00)
- How young people think about mental health (18:00)
- How the emerging workforce is being impacted by the pandemic (24:00)
- How different generations can support each other during this time (29:00)
- The challenges that perfectionists are facing (33:00)
- The changing perceptions about careers and work (36:00)
- The challenges faced by gig workers (48:00)
- What companies need to do now to build loyalty (49:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Lindsey, welcome to The Will To Change.
LINDSEY POLLAK: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m so glad you’re here. We’ve known each other forever. Oh my gosh. You and I used to be trainers side by side in classroom training. What did you used to teach all those years ago when we first met? Do you remember?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I do. I started my corporate training career by teaching business writing because I was trying to make it as a freelance writer in the 90s and quickly learned that, that was not going to cut it. And so I remember hearing that it was really hard for the consulting firm that we worked with to find people who felt comfortable teaching writing. So that was my entree into the world.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And I think I was teaching down the hall from you, I’m sure-
LINDSEY POLLAK: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: … Because we used to do these big… we did this combo platter of business writing and presentation skills. Remember when we used to videotape everybody-
LINDSEY POLLAK: Yeah, the big VHS tapes.
JENNIFER BROWN: … and have them watch themselves? The big VHS machines. I know. I have the big suitcase that I would take to the training. So funny and then subsequently you would become a multi-time author and, I mean, it’s just incredible what you’ve built. And I was so excited to bring you onto The Will To Change because you’ve always been a specialist since those days you’ve become a real specialist in generational diversity in the workplace and specifically the millennial generation and generation Z coming up behind them. What they want, how they move, what they care about, their values how they look at work, how they think about their purpose, how they think about their own diversity and diversity and inclusion in general, which I think is something we talk about a lot on The Will To Change that it’s fundamentally so different in the way they look at it and the way they prioritize it, which is good news and bad news for companies that are still kind of old and creaky and haven’t gotten the memo, which is most of them.
So that’s what I’m going to pick your brain about today. And in light of… we’re recording the session on April 2nd, 2020. So everyone will know this is a timely episode as well because I think what’s happening in our world with COVID-19 is impacting young people in a particular way. And this is a generation defining moment, right? And we always talk about the big things that happened like this impacting people who are coming of age and impacting them in a really profound way. And it can either… it just changes the trajectory. I don’t want to say it’s negative or positive, right? I know that we could look at it as is both it creates a cohesion in a generation, but it also destroys opportunity for that generation, right? It delays the ability and the flexibility they have to achieve what they want in life. Right? They’re kind of starting out on a back foot, if you will. So I do want to get into that too as well.
But I ‘d love, Lindsey, for you to tell The Will To Change audience a little bit about your story and kind of why you felt called to this work. We ask everybody what is your diversity story? So what would you like to share with the audience about who you are, how you grew up maybe, and what purpose drives you?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Thank you so much for that introduction. All really good topics. I always start my origin story with the fact that in college I was an RA, a resident advisor, and I really kind of struggled in college to find my place and figure out what I wanted to do. I will say that my mom had her own business when I was growing up, so I kind of grew up with her listening to motivational tapes in the car on the way to field hockey practice and watching her build a business and go to networking events.
So I think the seed of entrepreneurship was always there, but I never knew what the work would be. And my freshman year I had trouble picking a major. I tried a million different activities I just kinda didn’t find my groove. And then by my senior year I became an RA and it just clicked that being kind of a mentor and advisor at the time, I was overseeing just first years. That’s the way it worked at my college. And helping them learn from my mistakes and learn from my lessons and taking everything I knew and helping them with it. It just felt right. Now, of course, like most people, it took me like another 10 years to figure out that that was the origin moment. But I kept trying to find that feeling again and one of the really profound experiences I had, and I think of it some ways as my diversity moment or awakening is, I just remember in college being told, “You are the future.”
“You have so much potential.” I think we say this to all students the world is your oyster. Everything’s in front of you. And then I remember virtually the day I graduated hearing the message, “Well, what are you doing now?” It was like you have everything ahead of you, but now pick one thing and go with that and nobody’s going to help you anymore. And it felt like falling off a cliff. Right? And so my first job out of grad school, I got a master’s degree in women’s studies and when I graduated it was the dotcom boom you kind of late 90s you had to work at a dotcom. It was just so exciting. And I did, I worked at a website called workingwomen.com and I just gravitated to the entry level stuff the college campus hiring, campus recruiting, young entrepreneurship.
And when they went bankrupt right before 9/11 in 2001 I started freelancing and it just seemed like this natural fit, because I was also in my 20s, to help young people figure out their college to career transition. I thought I would probably go work at a university in career services or do campus recruiting, but I couldn’t find a job. I mean that era of 9/11 was very similar I think to where young people are finding themselves right now. And I started freelance writing, which led as we talked about to the freelance training which led me to develop my own content. My first book was called Getting from College to Career. And I kind of launched from there. And I’ll just tell you from that diversity moment, my first draft of Getting from College to Career, I got back the notes from my editor and she said, “Didn’t you make any mistakes?”
And I said, “What are you talking about?” And she said, “You look too perfect in this book. What people really want to know is the moments you felt like an outsider, the moments you felt different, the fears you had.” And it sort of was this huge aha moment that people want to hear about your humanity and people want to hear about the struggles you had. And once I added that to the book and to my content into my blogging and training, everything sort of shifted. So I think it was not just the discovery of where I wanted to focus, but sort of realizing that the best way to do that was to tell the truth and be authentic was something I learned a lot later, but I think was really important.
JENNIFER BROWN: Lindsey, that’s so resonant with me. When I was writing my books, I would leave myself out of it and then my team, which was helping me write the book, they would say, “We need a little bit more Jennifer in this chapter or in this section can you go in and personalize it a little bit more?” And I found I was keeping myself out of it because I was in teacher mode and I was in kind of I suppose, expert mode, right? Because, that’s what we think the world needs from us. But the most beautiful and effective books I think blend the expertise with the storytelling and the vulnerability that you’re talking about. And I mean it’s such an interesting thing. And I think any authors presume that who we are isn’t as interesting as what we know.
But I love the challenge of blending those things and bringing… and scaring myself a little bit in terms of being vulnerable. I wonder what is in all of your writing and everything, what is the riskiest thing that you’ve included in your books or on stages about your personal story, your experiences or mistakes or whatever? What did you do with that advice? And I guess I might ask you today, where do you feel like you’re really dancing on the edge when you share?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Oh, no question. I have suffered from anxiety since probably childhood. I think a huge issue of why I struggled in college was undiagnosed anxiety or we just sort of didn’t reach out at the time. I have been on medication for anxiety and panic attacks for about 12 years and I really didn’t share that until my most recent book, The Remix which is about the multi-generational workplace. So I think sharing mental health issues was something I had always covered up. And I think probably explain some of the perfectionism and I think particularly to your point that millennials and Gen Zs are so much more comfortable in many ways with diversity and bringing whole selves to work. I think their acceptance and honest talk about mental health has helped me be more honest about that in my books and also in my presentations.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know what’s so beautiful about that? That they are inspiring you to lower your waterline-
LINDSEY POLLAK: Completely.
JENNIFER BROWN: … because of their openness. Right?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Completely.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think that’s so beautiful and that is the potential, I think of having a younger generation coming in and forcing these changes just by bringing their full selves in, right? Just by… I always think of it as like this commitment to their story and who they are and their authenticity. They are not willing to… I hope they’re not willing to budge from that. And I want them to bring that in to force organizations to really pay attention and to do the work that they need to do, to shape around this generation that’s coming in because it is more authentic and it is more challenging. I mean, I’m sure every professor is also challenged by what the students are bringing into the room.
We have things like trigger warnings, right? We have conversations about trauma. We have conversations about mental health amongst young people. And the question amongst older generations might be more judgmental. About, well, we’re resilient. That was never an issue or we just push through it. If you were felt challenged don’t be so sensitive. I think that cross-generational judgment has always been true. You’ve taught generational diversity forever. And so have I and I prefer to obviously not negatively stereotype any cohort, but, but what I think is so beautiful and the potential of bringing our full selves to work can finally be realized in this generation who yes, maybe has been supported to an extent that we weren’t supported in our generation by parents, by other enablers that perhaps like generation X didn’t really have.
But, but the beauty, the authenticity and the courage to be yourself can actually change the institutions that these young people in, which I think is more than I could ever do as somebody who’s trying to get the leadership to pay attention to these things. When you got this like massive sea change coming in amongst that younger generation it’s like the wave behind me that I’ve been waiting for so that we could be propelled forward in a faster, deeper way.
LINDSEY POLLAK: I love that. Well, they have the tools. One of the things I always say in generational diversity trainings is I think millennials and Gen Zs want what every generation has always wanted. Increased feedback, authenticity, work life integration, mission and purpose. We wanted it, but we were like, “Oh, I guess that work doesn’t give that.” We didn’t have any opportunities.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. Wasn’t an option.
LINDSEY POLLAK: So now when you have a voice on social media, when you have rate my professor.com when you have Glass door, when you have Yelp, your voice is being accessed. Whereas, I had plenty of opinions in my 20s just I didn’t have anywhere to share them. So I don’t think the desire is different. I think the times in which we’re living in and the mechanisms this generation have are what are allowing them to speak up. I’m actually envious of them because I would have loved to do a lot of the things that millennials have been able to do with their voices. It just kind of didn’t exist for us.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so true. That’s what I always say too. Oh my gosh, I can totally tell we used to teach together years ago.
LINDSEY POLLAK: I know.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re still so aligned. I must’ve just been listening and taking notes in the back of your room I think all those years ago-
LINDSEY POLLAK: I know.
JENNIFER BROWN: … because I say that all the time. It’s what we do… We deeply wanted these things but we didn’t have the option to ask for them. We didn’t have the voice. And I think a lot of us were covering in the workplace. Right? I mean imagine your mom being a career woman. That generation, we stand on their shoulders in terms of all the glass they broke through all the cuts they sustained. All the anxiety and struggle of being the only for months and years and your whole career. It’s just incredible. And I think you know what you and I have been able to go on and build as a result of seeing that those role models is really intense and you having a mom related origin stories is interesting because almost all of our Will To Change guests talk about their moms-
LINDSEY POLLAK: Oh that’s awesome.
JENNIFER BROWN: … and a lot of them had yeah. And a lot of them had career moms, a lot of them had moms who were community organizers so we were very influenced. I think a lot of people who do this kind of work are… or grandmas and grandparents who really, really pushed them to achieve and to make a difference in the world particularly. So I think that’s really interesting. So let’s stay on the mental health piece. Thank you for sharing and being so open about your struggles. So the defining moment of this crisis that we’re living in for young people, what can you tell us about that experience? How it’s being experienced, metabolized, embodied in this generation?
This will change everything for them. And I think for us on The Will To Change, we have in our audience a lot of organizational architects, people that can actually listen to an episode like this. And hear some really important messages and insights from somebody like you, Lindsey, who literally all the time you spend with people of these ages understanding what they want and need and how they need to be supported to do their best work and to be productive and work for a company they’re proud of and all that stuff. What can you tell us about what you’re hearing from the front lines and then what do you want organizations to know and to potentially do if you have any solutions. I know it’s really early, but if you could wave your magic wand and somehow say the world of work needs to change in response to this crisis in this way in order to support this incoming cohort from a generational perspective.
LINDSEY POLLAK: That’s a great question and I am so glad we’re starting there because that is my biggest concern right now is the mental health of everybody, of all of us. Because this is so challenging with isolation and loneliness and disconnection and, and economic uncertainty. But particularly for young people who are just starting out, particularly for the class of 2020 college students, those who are getting their offers rescinded, who aren’t sure if they’re going to have a job, what the economy is going to look like. There’s a tremendous amount of fear. So number one, I would say check in on any young people that you know personally, if you have had an internship program, if you have any sort of communication mechanism with young people today who would now be Gen Zs, but certainly anyone in their 20s or early 30s might be vulnerable in particular among everybody else.
Any communication to say, we see you, we know this is hard for you. Here are some resources that we recommend. I think the biggest concern of a lot of young people right now is they feel ignored and they feel looked over because they’re not on the payroll yet. Or they’re the first person in, they think the last person and they think they’re going to be the first person out. Just a total invisibility is happening to a lot of young people because they can be ignored because we don’t see them walking around the hall. So number one is acknowledge, communicate, etc. Even if you don’t know what the answers are yet, even if you don’t know whether your program is going to happen, whether your interns are going to get full time offers, I think that communication piece is just so, so critical and valued right now.
One of my favorite services to recommend is a lot of younger people are less comfortable on the telephone. So there’s a service, you probably know about it, called Crisis Text Line. And it’s where anyone with any kind of mental health crisis can just send a text message. The numbers are different around the country and outside of the United States. But I think that is just a tremendously valuable service also for those of us who are interested, we can register and get trained to be on the other end of those text messages. So I think anyone who’s concerned about mental health, it’s something you can do from social distancing, from isolation, from quarantine.
So that’s something I would mention. The second piece that I would say is I think a lot of organizations have really improved their mental health services and opportunities. I would anticipate that that is going to be a tremendous need moving forward. However, all of this plays out. And to just be aware that the need and the quantity of need for mental health services and benefits is probably going to be off the charts. So I think a preparation for that would be really valuable, but I think it just starts with saying to people, I see you, I hope you’re doing okay. Let me know if you need anything, because a lot of young people are feeling very ignored right now.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for reflecting that. We are experiencing a collective trauma right now, but it is particular to that generation. Lindsey, what else? What other advice might you give for… once younger employees are in the company and have jobs there’s questions right now of engagement and productivity and use of technology and virtual engagement as I’ve been thinking about it. And I know the different generations and kind of how we’ve all viewed that and how we’ve been to varying degrees, comfortable and uncomfortable with morphing into that future of work state. And now we’re here. I mean we’re literally in this sort of accelerated time where we’re skipping a lot of steps and we’re thrust into this. And so I wonder is there a working style or a particular skillsets or lenses or mindsets that can be leveraged that are the strengths of the younger generations in the workplace that can help all of us get through this. I mean, should we think of this in terms of like strengths of certain generational cohorts right now and or maybe the discomfort that some generational cohorts are feeling with these changes?
LINDSEY POLLAK: You know, it’s so interesting because it’s going in a lot of different directions. And I know you and I are very against stereotyping and assuming all people in one cohort are the same and yet there are some very interesting trends I’m noticing. I believe you and I both identify as generation X, the generation born between 1965 and 1980 who are always thought of as cut in the middle child generation. We’re the small generation, we’re kind of the outsiders, the introverts and there’ve been so many memes about how we are so well suited to this because we like to be alone anyway. We want to keep to ourselves, and eat lunch by ourselves and hide out at home.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re not joiners.
LINDSEY POLLAK: Exactly. So I think there’s a lot of humor which is always appreciated. The huge stereotypes that I have been seeing are older people aren’t good with technology and younger people aren’t good with in-person. Well, what a phenomenally amazing opportunity for cross-generational mentoring or co-mentoring because I have seen, I have been on so many Zoom calls like everybody where the older people, maybe not all, but some are struggling to figure out how to change their name on Zoom or where to look into the camera or how to do the technology and the younger people are very happy and honored to help.
But I also think a lot of younger people are being very comforted by older people, Gen X, boomer and traditionalists, who are saying, “You know what? I went through something really hard. Here’s what happened on 9/11. Here’s what happened when president John Kennedy was shot. Here’s what happened during the recession, the day that Lehman brothers folded.” I think there’s this really interesting cross mentoring of young people sort of showing their skills with technology and some older people offering their historical knowledge of resilience and how to get through tough times.
Nothing is like what we’re going through. Every situation is different, but I think the value that each generation brings is really powerful. And I have to say, one of the most charming things that I have found in this awful situation is a lot of older people. I’m thinking of my dad who’s in his 70s who you could never have gotten him to do Skype, but he wants to see his grandchildren. And so you know what? He’s figuring it out and he’s terrible at it and he’s vulnerable and he’s cute and he’s funny and he is just dealing with it because he has to. And young people are often not as strong on the telephone with just voice calls because they haven’t had to do it. And they’re struggling and they’re terrible and they’re kind of like muddling their way through. And it’s just sort of to me, because we were thrust into this because we have no choice, everyone just kind of has to figure it out.
And I think there’s such a humanity to that and such a learning because in a way, in the past you could avoid things you didn’t want to do, right? You could choose a different communication tool. Right now you can’t. And so it’s forcing everybody to get better. And to be really terrible in a very public way that I’m actually kind of enjoying. And I have to say I’m not the biggest fan of face calls. Thank God we’re doing this by Skype, Jen, and that we’re not talking to each other because I get so awkward and then I put on makeup and all that, but it’s sort of making me deal with it. And it was young people, it was my millennial staff who said, “Lindsey, nobody cares if your hair looks bad, like get over it.” And I needed to hear that. So I just think I’m kind of going in a lot of directions, but I think there’s something to the suddenness of this that is forcing a lot of learning.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean I’m curious for you as a business owner, right? How you’re iterating right now on the point of perfectionism, right? I know you probably suffer from perfectionism. You, you mentioned it earlier. Yeah. And I do too. And it’s, it’s such a challenge for us to kind of figure out like what do people need right now and kind of get it out quickly. And knowing it’s not going to be perfect. And being okay with that. It’s also a reckoning. I think for some of us perfectionist to really say like, the months ahead will be owned by people that aren’t afraid to test, that aren’t afraid to fail forward, that aren’t afraid to take risks.
Right? And for us business owners, I mean you and I are pretty entrenched in our fields, right? We have so much invested, we put so much into it and yet to remain relevant we’re going to be having to go through a lot of tough questions too and be very imperfect in terms of our own exploration. And so I wonder are you experiencing it that way? And how are you managing your own tendency to perfectionism in a time when everything is going to be kind of up in the air?
LINDSEY POLLAK: It’s such a great question and I’ll be really honest. I hate it. I hate being imperfect. I hate not knowing what’s going to happen. I hate the uncertainty. I like my nice, clean, perfect projection spreadsheets. But it is the biggest lesson ever that no matter what you think, however much you plan, it’s never going to go the way you want. And I am trying, first and foremost just trying to find the humor of my daughter running in and screaming in the middle of a conference call that people’s cats walking across their keyboards. So number one I think is to find the humor and I think people are. It’s actually been also really heartwarming that people are a lot more understanding of that sort of thing right now. I have a millennial team who helps me with my social media and my podcasting and they just keep pushing me to be imperfect.
And you’ll see, if you look at me on social media, every post is edited because I can’t help myself but go in. But just to get stuff out there. And I’ve had blog posts lately that have had 16,000 hits and I’ve had some that have 20. And to just understand that this is all experimentation. I’ll say one of the biggest pieces of advice I got, which is so simple, was Jamie Klein, who’s an HR expert, you probably know Jamie’s work.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I know Jamie.
LINDSEY POLLAK: She said, “Keep a list of what is, what has gone well during this time and what hasn’t, what have you done well, what would you want to do better? What worked, what didn’t work?” Because she said, “Don’t lose the opportunity to learn from this.” And if you actually jot it down, it’s really helpful. So in a way, just knowing that like, well, even if this doesn’t go well, it’s something I can write on my list. Sort of encouraged me to try some new stuff. But yeah, it’s really uncomfortable. But if the doctors can go in and do what they need to do, the least I can do is post a blog that I don’t think is perfect. So I’m trying to keep that in perspective. Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that is such a beautiful perspective. Anytime you’re feeling a little tense about how you’re coming across, just imagine the risks that people are taking right now. And it’s just puts it into proper perspective. So do you see a ton of… and I know that we, neither of us knows, but do you see a lot of entrepreneurship potentially coming out of this because the corporate jobs aren’t going to be there, right? I think that the younger generations must be grappling with as, as many of us are going to have to grapple with. Actually, I think a ton of all generation people are going to be coming out of this, like it or not, and having to become an entrepreneur.
I mean, whether they want to or not. So I wonder is that something you… when you think about that, does that make you happy on one level in terms of I know you and I are boosters for entrepreneurship obviously, right? It’s been the way that we have found our voice. And so we know that, but that was in… I might argue, really optimal times. So I wonder, how are you thinking about that and then your guidance for young people? I mean, is it including conversations about the possibility that lifetime employment was shaky already and so what are they actually looking at?
LINDSEY POLLAK: That’s such a good question. Historically the data have shown that millennials who were born between 1981 and 1996 are actually less entrepreneurial than previous generations, primarily because of their student loan debt burdens. So they felt that they couldn’t take on the risk of entrepreneurship. They needed a more steady paycheck so that they could pay back those student loans. In reaction to that, Gen Z who are born 1997 and later. So are very young the oldest are maybe 23 years old often as a reaction to the previous generation, you see a change and that they were more entrepreneurial. So we saw more entrepreneurship classes in college. We saw more young people foregoing college to start their own businesses. So I think that trend had already started a little bit in reaction to 2008 and two the student loan debt crisis.
My concern is that most of the jobs created since the great recession in 2008 have been contract positions and independent contractors. So I’m a big fan of entrepreneurship with the caveat of whether you can get a living wage and whether you can get health insurance. So I’ve had to coach young people to look at independent roles, whether it’s gig economy roles or starting their own businesses or independent contractor with the huge concern that that leaves you vulnerable without health insurance. Now you can stay on your parents’ health insurance until you’re 26 that’ll cover some young people.
But if we don’t address the health insurance issue, I think it sets them up for the double whammy of not having a consistent income and not having health insurance. I will say I got my health insurance because really I was job hunting after 9/11. I started my business as sort of a backup plan and it ended up working out, but it was not my intention. I stumbled across the freelancers union, which is a fantastic organization and that was how I got my health insurance at the time. So I want to give them a shout out. So I think entrepreneurship is wonderful and I think some phenomenal creative businesses will come out of this. But I’m always concerned about the health insurance piece, especially for young people. Does that make sense?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah, absolutely. And me too. I know it’s… I just don’t know how we’re all going to… there’s going to be sort of an influx, I think of self employed people coming out of this and, and then the question is who’s buying what? And when I think about being a really young entrepreneur, I mean, I don’t know about you Lindsey, but I’m not sure anybody would have paid me for my expertise in my 20s. I think about it like, what can I do? But then again, I have some pretty successful 20 year old entrepreneurs that do work for me, and they are brilliant and resourceful, it’s incredible.
LINDSEY POLLAK: I mean it’s different now. It’s different. I mean, when I say about Gen X, when we graduated, and I’ll say myself, but maybe you agree, we didn’t really have any skills that people with more experience didn’t have. Right? I mean, we just sort of were ambitious and wanted to work hard. I mean, my social media team are in their 20s because they have a skill I legitimately don’t have. So I would say to young people and to companies, don’t discount the knowledge when it comes to social media and certainly coding and influencer status and all of that is a tremendous value that young people can bring and has huge value to corporations.
I do want to say that despite so much unemployment, there are a lot of companies and industries that are going to be ramping up. LinkedIn has done a really good job of creating huge lists of who is actually hiring right now. So grocery store chains of course. Insurance companies, law firms that handle unemployment and bankruptcies. And it’s not just in those frontline jobs. You can work for a grocery store and not be a cashier. So I would say don’t forget about the kinds of industries that are ramping up now may not be where you ultimately want your entire career to go, but it could be a great place to start for the next few years.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. And tell us a bit more about generation Z. How old are the oldest of generation Z and what are some of the things that characterized them? You’ve mentioned some of them already and I guess if there’s a shift that they’re going to need to make coming out of this or perhaps that like applicability of skills and mindset and all that that may actually help that generation. Describe to us a little bit about their attributes, so to speak. And also what your guesses are in terms of what the impact will be of such an event as this happening in those formative years. What have we learned, I suppose through other generations that have come of age in a crisis? And I might say this is quite a large, perhaps the largest crisis any of us remember living through. The magnitude is hard to define, but tell us a little bit about Gen Z. Who are they, What did they struggle with perhaps before this happened? And then what are your guesses about how they will cope and perhaps innovate through the coping?
LINDSEY POLLAK: You’re asking the question that absolutely explains why I’ve built my career in generational diversity, because these kinds of moments are exactly why generations matter, right? We’re all human beings. We’re more alike than we are different. But the experiences that we collectively have at a certain moment in time absolutely shape how we see the future, what expectations we have, what goals we have, what our mission and purpose is. So when you look at those formative moments I use the generational definitions that the Pew Research Center puts out. So according to that, Gen Z is born 1997 and later, we don’t have an exact cutoff, but I’m going to say it’s probably around 2010 or so, maybe 2012. So the oldest would be around age 23. The youngest would be school age today. So that’s where you define generation Z and they’re named in relation to Gen X coming before, millennials were known as Gen Y.
So gen Z kind of naturally followed. And then psychologists tell us that you’re sort of imprinted with the generation around puberty. So that’s when you kind of look beyond your family situation and you start to think about your friends and politics and culture and all of that. So think about a Gen Z child today who’s maybe aged 10 to 13 or so. They’re being very imprinted by this experience. We are all going through it and we are all impacted by it. But think about yourself at that age. If you went through 9/11, if you went through the great depression, if you went through the bombing of Pearl Harbor, if you went through the challenger explosion, for me it was the challenger. You just have such a visceral memory of that and can often shape who you are. Not always, but it can have an impact.
So prior to this moment, a lot of Gen Z was really, I think in reaction to millennials. So just like baby boomers where this huge dominant generation, Gen Xers like us were kind of always in their shadow. We’re a lot smaller demographically, just fewer people. Millennials are huge, primarily children to the boomers. Gen Zs, we’re very small in the United States, primarily children of Gen Xers. Gen Zs are huge globally, but very small in the United States, they call it the second baby bust. So in a way they were kind of always in the shadow of the millennials. So the millennial culture, the millennial problems like student loan debt would be really dominant.
So Gen Zs, were, like I said, a little bit earlier, much more entrepreneurial, more independent. Quite similar I think to the Gen X stereotype. When you look at people like Greta Thunberg, the environmental activist, a lot of teenagers on Twitter, very much pointing to the problems in the world, wanting to solve them, feeling like outsiders and different from these very, very large cohorts that came before, very financially cautious because many of them watched their parents suffer through the great recession and lose their jobs, lose their income.
So in a way, they were almost primed for this situation to happen because they were kind of outsiders and very cautious and concerned. They were the first generation to question whether they should go to college. Really questioning critical not in a negative way, but very thoughtful outsiders. It’s my guess that this experience might set them up to be somewhat like the traditionalist of the great depression. Very cautious with money, very mission driven, wanting to go into service fields like healthcare because of what they’re watching, like government because they might disagree or agree with some of the decisions being made. Wanting to fix things that they perceive as broken. Feeling like a helping sort of quiet service oriented generation. I think if you look historically you never know technology is kind of the X factor because we’ve never had the kind of tech we have now. But I think you can probably draw a line between the great depression traditionalist era to the Gen Xers who were kind of the outsiders to the Gen Zs and sort of contrast that with the very big booming, positive community driven baby boomers and millennials. Does that make sense?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. That was amazing Lindsey.
LINDSEY POLLAK: This is my jam Jennifer. This is what I live for.
JENNIFER BROWN: That was so helpful. It was so helpful because it’s interesting what you’re describing there was like the boomers and the echo boom, right? They also call the millennials echo boom. Right? And so there’s these parallels where it skips a generation and then it of course, like everything else, right? It’s a pendulum that goes back and forth and so I hadn’t heard the Gen Zers, as you just said, helping quiet service oriented generation, thoughtful outsiders, cautious and skeptical. And that’s so in the second baby bust, right? I love that. I hadn’t really viewed the disease as that, but of course that pendulum is going swing between millennial and Gen Z just like it has in the past. And yeah, I think well that would be a refreshing, I think generational character at least based on my own values, right?
Of being, of service, of being thoughtful of not being a generation about acquisition or status, of challenging the status quo, but in the way that they’re going to challenge it. I think I really look forward to the impacts that generation is going to have. I mean, do you predict… what do you think they care about that or they’re going to really shift for us with their demographic might as they come of age. Crisis not withstanding they were all about environmental protection. They were all about certain things already. So all of that I would imagine it’s going to shift into hyper drive. But any other predictions about what they’re going to bring to our world?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I love to predict but I know I’ll probably be wrong on a lot. Here’s what I’m watching and this would be my message to employers who are listening. What you do now through this crisis is being watched by the next generation. The emails that you send, the way you treat your employees and customers. Absolutely, people are paying attention. I mean, I’m thinking of World War II era people who would not ever shop from a company that had gone against the United States or had companies that created products for other countries. I just think that that legacy is very powerful. So I think number one, young people are watching what you do and will make loyalty decisions and employment and purchasing decisions based on it. So I think that longevity is going to last. Second thing I would say is we sort of alluded to medical professionals and healthcare professionals.
They are heroes right now. I mean, you and I both live in New York city at seven o’clock. The whole city is cheering for medical professionals. I don’t remember that kind of reverence for medical professionals when I was a child. I would anticipate that that is going to have long-term effects, I think in a very positive way. You’re also seeing a lot more attention to labor unions and collective action that a lot of companies did not change their safety precautions and practices until employees bonded together to speak up for themselves. So I think we had seen a real decline of labor in this country. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that swing up a little bit based on this experience. And I think, and I hope that this will encourage young people to run for office and certainly vote in the upcoming elections if they feel that they can have a voice so the timing is going to be really interesting.
But I think that healthcare issue, organized labor is something I’m really paying attention to. And just the feeling that right now, how companies handle this is remarkably visible compared to any other tragedy or common experience we’ve had. And the final thing I think is the global nature of it. And that’s where the environmental piece comes in. There’s no better way to understand how connected we are then to see that the entire world is experiencing this pandemic. And I think young people will feel that global connectivity more than any other generation. And I hope that that has positive ramifications for global issues and environmentalism and peace and all those things on a very, very macro scale.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for all of those predictions and data. It’s excellent. we’re out of time, but where can folks read your thought leadership and follow you?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Thank you so much for having me and letting me nerd out a little bit. I’m online at lindseypollak.com. My latest book is called The Remix and I host a podcast talking about these issues called The Work Remix.
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. Thank you Lindsey. And keep up the work educating us about generational diversity and supporting our youngest cohort into everything that they want to be and deserve to be.
LINDSEY POLLAK: Thank you so much for the great conversation.
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