Companies are learning that Gen Z isn’t the easiest generation to work with

A group of startup business employees holding a meeting at the office.

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As companies continue to grapple with an uncertain economy, layoffs, and the push and pull of return-to-office plans, they’re facing another, potentially larger challenge: figuring out how to engage and manage new Gen Z workers.

By 2025, Gen Z will account for one-third of the workforce, according to the World Economic Forum. Yet attracting, managing, and retaining these younger workers will take a different approach, according to Tara Salinas, a professor of business ethics at the University of San Diego. While this generation has well-honed technological skills, she said organizations will need to accommodate a decided lack of other competencies that are necessary to be successful.

“Gen Z are digital natives and they’ve always communicated online, so their interpersonal skills, or soft skills, have suffered,” said Salinas. “They took an even bigger hit because of Covid-19, and it has shifted the way that we need to interact with them in the workplace.”

Companies need to refine their approach to working with Gen Z, Salinas said, and tech tools like ChatGPT and social media like TikTok could help make them successful. Mentorship programs and organizational culture will also be important.

Use the technology skills they already have

Gen Z may be the first generation to enter the workforce with native digital skills, but Salinas said that’s at the expense of in-person communication and interpersonal dynamics, which don’t come easy to them. To manage these workers effectively and set them up for success, companies need to meet them where they are.

In return, Gen Z can provide companies with indispensable knowledge of social media and newer artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT.

“Companies are missing an awesome opportunity if they aren’t playing into the skills that this generation has,” Salinas said.

Of course, ChatGPT isn’t going to be the last advancement to rock the business world, Salinas said, so companies should get ahead on shepherding Gen Z into the workforce in a way that resonates with this tech-centric generation.

“Advancements are going to keep coming and from a business perspective, it’s overwhelming,” she said, adding, “To Gen Z, it’s normal, so capitalizing on that skill set is simply a smart business decision.”

Organizational culture has to match theirs

While Gen Z has much to offer a company, they expect much in return. In fact, one of the leading reasons that they’ll quit their jobs is if company values don’t match their personal values.

“A lot of companies see culture as a secondary thing,” Salinas said, but with Gen Z it is front and center. If a company’s “culture doesn’t align with what Gen Z employees expect, they’re going to leave.”

“They want to work at a company that is essentially a good global citizen and actually investing in the world,” Salinas said. “In prior years, when we talked about millennials, it was about getting ping pong tables in the office. That’s just not going to cut it [with Gen Z].”

That’s because Gen Z came of age during a time when more employers spoke openly about taking care of workers’ mental health. When Salinas grew up, she said companies expected employees to simply stay quiet and do their work.

“It’s such a different approach now,” she said. “Self-care, mental health, and global issues are important to them and, if it isn’t a part of your company culture, that’s a huge turnoff to Gen Z employees.”

Establish mutually beneficial mentorship

While flexibility and remote work still remain a top priority, employers need to acknowledge that younger workers also consider career development and mentorship when deciding to join or leave a company.

It all relates back to company culture, Salinas said. Companies have to embed in their culture an investment in professional development and mentorship for Gen Z employees. Allow them opportunities to develop the skills they didn’t have before joining your company.

“When a company sets a budget for personal and professional development, it signals to employees that they care about you and they don’t want you to stagnate,” Salinas said. “What I see happen a lot is students graduate from school and go into the workplace to managers who see their desire to learn but don’t respect it.”

Mentorship becomes critical for workers who want opportunities to learn more, but can also offer older employees some exposure to new technologies.

“It works both ways for Gen Z. Normally, we think of a mentor as an older person mentoring a younger person. Flip that for Gen Z,” Salinas said. “Gen Z employees can also mentor more seasoned employees on the tech they don’t understand yet.”

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