‘Burn down your hierarchies:’ The baby boomer vs. millennial war is finally upon us

Beware, boomers. Via Flickr's Matthew Hurst.
Beware, boomers. Via Flickr’s Matthew Hurst.

There’s a war coming and it sounds like it’s going to be a bigger mess than this weekend’s Batman V Superman. It’s been brewing for years now, bubbling under the surface of conference room tables, alchemizing in discussions about fictional participation trophies and gurgling up through the brown muck that passes for “coffee” out of a Keurig machine. It’s latched on to our magazine front pages that ceaselessly cover the Kennedys and the Beatles and runs as an undercurrent to every discussion about why the environment, race relations and globalism are so fucked. The war between baby boomers and millennials is nearing, and it’s going to be a brutal one. But it’s long overdue.

If you haven’t read the controversial NY Times story about what happens when millennials run the workplace at a place like Mic, congrats! You’re probably free from the ouroboros human centipede chain of New York media content consumption and regurgitation (must be nice). Anyway, it’s worth a read because it underscores a very real issue: the way work works is changing, and some older folks are not happy about it. And lo, a war brews.

The Times story is a slurry of millennial stereotypes: they’re entitled! They eat tuna sandwiches at the meeting table! They tweet #jokes to each other! The prime millennial burned in effigy in the story is Joel Pavelski, a 27-year-old director of programming at Mic, whose dirty HR laundry is aired in the lede of the story. Pavelski lied to his bosses about needing to attend a friend’s funeral; instead he was building a treehouse as a way to relieve burnout stress from work. Then he wrote about it on Medium and everyone at the office saw the Medium post because, millennials. (Full disclosure: I used to work with Joel at the NY Post, and once briefly tried to get a job at Mic).

Is that terrible? Probably. Is it symptomatic of millennial oversharing thing or just a numbskull thing to do, idk. I do know that it’s probably not advisable to blab on the internet about why you lied about not being at work, which is why all my “Incredibly Hungover Because the Beer and Shot Specials at 169 Bar are Dangerously Cheap And I Really Needed to Drink Last Night” Medium posts are still in the drafts folder.

But the real thing people are taking issue with with this story is that there seems to be an implication by some of a “right” way to run an office, ie the way baby boomers have done it for decades, the soul-crushing midtown way, and younger people aren’t into that any more. I can speak to some level of authenticity to this: I recently quit a good office job, the kind I would have gone apeshit for when first starting out in journalism in high school, partly because I wanted to do something different, and partly because going to the office every day was starting to crush me.

Things moved too slow, we were slow on the technological uptake and I got yelled at for checking emails during meetings (it brought to mind Louis CK’s self takedown on his show, when he doesn’t understand how his daughter can multitask on her phone while watching a play — but that’s just how kids’ minds work now). Now I blog full-time again and work with other millennials (full disclosure: still not sure if I am one).

But the wave of thinking that the baby boomer generation — who oppressed minorities and gays, destroyed our environment, took the economy for a joy ride and insist on making still MORE Indiana Jones movies — are somehow upset with kids in their 20s using Twitter at work, that means it’s time to take over, gang. We as a society seek generational blame for lots of things that history will probably look back on as simple smart evolution: for instance not buying cars, because cars are bad and full of spiders. Let’s hope we don’t treat the next generation the same way.

Here’s more evidence a war is brewing:

For what it’s worth, here is how Joel, the “prevaricating treehouse builder” of the Times story, is handling the criticism:

Mostly, this is the takeaway of the whole thing:

Follow Tim, who is on Team Batman in this war: @timdonnelly.


  1. The “millennial-friendly workplace” is just a way for companies to mask their exploitation of employees without shelling out for increased productivity : )

    • al fair

      this seems pretty true.

      also, why is it always baby boomers against millenials? the baby boom ended in 1960. my brother is 47 and has two adult sons. are they all millenials? is generation x just neutral and seen neutrally by both groups? won’t gen x run the businesses before the millenials do?

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