How to Lead Gen Z: 4 Principles for Managers
Gen Zs are entering the workforce. For leaders, understanding the needs and mindsets of this new generation is critical. Building trust with Gen Zs through relationships motivates them to do their best, unleashing their fullest potential.
In a Nutshell
Gen Zs are entering the workforce. While older generations of employees may find it challenging to work with them, they also have great potential to drive change and innovation.
Gen Zs are looking for supportive, caring, coach-like managers who give them opportunities to own their work.
When managers build trust with Gen Zs through building relationships, Gen Zs will be more motivated to do their best, thus unlocking their potential.
Gen Zs, also known as “zoomers”, refers to the generation born between 1995 and 2010. They are digital natives, adept at Googling for answers, and have never experienced a world without the fast pace of technology. The U.S. Bureau Of Labour Statistics projects that Gen Zs will make up 30% of the U.S. workforce by 2030.
With the introduction of Gen Zs into the workforce, a 2021 global study found that 38% of baby boomer respondents (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen X respondents (born between 1965 and 1980) regard Gen Zs to be the most challenging generation to work with. Additionally, 18% of baby boomers in the same study admitted to feeling intimidated by them.
While older generations of employees may find it challenging to work with them, they also have great potential to drive change and innovation.
However, despite their fears, this study’s baby boomers and Gen X employees also acknowledged that the entry of Gen Zs can be a positive game changer as they have the potential to drive the innovation and improvements needed in organisations. 97% in the global 2021 Multigenerational Workforce Study agreed they can learn a lot from their Gen Z colleagues in areas like technology, creativity and more.
With Gen Zs not only here to stay but forming a rapidly growing segment of the workforce, what can managers do in order to draw out Gen Zs’ unique strengths in order to increase overall organisational productivity?
1. Provide Support and Care
"Care" is among the top three qualities Gen Zs look for in a leader.
According to a study by The Workforce Institute at Kronos and Future Workplace, nearly 30% of Gen Zs feel driven to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager. 37% indicated they would never accept an unsupportive manager.
The same research found that "care" is among the top three qualities Gen Zs look for in a leader, behind trust (47%) and support (40%).
Dr. Curtis Odom from Prescient Strategies, and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, believes that Gen Zs make their decisions of which leader to work for based on how much they will be supported.
Gen Zs want high-touch in a high-tech world. They place significant value on connections with people and having positive relationships at work. To fuel Gen Z dedication and high performance, managers must take an active interest in getting to know their Gen Z employees by spending time understanding their story, needs, and desires beyond just the work that they do.
Gen Zs want high-touch in a high-tech world.
Ryan Jenkins, Millennial and Gen Z Speaker and Generations Expert, suggests that supportive managers should make it a point to communicate these three things to Gen Z employees to make them feel recognised:
I see your good work
I value you
We're going places together
2. Value Purpose, Impact and Equality
According to research by Monster, approximately 74% of Gen Zs ranked purpose as more important than salary. Making a meaningful impact is important to Gen Zs and leaders need to demonstrate how the company and the work are making a positive difference.
Approximately 74% of Gen Zs ranked purpose as more important than salary.
Gen Zs desire work that contributes to the greater good – work that is more than just a means of earning their pay. Leaders must be listening to Gen Zs about how they think the organisation can positively contribute to society, and how their roles can play a part in supporting that. These conversations will allow Gen Zs to feel that they have a say in defining the purpose of their work, which will go a long way in driving ownership and dedication. These topics can be more personal for Gen Zs and therefore leaders will need to take a relational approach in order for these meaningful conversations to take place.
The area of equality is one of the top metrics that Gen Zs look out for in a company. Research by Rainmaker Thinking found that in a survey of what Gen Zs consider important at work, issues related to equality and inclusivity came up second in open-ended responses. 74% of these responses mentioned the importance of “equal” or “fair” pay, with a focus on equal pay between the genders.
When equality is lacking, Gen Zs may fear being discriminated against because of their lack of experience. This also highlights to Gen Zs that there may be a misalignment of values, which will then lead to disengagement and eventually, attrition.
A report by Deloitte shared: “Nearly two in five say they have rejected a job or assignment because it did not align with their values. Meanwhile, those who are satisfied with their employers’ societal and environmental impact, and their efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture, are more likely to want to stay with their employer for more than five years.”
When a culture of equality is lacking, Gen Zs may fear being discriminated against because of their lack of experience.
Companies need to demonstrate their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion if they want to attract and retain Gen Z talent.
3. Provide Opportunities to Own Work
Gen Zs grew up in a time of immense opportunity. The internet has lowered the barriers to starting a business, and making a name for oneself worldwide via the internet has been proven possible by many savvy individuals in this generation. This has created a strong entrepreneurial spirit in Gen Zs, with many of them wanting to build their own business. Indeed, research by Monster found that nearly half of Gen Z respondents (42%) want to be a business owner, which is 10% higher than all other working generations surveyed.
A culture of control at the workplace has the potential to stifle this pioneering spirit of Gen Zs. They desire to be given the freedom and flexibility to decide on how to achieve outcomes, and managers need to be trusting and empowering in order to allow Gen Zs to remain continually motivated.
Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey finds, "To attract and retain talent, business leaders need to listen to their people and empower them to drive change. They can do so through initiatives like reverse mentoring, and by providing opportunities for upskilling and stretch projects, which give people opportunities to grow and explore their potential."
‘To attract and retain talent, business leaders need to listen to their people and empower them to drive change…through initiatives like reverse mentoring, and by providing opportunities for upskilling and stretch projects’ - DELOITTE
4. Coach, Not Tell
Expectations of a manager have evolved away from the traditional form of top-down leadership. Thomas Lim from the Singapore Public Service, SportSG, shares in a Forbes article that leaders may discover that the usual ways of telling employees what to do may not work with Gen Z as this generation has easy access to information. Instead, to manage Gen Z, leaders need to come down to the same level as them, converse openly, co-create ideas, and at times even vulnerably share personal experiences and learnings. Gen Zs want leaders who walk alongside them, not ahead of them.
Gen Zs want leaders who walk alongside them, not ahead of them.
Winning the trust and respect of Gen Zs requires managers to build relationships with them so that they know their managers want to see them grow, and not just achieve the department’s goals. Managing Gen Z requires leadership that listens, empowers ideas and provides encouragement.
As Gen Zs enter the workforce, managing them well can be summed up in one idea: build authentic relationships with them. This creates a culture of trust and empathy that is essential to understanding and leading them. Leaders may need to change the way they lead, but it's a worthy endeavour if it enables organisations to unlock the potential of a new generation’s edge and bring the company to greater heights.