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Why You Need to Listen to Gen Z

Issue 104, April 20, 2023

How well do you know your Gen Z employees?  For that matter, how well do you know the millennials, Gen Xers and boomers?  We have written extensively in The Truth About Transformation about the benefits and challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce. Since things continue to evolve and pivot at warp speed, we thought it was timely to update you on the trendline of recent developments in Gen Z’s attitudes about work. They are important. Their perspectives are important.  They are the majority of your current workforce and your near-term future leaders.

Where Gen Z Wants to Work

Where do they want to work?  Chances are your organization is not ranked #1. In fact, the big winners are leaders in tech, social and the public sector.  According to an Axios survey, here’s how recent college grads weigh in on their dream jobs.

Google                                   16%

Federal Government           6%

Apple                                     5%

Disney                                    2.2%

NASA                                     2.1%

Amazon                                 2%

Microsoft                               1.8%

Tesla                                       1.6%

Spotify                                    1%

Pfizer                                      1%

Patagonia                              1%

The study also asked students which companies were “doing good for the world.” Top-ranked was Patagonia, followed by Google and Tesla.

In counterpoint to the top ranked dream job, the tech sector is responsible for the increasingly high layoffs: 27,000 Amazon workers, 21,000 Facebook workers, and 12,000 workers at the Gen Z favorite: Google. So, we say, be careful what you wish for.

In fact, recent surveys have demonstrated that millennial and Gen Z Tech workers are moving away from the allure of working for the top technology organizations. The perks were great, but a side-effect of when organizations over-hired, many jobs turned out to have little substance or purpose. The new trend is for next gens to find jobs in organizations beyond the tech sector that appear to have more purpose and offer them an opportunity to make an impact. This desire to find meaning in work aligns with Gen Z’s experiences bearing the brunt of rapid societal change. And employers need to hear that clarion call to effectively manage their young workforce.

No matter where they work (including your organization) Gen Z is in a tough spot. This cohort is suffering from crisis fatigue, burnout from educational and social disruptions during the pandemic, and they’re becoming jaded about the climate change. According to a study by GWI, “Globally, they’re more likely than other generations to report having a mental health condition and almost 3 in 10 say they’re prone to anxiety, a higher proportion than any other age group.”  This alone makes managing these members of the workforce an exercise in empathy.

At 2040, we often focus in on the organizational system. Traditionally, management attempts to control the organizational system, however during times of significant societal change, it merits taking the outside-in viewpoint to understand the societal and marketplace factors and variables at play that impact the organizational system.

Reframing the Culture

Gen Z is also getting used to calling the shots, reshaping the workplace environment in their own vision. Trends analyst Jasmine Glasheen reports, “They seek opportunities for upward mobility in their careers. Financial stability is important to Gen Z because they bore firsthand witness to the financial struggles that an unforeseen pandemic can wreak upon the unprepared. Because of this, Gen Z also seeks stability from their careers and creative opportunities from their side hustles. Like millennials, it’s important to Gen Z that they work for organizations that reflect their personal values.”

They’re also ahead of other generations for describing themselves as ambitious, money-driven, and career oriented. But Gen Z expects more from their employer in return, they’re more likely to leave a job which doesn’t meet their needs, and they feel more comfortable saying “no” in the workplace, according to the GWI study.

Inter-Generational Wisdom

At a time where so many generations comprise the workforce, there is deep experience that can be shared with younger generations. It is a missed opportunity not to recognize the value more mature professionals can bring to their younger counterparts. Glasheen adds, “Inter-organizational mentorships are a proven strategy to keep next gen employees engaged and committed. The University of Massachusetts found that 91 percent of workers with a mentor reported being satisfied with their jobs. Retention rates were also 50 percent higher for workers with mentors than without. And the mentors themselves experienced a 69 percent retention rate, reporting increased job satisfaction and overall career success. Mentorships provide young talent a direct knowledge pipeline to experienced employees. The result? A visible upward trajectory for ambitious next gens, and the opportunity for seasoned employees to share their knowledge with the next generation prior to retirement.”

On the Job Training

There are often unrealistic expectations of millennials and Gen Z. They have grown up with technology and therefore many leaders believe that next gens should know anything and everything about any digital application used in the work environment. It is often also assumed that young employees should be able to hit the ground running with little to no training. Although challenge can be equated to adventure, Gen Z wants to understand the context of their work as well as what the expectations are of them. Therefore, it becomes important to consider alternative ways to bring them up to speed.

Consider mentorships and apprenticeships.  Jonathan Harris, digital designer and artist writes that for centuries, the notion of apprenticeship was central to Western society through the system of “masters and guilds” — a political framework that carefully married creative(internal) power with economic (external) power.

He explains that through the classic apprenticeship program, “aspiring young artisans lived and worked with master craftsmen in exchange for education, lodging, and food. After seven years of indentured work, apprentices became journeymen, free to work with other masters in exchange for daily payment. Eventually, journeymen created a ‘masterpiece’ — a major piece of work to demonstrate mastery over their craft. If approved by the other masters, the journeyman was welcomed into the guild as a master — granting him the legal authority to open a business and take on apprentices.

“Apprenticeship was essentially a process of gathering power — the creative power of mastery over a particular craft, and the economic power of channeling that mastery into a business. This alliance of creative and economic power governed Western culture throughout the Middle Ages, until capitalism disrupted its reign.”

Put into modern context, offering apprenticeship training goes a long way in placing value on next gen workers and retaining them. It also utilizes the wisdom and experience of older employees to pass along legacy, institutional knowledge in an applied mastery program that shares knowledge through doing. It may sound like a throwback in this digital age, but the power of teaching can never be overestimated, and the bonds that are created can become lifelines in the health and vitality of any organization.

Defining Factors

Defining factors for Gen Z include their desire to learn from older, more experienced leaders.  They want to be mentored, not lectured.  They want clarity: clear expectations and goals, not guesswork. They want to be included in decision-making.  They want to be recognized and valued. They want to be appreciated for innovative shortcuts.

Here are some of their key hot buttons:

  • Life/work balance
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Climate change
  • Working to live, not living to work
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Being judged on the quality of work, not time spent
  • Text/internal chats, not emails

Training Your Next Leaders

At 2040, we work with clients to help management view their workforce not for who they are but what they want. We help leaders dig deeply into what motivates and inspires all generations. We also help leaders not to assume that workers think and react the same ways, and to agree with them. We coach how to balance meeting goals and financial success with the right thing to do. And to think in the long term of nurturing and maturing the future leaders, not short-term, short-sighted accomplishments.

Actions speak louder than words. Take the current uncertainty of ChatGPT and AI — you can’t be sure what you read is accurate, let alone a truth. This means that physical actions and interactions are all the more impactful.  And that includes internal communications and external communications with stakeholders.

Meaningful mentoring is an opportunity to bridge generational divides. Leaders can make an indelible impression on their employees. Afterall, in the end, you are what you remember. A positive learning experience is what makes any organization and its leaders memorable and matter to their workforce.

Get “The Truth about Transformation”

The Truth about Transformation Book Cover ImageThe 2040 construct to change and transformation. What’s the biggest reason organizations fail?  They don’t honor, respect, and acknowledge the human factor.  We have compiled a playbook for organizations of all sizes to consider all the elements that comprise change and we have included some provocative case studies that illustrate how transformation can quickly derail.

Order your copy today and let us know what you think!

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