You might not be working alongside a member of Generation Z yet. But just wait. By 2025, Gen Zers will make up more than a quarter of the labor force. And they will start their careers with their own set of expectations about connecting, advancing, and finding purpose, building on—and in some cases diverging from—the expectations of their millennial elders.
On Sept. 30, Quartz conducted a workshop on how to manage Gen Z. The hour-long panel, part of our Quartz at Work (from anywhere) event series, was sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors. Click the large image above for the complete video replay, and read on for the key takeaways from our panelists.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is vital to Gen Zers
“The whole world has been talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Well, this generation, more than any other, actually cares about it,” says Christine Y. Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, a recruiting site focused on jobs for college students and recent graduates.
Gen Zers are savvy about seeing through DEI promises that don’t match the reality of their workplace experience, and many say they’d be willing to switch jobs if they’re disappointed on that front. Preliminary data from a not-yet-released survey by Handshake showed that even Gen Zers who already have jobs are “constantly looking” for opportunities, Cruzvergara says. “They’re constantly keeping their eye open for what else might be out there, and that number is actually much higher for our underrepresented populations, in large part because they don’t always feel so welcome or that they belong in the community that they’re currently in.”
Gen Zers need help disconnecting
Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at the workplace analytics firm Visier, says his company’s research shows that burnout rates are higher for younger workers. It’s mainly a workload problem, but toxic cultures and excessive micromanagement also are contributors, he said. So too, he suspects, is the difficulty many Gen Zers have in regulating their own time away from their screens. “Even those who reported going on vacation said they weren’t able to fully disconnect,” Rubenstein says, citing Visier’s research. They also were likely to worry about work during their time off.
Managers need to ensure they are giving Gen Zers (and everyone else) not only the ability to sign off, but encouragement to do so. “What is the personal responsibility to detox? It’s huge,” he says. But not everyone realizes it. “I talk to younger employees who are at home with their adult sister in one room, their parents in another room…Maybe they’re working to avoid each other,” he theorizes.
Millennials came into the workforce wanting affirmation—Gen Z just wants data
As the working world’s first true digital natives, Gen Zers are comfortable collaborating on a variety of platforms. “They view the world much more dynamically because of their comfort with disruption,” says Hope Bailey, global head of solution advisory for SAP SuccessFactors. Whereas millennials “were seeking positive affirmation and praise of their thoughts and their ideas and their work,” Bailey says, Gen Zers are rooted in truth and generally confident in their facts. “But that’s also very much influenced by their social networks, so…they’re looking for constant collaboration because they’re looking for constant data sources.”
Most workplaces haven’t caught up with the difference in approach. “Our managers grew up with hierarchies and ‘I’m never going to disagree with my managers,’ Bailey says. Meanwhile, “it’s great that [Gen Zers] have the confidence to say, ‘Wait, hold on, I see this totally differently. And maybe they’re right or maybe they’re wrong, but it fosters dialogue.” That in turn can build a sense of inclusion, but “to bring that, you’ve got to create a space for them to have a voice.”
A shadow board can do wonders for leaders in training and their employers
Stealing a page from Gucci, which several years ago created a shadow board of millennials, the global brand consultancy Interbrand created an advisory board of Gen Zers in March 2020. It’s called the Horizon Board, and its 10 members, a diverse group selected from regions around the world, help the company with “future forecasting, horizon scanning, [and figuring out] what are we not listening to,” says Rebecca Robins, Interbrand’s global chief learning and culture officer. The Horizon Board members, meanwhile, get an experience that shows them early on that there are different ways to influence an organization. “It’s no longer [necessarily the case] that people aspire to be the managing director, to be the business-unit leader,” Robins says. “They’re looking for zigzag paths.” An appointment to the Horizon Board is one way of helping them build skills without beholdening them to a straight climb up the org chart.
Interbrand debated the right tenure for service on the Horizon Board. It considered six-month appointments; it settled on 18 months. Particularly for a group that never managed to meet in person because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this felt like the right amount of time, Robins says. “You have to, if you’re doing this, give yourself and give them time to breathe, to bond, to experiment, to test and learn, and for sure that played out,” the London-based Robins says. The company appointed its second cohort of Horizon Board members in September.
It pays to support your Gen Z employees’ side projects
Especially when their side gig involves volunteer work or community service, your support is both appreciated and expected. But what if the side hustle involves paid work—and what if it has the potential to compete with your own company? That’s when it becomes vital to be explicit with your expectations for performance in their day job, SAP SuccessFactor’s Bailey says. “That way we don’t end up in a place where there’s resentment on both sides,” she says.
Visier’s Rubenstein says he’s always inclined to presume positive intent on the part of the employee—and almost always feels good about the outcome. “It is such an easy way for me to spend learning and development dollars without spending learning and development dollars by having somebody do their professional development through alternate experiences,” he says. “I think about some employees who volunteer or they work at community centers or they work at stadiums managing people, which is maybe something they don’t do in their normal job.”
Instilling confidence in a new generation of workers generally comes down to communication
“Often confidence can [be lacking] if you are unsure what the norms are,” Handshake’s Cruzvergara says. Be as clear and as detailed as possible about what your employees can expect when they join your workplace. For example, on video calls, does everyone stay on mute until they have something to say, or should they be prepared to jump in at any time? Do meetings begin with a few minutes of reading time so that everyone can catch up on the same materials for discussion, or is it expected that everyone will arrive ready to debate? “Especially if you’re thinking about helping those who might be underrepresented in any particular company…what you can do is make the implicit explicit,” Cruzvergara says.