Gen Z — or those born between 1997 and 2012, according to Pew Research Center — will soon surpass Millennials as the most populous generation on Earth. And although the oldest among them may be beginning their careers at a deeply turbulent time, against the backdrop of a global pandemic and widespread economic downtowns, they’re still poised to reshape the future of work in profound ways.
A COVID-19 economy isn’t the only obstacle Gen Z’ers are up against professionally, however. While Millennial workers may have once been the easiest target for older generations’ ire, much of the same distrust is leveled at their younger counterparts today. Stereotypes characterizing Gen Z as unreliable, entitled and overly tech-obsessed abound.
Of course, this is all part of a larger historical trend: blaming the new kids on the block for how they’re coping with the conditions older generations created for them. The reality, though, is that the way Gen Z’ers move through the world can impart some valuable lessons — to today’s workplace leaders and senior professionals in particular.
5 Things Senior-Level Professionals Can Learn From Gen Z
Gen Z’ers know the value of adaptability.
Job hopping is no longer seen as the evil it once was, something Gen Z understands to their benefit, Joe Wilson, a Career Advisor, said.
“A career is no longer for life and Gen Z is well aware of this and less tied to a path,” he explained. “They are adaptable, free and fluid in every way. Some senior execs could learn from this mindset. Times change, and Gen Z knows how to roll with that.”
This kind of flexible attitude, coupled with their lifelong exposure to and familiarity with technology, is something that’s likely helped Gen Z’ers adjust to 2020’s “new normal,” explained Brooke Carpenter, Managing Director of The Carpenter Group.
“Gen Z is one of the first fully-digital generations, and they’ve already built the habits of learning to work on anything, from anywhere, from any device,” she said. “As such, they are incredibly flexible. They also expect that flexibility in their workplace. Senior leaders would do well to embrace that flexibility, not only as a business enabler, but as a leadership mindset for themselves.”
Gen Z’ers are constantly learning.
Going hand-in-hand with Gen Z’s flexible attitude is an understanding that the world is always changing and evolving. With that comes an eagerness to evolve along with it, which is evident in the way Gen Z moves to quickly embrace new technology, explained Katie Fellenz, Head of Marketing at Trust & Will.
“Sometimes bringing in a new tool and training teams can seem like more pain than it’s worth to upper management, but this young generation has shown us that being the first to test and try new digital tools can give you a big head start on the competition,” Fellenz said. “Managers who might be facing this challenge should be looking to their Gen Z team members to champion new tools and show their teams the way they can benefit everyone when it comes to productivity and making their jobs easier in the long-run.”
Gen Z’ers understand the importance of inclusion.
At 48%, nearly half of Gen Z’ers are from communities of color, making them the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever. Additionally, growing up in a time marked by significant social change and pushes for progress has influenced the perspective of many Gen Z’ers, something they bring with them to the workplace.
“I’ve found that Gen Z is generally very adept at creating an inclusive culture,” Diane Gayeski, Ph.D., a professor of strategic communications and Founder of Gayeski Analytics, said. “They value diversity and want to hear about others’ experiences and points of view… for example, they expect to learn and use the preferred pronouns of others.”
Gen Z’ers also seek inclusiveness in the way their work environment is structured, explained Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com.
“They want to be included in discussions and meetings, even if they are not always directly related to their department, to learn about what is happening overall in the business,” she said. “This is an attitude that senior-level leaders can and should employ in the workplace. Give everyone the chance to be heard, encourage new ideas and feedback, and make sure that everyone feels like their feedback matters.”
Gen Z’ers prize efficiency.
Not ones to settle for “busy work” or outdated ways of doing things, Gen Z’ers have a knack for optimizing tasks, Jason Lee, Chief Information Officer at Healthy Framework, said.
“Gen Z employees are masters at adaptability and the ‘work smarter, not harder’ mentality,” he said. “Where some stubborn senior leaders call this laziness, I call it ingenuity. If you can find a way to do the job more efficiently through technology or innovation without cutting corners, I’m all for it. Senior leaders could and should take a page out of this playbook and realize that just because it’s the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.”
Gen Z’ers want feedback, and often.
Though Gen Z’ers come with plenty of ideas of their own to share, they’re also eager to receive feedback and mentorship. Indeed, over 65% of Gen Z’ers said they want consistent feedback from a supervisor, with an emphasis on in-person communication.
“It came as a surprise to me that despite being immersed in technology from birth, the majority of Gen Z (74%) prefers to communicate face-to-face with colleagues,” Michelle Duval, Founder & CEO of Fingerprint for Success, said. “This might suggest a high need for connection with others. But another contrasting statistic shows that they’re an independent lot, with 71% agreeing with the phrase ‘if you want it done right, then do it yourself.’”
What this says, Duval added, is that Gen Z’ers don’t “just connect for the sake of over-communicating.”
“They’re generally independent workers. But when collaboration is needed, they seek high-quality, authentic, and personal conversations in the workplace,” she said. “I believe we’ll be able to learn a lot from them about how to optimize this balance between independent and collaborative work.”
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