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What If Your Gen Z Coworker Doesn't Remember 9/11?

On 9/11, I always wonder whether or not to write anything. Usually, I spend the day largely lost in contemplation, and reflection. It's a hard day, still. Surreal.

Like other Gen Xers, I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing that morning. Trying to finish a story in my home office. I don't think I wrote a word that day. There were no words.

17 years later, 9/11 feels like it happened only yesterday for those of us who remember it vividly. Time moves on, but we'll always feel lost on this day every year. I know I do. Never forget.

But what if you have a young, new coworker who doesn't remember 9/11?

Where Were You on 9/11?
There is a new generation of employees entering the workplace for whom 9/11 is a history lesson. The 21-year-old new hire was four years old on 9/11. The 19-year-old intern in your department was only two years old. This year's high school graduates, meanwhile, were born in 2001. They, of course, have no memory of 9/11 at all.

Maybe you're feeling a bit down today at work as you remember 9/11 and everything that happened that day. Perhaps you're speaking about it with a few older teammates this morning, asking what we all ask: "Where were you on 9/11?" Sharing our stories feels cathartic, the rawness of the emotion residing just underneath our surface.

Then the 22-year-old new hire walks up, laughing, and asks if you guys have seen the latest fresh meme. It's hilarious!

As much as you like this coworker, a part of the 40-something in you bristles. Such a remark seems somehow insensitive on this day. Today is about solemn rememberance. Should you say something to this young teammate? You're not sure how to phrase it exactly, but you wish he could show more respect, reverence, remembrance. It can be easy to forget that this 22-year-old teammate was only five years old on 9/11.

Different Generations, Different Perspectives
I'm not saying all young employees are insensitive, or uncaring. Not at all. However, there might be a noticeable difference in how different work generations remember 9/11. Which is to say employees remember 9/11 either very strongly (Baby Boomers/Generation X), strongly to somewhat strongly (Millennials), or not really at all (Generation Z).

A young coworker's light-hearted tone or comments today could risk coming off as slightly insensitive to their Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer coworkers who are quietly feeling the weight of this day.

If a young coworker says or does something today that strikes you as somewhat tone deaf or insensitive, then realize that they are not looking at 9/11 through the same lens. They are of a different generation, with a different perspective. You, however, will always be a living witness to 9/11. You remember, and you will not forget.


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