As graduation season approaches, the job market is seeing an influx of Generation Z applicants. Not only will these prospective employees fill up junior positions within your own organization, but they are also expected to make up over 60% of the workforce along with Millennials by 2025. With this incoming generation taking over your workforce, it is essential that you engage with them using emotional intelligence. By leading the generation from the heart, you’ll understand the areas of development for each individual, and be in a better position to prepare and upskill them for the roles they are placed in.
With these young workers already lacking independence, problem solving skills and stress management, it is crucial that employers best prepare their employees to be ready for the roles and responsibilities they’re given. Repercussions for this may include putting people in positions they’re not ready for, leading to a frustration in the workplace and hindrance in productivity and innovation, with a chance of an increased turnover rate. With this Generation Z and Millennials going to make up around 2/3rd of your workforce in the next 4 years, it is imperative that you retain this generation and allow them to grow within your firm, especially if you want your organization to take an innovative and competitive stance within your industry.
So, how will this generation fit in within your organization?
In my own experience as a university professor and corporate trainer working with diverse teams, this generation can prove to be difficult to work with among Generation X and Baby Boomers. In fact, APPrise Mobile’s CEO Jeff Corbin believes that “to the extent Millennials are associated with ‘entitlement,’ there probably is a level of fear that Gen Z will turn out worse.” And many managers feel the farther away in age, the greater the likelihood they won’t be able to relate.
This emotional gap between the entering and existing workforce will only continue to increase if it is continually ignored. Managers may continue to not have faith in their younger subordinates, and the younger employees may continue to feel frustrated from a lack of fulfillment in their jobs. From the day-to-day conflicts with colleagues, to increased feelings of apathy within teams, this may lead to less work being accomplished and completed. This can usher your organization in taking a stagnant stance within your industry.
Alongside losing your competitive stance within your industry, this gap between generations can also result in an increased turnover rate. A 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 43% of Millennials and 61% of Gen-Zers plan to leave their current job in the next two years. The incoming workforce is one that values work-life balance, as well as the ability to express their individuality at work. If these requirements aren’t met, younger employees may feel dissatisfied in their work, which may eventually be a trigger for them leaving your firm, taking their brain trust with them.
So, what is the root of this emotional gap?
Unconscious biases and its role in blocking the way we connect with one another.
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Without even noticing, your unconscious bias can skew your opinion on a person or object from a single glance, without ever interacting firsthand with it. Unconscious biases are formed through past personal experiences, as well as societal and cultural stereotypes taught to you as you were growing up. Paired alongside the innate desire of humans to fit everything they interact with into a premade “category”, humans are often willing to mold and reshape their perspectives on certain items so that they fit better within their categories.
Have you ever heard someone saying “All these Millennials/ Generation Zers are always on their phones…Why don’t they ever go outside?”
There’s a known convention that the younger generation is reliant on social media – to the point where many have been able to make careers out of being social media influencers and becoming their own brand. With Generation X and Baby Boomers having to make immense sacrifices to provide themselves a decent living, it appears that with technology and social media that there are less barriers to Generation Z making a living, and that the nature of their jobs are easier.
The notion of hard work has changed drastically in the past century. Where past generations may have defined hard work as hard physical laborious work (especially during the Industrial Revolution), current generations have a different idea of what hard work looks like. For Generation Z and Millennials, the mindset of redefining productivity is adopted, where hard work is defined as “I have a laptop and can work anywhere, anytime. I do cognitive work not in a manufacturing plant, and I know when I need to take a break, so I can come back and think critically again.”
With social media additionally glamorizing the lives of those who use the platform, it can appear that the only job a Generation Z social media influencer has is to post aesthetically pleasing photos to earn a seven-figure salary. Alongside that, technology is able to answer and solve any problem in the click of a button. Therefore, it appears that Gen Zers never had to work hard to solve problems for any issue, and that they had all the answers at their fingertips. They believe that everything can be Googled, and aren’t willing to provide innovative solutions that are original to the table.
Therefore, this preconceived stereotype of Generation Z being lazy and entitled has been formed. While there is some truth to be said from the stereotype placed on Generation Z in their ease of retrieving information, there are faults with blanketing a generalized stereotype on one cohort. Generation Z is a unique generation, where they strive to be seen as individuals and not stereotyped. A McKinsey Report finds that the key point for Generation Z is not to define themselves through only one stereotype but rather for individuals to experiment with different ways of being themselves and to shape their individual identities over time. You might even coin the term “identity nomads” to describe them. Therefore, Generation Z’s distaste for stereotyping can lead to the development of apathy and frustration with their work, as well as internal conflicts that can turn personal if not handled correctly.
Learning to be aware of your unconscious biases, and leading from the heart is the solution. If leaders take the time and get to know each employee as an individual rather than a stereotype, they will be able to connect more deeply and leverage their unique talents, increasing their engagement along the way.
Engagement requires managers to meet three basic human needs, for all employees, regardless of age, role or background. These are: connection, appreciation, and fulfillment. By understanding each individual at the heart, and seeing them past a stereotype, managers can be more efficient with Generation Z communication in the workplace by forming a connection with each employee, showing appreciation in a way that works for them, and providing them opportunities to feel more fulfilled in their role. These actions will be what motivates Generation Z in the workplace, and increase their productivity and satisfaction, leading to more team synergy and team collaboration.
Three Things You Can Do to Prepare for the Incoming Generation Z Workforce
While Generation Z is usually discussed in a negative light, you should still be excited for this incoming cohort to enter your workforce. While they may not be very independent, have poor stress management and low problem-solving skills, they are self-actualized, and are lifelong learners. This means that they’re constantly striving to improve themselves, and are receptive to feedback and suggestions on improvement. To ensure a smooth integration for the incoming Generation Z workforce, you should consider the following:
1. Don’t Give Them the Answers
Generation Z has grown up with all the answers a tap away. This has gotten them into the state where they find it difficult to find solutions to problems without using technology. Challenge your Gen Zers by making them think on their feet, and rationalize their responses, hypotheses or conclusions. Instead of your managers just giving them answers, develop a coaching culture so that they have to come up with their own answers (without checking the internet).
2. Give Them Opportunities to Try New Things and Fail.
While academia is more than proficient at teaching students the technical skills they need to succeed, they often place less emphasis on softer skills. For instance, students fear failure instead of learning how to deal with it. Failure is bound to happen, and it’s critical to stress that the most important part of failure is how an individual reacts to it, and moves past it. Therefore, give your incoming employees opportunities to try new things and fail. However, this can only be conducted in a psychologically safe environment, where no one is judged or criticized for trying an idea that falls short.
Employees need to have a shared belief that they will continually be respected and accepted despite their failures, and they must adopt a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. After giving them the opportunity to take these risks and fail, managers should ask their teams to reflect on how they handled each situation and learn how they can better manage their emotions.
3. Encourage Generation Z to Speak Up Actively
Generation Z is smart, eager to learn and has great ideas on how they want to change the world. However, they’re also individuals with typically low independence, where they seek validation mainly from others, rather than relying on themselves. Therefore, actively asking Generation Z for their opinions can make them more comfortable with being open about their ideas, and develop their confidence within your team. Encourage them to eliminate their self-doubt and trust in their ideas and abilities. You’ll be surprised with what they come up with.
4. And Encourage Generation Z to Get Outside, and Enjoy Nature.
Generation Z has been glued to their phones, and haven’t known a world without them. The onset of the pandemic has only emphasized this trait, where individuals have been stuck at home with no other form of entertainment other than their devices. However, being constantly involved with social media has led to a decrease in mental health and wellbeing.
Studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. They are constantly comparing themselves with others, leading them to feel inadequate about their life or appearance. Encouraging them to spend their break-time away from mobile devices and take a walk in nature will calm their parasympathetic nervous system down and improve their overall wellbeing.
You are managing the most multigenerational workforce in history with the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z, all under one roof. In coming years, Generation Z will continue to fill up the workforce; therefore, learning to work collaboratively with this newest squad is crucial.
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