You don’t have to search far to find headlines reporting on all of the ways Gen Z sucks in the workplace.
Here are a few examples from the past week alone:
What’s even more alarming is the content found in the comment section of these articles:
“They seem to lack all skills except using a phone. How is American business going to survive with these kids as employees? That fortunately falls under the category of ‘not my problem.’”
“Gen Zer’s do not have people skills, communication skills, or work ethic. And the education they think they have is not the same one I was given.”
“stop enabling them. They are already the most entitled generation. They need praise all of the time because they got trophies just for showing up and do the minimum. you know what you get for showing up to work and doing the minimum required? the minimum pay check.”
“It comes down to respect and consideration, something that both of these younger generations struggle with. They excel at narcissism and entitlement.”
Summarizing the articles and the comments, here are some things that Gen Z sucks at:
- They are constantly on their phones
- They have short attention spans
- They consume in an echo chamber, making them passionate about their perspectives
- They use slang in the workplace
- They need constant praise
- They don’t have respect for older generations
If you define Gen Z as people born between 1997 and 2012, as much as 50% of my team has recently been made up of Gen Z workers. And I’m raising a Gen Z teen. As a parent and leader of Gen Z, I feel obligated and uniquely qualified to weigh in on the generalizations above.
Each of the generalizations is actually the superpower of Gen Z.
Here’s a breakdown:
They are constantly on their phones. All the time. All of the technology. They are wizards with devices and software and they should be empowered to own or be a large part of whatever technology decisions are being made in your company. They understand how to make money online and have the tools to pursue alternate streams of income via online side hustles.
My Gen Z team members rolled out Asana as a project management tool and then Twilio as an automation tool. I was not the decision maker on either of those decisions, nor did I ever jump into the tools and weigh in on what they were building. The tools were rolled out to make their own roles easier. Leveraging technology tools makes them more efficient and able to churn through more work. My role was simply to empower them to build and stay out of the way.
My son edits videos for me in Adobe Premiere Pro. As much as I consider myself to be a creator, we cannot co-create because he works so much faster than I do. His biggest frustration is that his gaming PC will often crash when he’s running Premiere Pro at the same time as Discord and YouTube.
They have short attention spans. The speed of social media has developed a short attention span in Gen Z. They get to the point faster than prior generations. They are bored by multi-hour long meetings and will attempt to multi-task through them. They are annoyed by phone calls that could have been an email, or better yet, a Slack message.
This attention deficit is an advantage if you want to move quickly as a team. Leading a fully remote team, I know my team will multi-task through any team meeting I organize. But I also know that when I address them directly, they are able to respond appropriately. They are not checked out. They are used to multi-tasking and can do so efficiently. There have been countless times when someone would “Google it” or “YouTube it” while the conversation continued and then be able to come back with solid next steps.
If I’m working on a video project with my son, he needs to be “driving” or in control of the mouse or he jumps over to Discord to multi-task. My pace of editing is too slow for his gamer brain. If I just give him the project to edit on his own, he gets it done in a fraction of the time it would have taken me.
They are passionate about their perspectives. Gen Z has grown up with information at their fingertips. From an early age, they have been able to find their people and find their passions. As a result, it can be difficult to sway Gen Z into alternate camps than the ones they grew up in. But where you can align a passion with a job, Gen Z employees will commit their heart and soul to their work.
I have worked in fitness since 2012 and understand the power that is unlocked when you work in your passions. Working in fitness is an empowering backdrop to mundane everyday tasks. Even on the worst days, I can look at my work as generally productive toward a healthier society. My entire team shares that philosophy and commitment to the task. Every employee has work from home privileges and unlimited PTO and neither has been abused.
They use slang in the workplace. As a generation that has grown up with digital communication, Gen Z has a unique language that is often used to shorten and quicken communication. Acronyms and emojis fly via all communication channels.
As a leader of Gen Z employees, you have options in this scenario. You can either try to keep up with the current lingo so you can meet your employees where they are or you can add a staffing layer between you and your Gen Z employees. As this article outlines, Millennials have an easier time interacting with Gen Z than other generations.
As a mother of a Gen Z, I really try to keep up with the slang so I can relate to my son and my employees. But there are definitely times when I know a conversation would be better handled by a different member of my team. That’s general EQ and should be a skill held by all leaders, regardless of generation.
They need constant praise. The days of annual reviews are over. And they should be. The annual review process is antiquated and moves at the speed of business years ago. It cannot keep up with today.
As a leader, you need to reframe the “need for constant praise” as a need for consistent feedback. Gen Z wants to achieve. They want to move up in your organization. It’s your job to show them that path and grow your talent.
Present opportunities for continual learning. Offer stretch assignments. When you offer the stretch assignment, give the destination and deadline and let your Gen Z employee figure out the rest on their own. There is plenty to praise about Gen Z if you give them ownership over tasks and communicate your expectations clearly.
They don’t have respect for older generations. You can’t say you’re having a hard time attracting top talent and simultaneously buy into all of the generalizations that the press and the boomers have compiled about how bad Gen Z is to work with. You are in your own echo chamber and it will negatively impact your ability to do business going forward.
Gen Z can smell dis-respect and disingenuous activity from a mile away. If you are a leader who believes the headlines and treats your Gen Z employees as disposable nuisances, you will never have the respect of your Gen Z employees. You have to give respect to get respect.
By 2030, Gen Z will make up 30% of the workforce so if you’re still in the camp of bashing Gen Z, it’s time to evolve. Challenge yourself to see the good. Step out of your own echo chamber and search for the positive headlines about the future of work. You can start with this one: Adapting your business to maximize Millenial and Gen Z Engagement
If you’re not open to evolving as a leader, think about the time in the not so distant future where technology will be even more prevalent and you’ll be reporting into a Gen Z boss. Brace yourself for constant feedback and a pace of work you won’t be able to handle.