Gen Z is the most diverse and enigmatic generation yet – here's how to work with them.
Millennials have indubitably been the main subject (or punching bag, depending on whom you ask) of talk surrounding the various generations that currently make up our society (baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z) for the past 10 years.
But millennials are starting to move out of the spotlight to make room for Gen Z, the generation born between 1995 and 2015. Gen Z is known for having grown up almost entirely on technology, for craving engagement and for their pragmatic worldview. Where millennials were fed a steady diet of idealism during the relative calm of the '80s and '90s, Gen Z has grown up in a world affected by frequent acts of terrorism, economic uncertainty and societal upheaval.
So what does this mean for business? Because Gen Z has such a markedly different way of both seeing the world and interacting with it compared to previous generations, businesses must be prepared to adjust and reevaluate their practices.
After all, the oldest members of Gen Z are now 24 and have already been in the workforce for a couple of years, and it won't be long before they make up the majority of working professionals.
Here are seven things you need to know about working with Gen Z.
1. Recognize – and respect – technology.
Technology is probably Gen Z's biggest marker. A significant portion of Gen Z's interactions with the world is digital, whether that's on social media or the internet proper. Your business should make sure it has a robust and engaging online and social presence. If it doesn't, it will alienate Gen Z by making your business look like it's out of touch.
"This is the first generation of true digital natives," said Blake Hutchinson, CEO of Flippa. "As such, they expect to have a digital relationship with brands."
2. Create meaningful work and feedback.
Gen Z is a highly socially conscious generation with a strong desire to give back and participate in social programs through their place of work. This creates a sense of purpose and heightens engagement, which 84% of Gen Z rates as highly important when choosing their jobs.
"Do not underestimate how important your mission is to a values-driven Gen Z'er," said Alex Shadrow, co-founder of Relovv. "The why behind what they do is critical."
This involves explaining how and why their position is important to the company and how it fits into the larger picture, as well as providing regular, meaningful feedback.
"Gen Z is all about connecting," said Miles Maftean, career writer and researcher at Zety. "They run on push notifications. They post a picture on Instagram, and if they don't get X number of likes, they're affected by it. This matters in the workplace. You'll need to give them feedback on a daily basis for them to realize that they are doing a good job."
Try checking in with your Gen Z employees casually each day, and see if they're open to a regular weekly meeting. Every employee is different and will require different levels of attention from their manager, so leave it up to them to dictate what they want from you.
3. Avoid micromanaging.
Gen Z is the DIY generation. Michael Arnold, a business coach, shared how he watched one of his young sons replace parts in his car on his own by watching YouTube tutorials and his other son lead new online game players through the process of accessing and using the server in exchange for free playing time from the host.
"When I asked them how and why they do these things without asking for help, they said, 'You guys are busy; we didn't want to bother you.' This is how the new workplace will look."
"It's in [Gen Z's] collective upbringing to be problem-solvers," added Idalia Salsamendi, director of business at Chriselle Inc. "They believe that they can be part of the solution."
Gen Z believes in handling issues and finding solutions themselves rather than being given the answer. Try to foster a space that allows for this exploration, and make sure your employees know where to go for support if needed, like a coach, says Laura Weldy, ICF-credentialed life coach at The Well Supported Woman.
"This generation prefers that their managers act more like coaches instead of bosses," she said. "For this to be effective, managers should understand the difference between coaching, which involves powerful, thought-provoking questions to unlock potential and inspire self-realization, and micromanaging, where a leader provides all the answers and acts more like a taskmaster."
Weldy said that Gen Z'ers value their independence just as much as their communal value, and traditional top-down management can feel stifling. Instead, managers should include their employees in the discovery process and consider investing in enrolling managers in a coaching program to retain top young talent.
4. Embrace flexibility.
The traditional interpretation of the workplace has a reputation for being stalwart and linear: You arrive, you sit at your desk, you check off your to-dos, and you go home. But in recent decades, that has changed, thanks in large part to millennials blazing the path for dog-friendly workspaces and corporate-led philanthropy.
Gen Z is taking things a few steps further, championing flexible hours, remote work, and the freedom to customize their role and duties.
Weldy said that she sees clients often feeling frustrated that their roles don't feel suited to them as individuals. "They're being asked to fit a square box when they are a round peg," she said. "They're working hard, long hours but still not feeling satisfied – and when they come to leadership with ideas on how to adapt their role to better serve the company and their own needs, it falls flat."
Companies need to be willing to explore flexibility within the workplace, both with practices and employees. The nature of work is changing to be flexible in many ways, and Weldy said it is becoming a problem of hypocrisy with many companies. "These innovative companies are still built upon outdated ideas of strict roles and top-down management."
5. Prioritize human connection.
Despite being known as the tech generation, Gen Z places a high value on face-to-face interactions – more than 74% prefer face-to-face connection than other forms, citing a higher value on effectiveness rather than convenience.
"Think of a classic management class you took," said Maftean. "You're taught never to be friends with your subordinates. Well, that won't fly so much with Gen Z'ers. You'll have to connect with them on a more personal level."
6. Have a genuine social mission.
"I've seen [many] businesses try to add on a social mission to their company just to make it attractive to younger generations but without any real feeling or action behind it," said Brandon Leibel, co-founder of Sand Cloud. "This can majorly backfire. Gen Z can immediately tell when your social mission is not genuine, so make sure your activist efforts are real and authentic."
Gen Z is one of the most socially active generations ever, with 4 out of 5 Gen Z'ers believing that their age group has the potential to change the world for the better. They use the internet as a connectivity tool, sharing ideas, missions, and campaigns to better the world around them, and they actively seek to support and work for brands that have a reputable mission.
If your company has a social mission, make sure it is well-thought-out and active and that there are easy ways for employees to participate.
7. Embrace diversity and inclusion.
Gen Z is also leading the charge in championing true diversity and inclusion. Much like social missions, Gen Z is finely tuned to false accolades, so if you're touting diversity in your company, it should be true.
"[Gen Z] expect and value diversity in any situation," said Dianna Anderson, CEO of Cylient. "Because they've witnessed a change in American culture, they believe culture is malleable and change is expected."