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Gen Z needs three shifts in the workplace to work better

Gen Z needs three shifts in the workplace to work better. Raju advocates for smaller teams, personalized leadership approaches, and real-time performance management to engage and empower this diverse and tech-savvy generation.

Born between 1995 and 2010, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history. From macro-social movements and structural concerns to taking strong positions in movements combating racism and discrimination, sexual harassment, gun violence, and the worsening of climate change, this generation has bark and they know it.

Gen Z is disillusioned with the “establishment” and capitalism in general, and this feeling was only worsened by Covid-19. As a result, this group has earned a reputation for distrust of the status quo, detachment, and impatience, and for demanding rapid action on matters important to them in the workplace and beyond.

The group has often been labeled as demanding and distracted, but I would argue that all of that characterization is overly broad and fails to address the deeper requirements that Gen Z needs to prosper at work. As an HR pro for over 20 years, I’ve noticed that what they require to function well is for their managers to emphasize their own people management skills in addition to technical ability.

Essentially, managers and leaders (millennials or earlier) must look inward rather than constantly pointing the finger at their Gen Z teams. What they want is a passionate manager who provides them with rapid feedback and makes them feel seen. Some charisma or at least demonstrated empathy would be even better.

Here’s what can make a difference:

Fight for smaller teams under management
When measuring employee performance, traditional HR practices focus on impersonal technical abilities. This is so that a company can broaden the umbrella of people that a manager can manage. Managers, however, need to look beyond this restricted emphasis on team span and size to meet the needs of Gen Z. They need to go beyond the standard organizational solutions and what they typically are designed to produce. Reducing the manager’s span, favoring smaller teams over bigger ones is one way to enable a more intimate relationship between managers and their teams. This can succeed, only when backed by a backbone of automation and tool enablement, to aid what you can call the “hi-touch” style that works best for Gen Z (and everyone else if you ask me).  

Gen Z thrives in environments where diverse skills and working styles are encouraged, breaking away from the traditional mold. As HR professionals, the challenge is not just to instruct but to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of these changes to managers, emphasizing the impact of individualistic needs on careers and the ability to connect and influence beyond the confines of a job. 

Don’t tell bosses to be like other “bosses”
For the foreseeable future, we will live in a work world dominated by messaging applications and a greater number of remote working options, which means that maintaining interpersonal connections will become increasingly difficult. Physical distance, along with exchanges via emails, chat, and collaboration tools, transforms the workplace into a wholly fictitious setting. However, I would suggest that the solution does not lie in more team-building activities, but in coaching leaders & managers to make the manager-employee connection more personal. As I said before, smaller teams allow for deeper ties, but great engagement comes from managers going above and beyond formal settings.

Leaders or managers who can connect and inspire play an important role. The leader’s persona becomes a guiding beacon, influencing the entire team’s feeling of purpose and cohesiveness. Firms (and their HR teams) are better served by focusing their efforts on managers & leaders (homegrown or recruited from the outside) who display the ability to connect, empathize, and work with Gen Z while attracting their attention and respect. If that means bringing in someone out of character, so be it. This generation will not accept the status quo.

Gen Z wants to keep it real: Meet expectations through real-time performance management
Gen Z values immediacy in feedback and a sense of purpose in their work. HR pros, leaders, and managers must examine their working style and current performance management systems through this lens to figure out how and where they need to adapt to fulfill these needs. Adopting dynamic feedback systems, cloud-enabled technologies, and user-friendly remote access performance systems is part of the transition. The immediacy of feedback shifts away from typical annual or quarterly assessments to dynamic, real-time feedback, and HR must coach and assist managers in making that transition.

The future of performance management for Gen Z demands a shift away from established methodologies. Smaller, more diverse teams, strong interpersonal ties, and a tech-savvy, purpose-driven culture are essential. Our responsibility as HR pros when coaching leaders & managers is to constantly emphasize skill training in inspiring and leading increasingly remote teams, help adjust & customize performance management systems, and dispel myths about younger generations. In doing so, we pave the road for a workplace that meets Gen Z’s expectations, ensuring a thriving, engaged, and purposeful workforce.

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