Tips for Effectively Managing Gen Z

The Generation Definitions
Let’s start with a bit of definitional work.

GENERATION Years Population
Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964 74 million
Gen X 1965 – 1980 66 million
Millennials 1981 – 1996 80  million
Gen Z 1997 – 2012 74 million

Four roughly equivalent groups of 70-80 million in each group. The boomers are retiring, and the Gen Z’s are entering. Each group is facing a different stage in their career. Still, we will focus on Gen Z and how they engage with other age groups, but specifically the dynamics between Millennials and Gen Z.

Gen Z – Who Are They?

They’re not as achievement-oriented as Millennials. Gen Z grew up economically well off, and the way they grew up has a huge amount to do with how this generation looks at the world. On average, they are very educated. This was the go-to college crowd. If you go back to the greatest generation, 7% of people had bachelor’s degrees. This group is probably 50, 60% bachelor’s degrees. They embrace diversity. They don’t even see diversity; it’s organic to them. They are a very diverse group of individuals

What does Gen Z want to get from work?

Number one is I want to be able to achieve results. They are results-oriented. This is an intrinsic reward for them that I get to be in a place where I can do cool stuff and make things happen. That’s different than Millennials. They want the opportunity to move up. They are risk-averse, and retirement is important to them, as are benefits. Benefits are significant to Gen Z because they like safety and security. Their future is important as well, though. The last two on their list are earning money and skills. The first thing to think about when they come on board is that they will have very unrealistic job expectations partially because they likely have never worked before.

Most of Gen Z will come into the workplace, having never had a job. It is essential to set expectations about how many hours we want them to work. Simon Sinek talks about Millennials, but it’s equally applicable here. They’re the result of a failed parenting experiment. We tried to protect our kids from all risks. Now we’ve created people that cannot be adults very well. Our job as leaders is to teach them how to be adults in the workplace because they’re not ready for this. You have to set expectations about what the job is, how many hours you’re going to work, how dirty you’re going to get, what the climate and the culture are. We also need to communicate what is the opportunity for job growth.

They’re informal, and they don’t recognize positional power. As Boomers, we perceive Gen Z as not having any respect. The challenge is they don’t even acknowledge the thing that you’re valuing, which is your positional authority. They want clear targets. They want informality and a very appropriate level of organization. So, checklist over the communication. Reinforce the culture and the purpose of why what your asking them to do is essential.

The other thing that they want to hear is clear communication. It’s why you cannot just tell Gen Z workers to do something. It would help if you said, this is why this is important, and here’s how it connects. The why is a must-have with this group. Again, that goes back to the positional power. We need to explain why. But they’ve been protected from failure their whole lives. Thinking about putting themselves in an environment where they can fail creates anxiety.

The other thing to think about is that this group can be embarrassed by feedback. How many likes have I got on my post? That’s this generation. So when I give them feedback, they can get defensive because they see themselves failing when giving them feedback. You have to find a way to coach them to make it okay to get feedback. This is making it safe to fail. It made me think about celebrating failure in a way, giving out “Oops” awards. That part of the managerial technique here is demonstrating vulnerability and how I screwed up and disclosing that to Gen Z to make it okay to fail. Making it okay to fail is a big part of creating that safe environment for this generation.

It’s about coaching and mentoring rather than managing. It would help if you stopped thinking about yourself as a manager and started thinking about yourself as a coach and a mentor. Changing the dynamic between you and the employee is a huge deal. Emotional care is essential, and face-to-face communication is something they lack experience in. Their entire life communicating with other human beings has been via text. They’ve only really communicated one main channel, at which they are complete experts. They need to add additional channels in the workplace. Mostly so they can talk to boomers. But they do need to do that. So realize they come not knowing the basic skill of writing a memo. How do you communicate a complex issue via email management specifically?

Who is going to manage Gen Z?

Here’s the real question – who’s going to manage the Gen Zs? The answer is Millennials. It’s not the delta between a boomer or an X’s view of the universe – that’s not the most relevant difference. The difference between a Millennial and a Gen Z is incredibly critical.

It turns out they align on many topics, but a couple of places don’t align and are critical because this is where the rubbing and bumping will happen. They are aligned on achievement. They’re both achievement-oriented. They both desire ongoing development. When you tell a Millennial manager, you need to develop your people. She’ll go, “awesome, and I’m all in on that.” Job security and salary. They want purpose. They’re optimistic. They are risk-takers at a higher level. They want security, they’re pragmatic, and they’re risk-averse. Imagine a Millennial manager saying, Hey Joe, take on this new project. It involves some machine learning. Joe is going to think, “You’re asking me to do something that I have no idea how to do.” That’s a misalignment. Feedback is slightly misaligned – we talked about millennials wanting frequent feedback. Don’t wait for the annual review. That’s the worst nightmare for Millennials, and Gen Z’s want constant feedback.

Millennials are very teamwork-oriented, and they seek work in teams. Gen Z is intensely collaborative and competitive. They want to win, want to achieve, and get results. You can see that there could be conflict in that environment. They want to be measured. We have to coach our Millennials on managing our Gen Z’s. Remember, they leave for the manager. We need to teach Millennials how to manage Gen Z’s.