Few business leaders say it out loud. But when the anonymity of a survey protects them, many spell it out clearly: Older managers and bosses find Gen Z employees challenging to work with.
Easily distracted, easily offended, and sporting an entitled attitude not backed up by marketable skills. This is how many boomers and millennials describe Gen Z employees when they are certain such comments won’t spark a backlash.
These managers, however, must remember that the future course of business is always in the hands of younger workers and that older workers clucking their tongues is more of a feature than a bug in many workplaces. Visionary business leaders understand that working things out with Gen Z is how to stay competitive and on the cutting edge.
Gen Z is different from past generations. And, like every generation, they have virtually unlimited potential for greatness. The key for businesses is understanding what motivates Gen Z and then adapting the workplace to help them be as productive and inspired as possible.
Badmouthing younger workers is how a business falls behind and ends up on the scrap heap. Understanding them—and making changes here and there to accommodate them—doesn’t just benefit Gen Z but also your business.
Employers know all too well about “quiet quitting,” or Gen Z’s penchant for job hopping in search of better opportunities or work-life balance. But quiet quitting is not a sign that younger workers are disloyal or flaky. It’s a sign they are breaking from past norms and a work culture that demands extreme effort without reciprocal compensation or acknowledgment.
Gen Z will not accept a culture of overworking in silence like previous generations, and employers should applaud them for this.
Younger workers have elevated expectations that their workplace will respect their personal lives. They value flexibility in their work arrangements and are more likely to put a premium on remote and hybrid work options and the ability to prioritize work and personal life.
Gen Z also grew up with technology, so they fully expect a tech-savvy workplace. They are comfortable interacting digitally and expect their employers to provide up-to-date capabilities streamlining work processes and enabling warm, human connection among colleagues.
And they want to be recognized for the good work they do. Gen Z is far more likely than previous generations to leave for another opportunity if they feel unappreciated.
Employers can learn what makes Gen Z tick and get stellar performance from younger workers. But this means leaving some workplace norms behind and embracing the tools and techniques younger workers like.
Communication is Key
This is the era of social media, and younger workers were born into a world where people are not shy about communicating. It even extends to the workplace. For this reason, working harmoniously with Gen Z means sharing as much as business allows.
The conversation needs to start early and continue perpetually. Managers should always be aware of career goals and the future path of their Gen Z employees, and this process should begin during the interview stage. Regular one-on-ones should address career development, and managers should actively seek opportunities for their Gen Z employees to level up. Without these consistent conversations, most Gen Z employees will assume there is no upward path and will find one in another company.
Younger workers also expect some degree of social connection in the workplace. Gen Z are passionate about bringing their whole selves to work, so creating a safe and welcoming space is the most crucial factor for social connection and collaboration between coworkers. If your culture is highly professional and inflexible, consider loosening up your approach for internal meetings and find ways to bring more casual, personal elements into the workplace. For example, businesses can create a shout-out board—either analog or digital–or celebrate a special holiday like International Women’s Day to get employees talking and connecting.
Gen Z employees also expect mentorship as part of a healthy, positive work culture. Creating a mentorship program takes some effort, but once in place, it will create massive dividends at every level of the company. Find talented and experienced employees within your organization (no matter their department or job title) and pair them with Gen Z employees for regular conversations about their development and goals.
Changing how often and how you communicate can mean the difference between keeping a younger worker and losing them.
Many businesses are willing to communicate more often, provide more mentorship, offer more social engagement, and show more appreciation toward employees. However, they struggle to make fundamental changes because their workforce spans multiple time zones and geographies.
Any company in this position should quickly familiarize themselves with the digital tools created for just this purpose and which give Gen Z the feeling of being informed, mentored, and appreciated.
With various programs available today, businesses should focus on those that enable honest communication and collaboration.
These include Slack, which enables instantaneous communication that is also asynchronous, meaning that users can pick it up and put it down at their leisure and as time allows. Users can respond immediately to a Slack message or wait hours. It adds flexibility to communications that email simply does not offer.
Younger workers also love ways to show appreciation and keep morale high. Designed for a distributed workforce, digital message boards allow users to add content, customize messages, and personalize gratitude. This is a modern, digital way to show Gen Z workers that they are appreciated.
And while many people have begun to tire of Zoom meetings, the videoconferencing program is still the backbone of remote and distributed workplaces. Its features allow not just communication but real-time collaboration.
It takes more than digital tools to engage and keep younger workers, but today, these tools are indispensable.
Younger workers are every bit as capable as their older colleagues of pushing a business forward and helping it reach new heights. But getting this kind of performance from Gen Z workers means learning what is important to them and communicating in their preferred ways.
The required changes are a small price to pay for access to the vigor, energy, and creativity of younger workers. Failing to change is to risk getting left behind.