Do You Speak Gen Z?

Facilitating inter-generational understanding in your workplace and marketing can make for both better workplace communication and improved outreach to customers.

I recently had the joy of watching the superb second season of the HBO dramedy, The White Lotus. Two of the characters are in their early twenties. That means they are part of Generation Z. I was struck by the cool, breezy style of the young woman, loving her quirky take on life, which many other older people derided. I also was struck by the hyper-sensitivity of the young man, horrified by his grandfather’s interest in young women, and feeling that he himself needed to ask permission for just about everything when socializing, and, presumably, at work.

That brought me to wonder about whether older people in the workforce—people like me of Generation X and the even older Baby Boomers—can adequately decipher both the actions and language of these young people.

“Give Me the Ick”

I found an article in Business Insider by Jordan Hart that tickled me because it showed me how much I need to learn about “speaking Generation Z.” For instance, “ick” is now a term used in a wide range of situations. “At first, ‘give me the ick’ was used by Gen Zers to refer to traits or habits that turned them off from a person they’re dating, but now many are sharing ‘icks’ in all aspects of life,” Hart writes. “In December, a group of Atlanta-based nurses were ridiculed publicly for sharing their ‘icks’ about patients in a TikTok video.” Hart notes that these nurses appear to have been fired.

“Naur” Means “No”

Another revealing one? “Naur” means “no” among some young people today. It’s described by Hart as a more dramatic way of saying, “No.” So I guess if an employee says, “Naur,” in response to a request from their manager, the manager should be alarmed and take the employee’s refusal seriously.

Wondering if an employee has done the work you assigned them? Instead of just saying, “Yep, finished that last night. I’ll send it to you later today,” they might say they “understood the assignment,” which Hart says means “a task has been completed exactly as it was meant to be done.”

Say No More

If they tell you, “Say less,” they mean they completely agree with you and don’t need you to say another word about a matter—they get it.

The last term Hart presented that was unfamiliar to me was “unserious.” Saying a person is “unserious” is sometimes used in lieu of “ridiculous.” It was used on social media, for instance, to describe the young woman, Portia, on The White Lotus, who, I have to admit, reminded this old Gen Xer of herself.

Communicating with Customers

Beyond understanding these terms, the question is whether, and when, young people should be allowed to use the terms to communicate with customers. For some companies, they should be encouraged to do so. If your company has a mostly under-30 customer base, or if you aspire to attract those consumers, you would want to speak the same language to them. However, employees have to understand that the terminology may not be understandable to many people of older demographics.

For example, in 2011, when Millennials still reigned, I was in line at the airport in Quito, Ecuador, and heard a strange expression. The tour leader for a group of young people asked one of his travelers if she was “feeling her passport.” I thought to myself, “What in the world does that mean? Is he asking if she feels it in her pants pocket?” Of course, I quickly deduced that this was his hip wannabe way of simply asking if she had her passport ready to present to the airport official.

Lessons in Speaking “Old Person”

In some cases, I wonder if young people who work in offices with older demographics need a lesson in “speaking old person.” For instance, if a person my age or older, references video cassettes and VCRs, will they have a true idea what that person is talking about? Do they understand that people of Generation X and the Baby Boomer generation did not grow up with computers in the house, with the Internet, cell phones, or social media? Most of us have and use all those things now, but it gives you a different perspective to NOT be a digital native. How about an orientation to the olden days for Generation Z if your company is reaching out to people in their mid-40s or older? It may be hard for many young people to understand that there was a time when you made plans with someone to meet at a certain time, and if you didn’t see them, or they didn’t show up, your only recourse was to go home or search for a pay phone and hope that they would still be home when you called.

Understanding the perspective of young people, and young people understanding the perspective of their elders can make for both better workplace communication and much better outreach to customers.

Do you facilitate inter-generational understanding in your workplace and in marketing to customers?