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  • Writer's pictureTshegofatso Moilwe

“New workforce dynamics” - how to work with Gen Z

About 30% of the work we do at 54TwentyFour is with members of Gen Z. This is the group of young workers, born after 1997, who have entered the workplace most recently. 

Like every generation, Gen Zs have their strengths and weaknesses. But a lot of the time, these weaknesses are blown out of proportion. Managers bemoan the “Gen Z work ethic.” Other times, they ask questions like: “Why does Gen Z not want to work?” 

The answer? They want to work, but like any other generation they need effective leaders to learn from, and leaders that understand diversity and are able to work with different generations. 

Tip #1: Manage carefully, with effective lines of communication

In the past, every generation cut their teeth by going to an office and copying what older - more experienced - colleagues were doing. But when Gen Z knowledge workers entered the workforce, they were ushered into this unfamiliar world remotely - all thanks to the pandemic.

Imagine how challenging this is: not only are you plunged into an unfamiliar environment, but you have no direct way of learning from someone else.  Sorry, but Zoom and Teams meetings can never be as helpful as standing over someone’s shoulder, observing them. 

As a leader, try to keep the following in mind: 

  • Gen Zs often don’t understand corporate culture, or what’s expected of them, because they’ve never experienced it before

  • Gen Zs find it harder to learn because they’re working remotely

  • Gen Zs are often not led effectively because leaders are trying to navigate this changing world of work. 

  • Leaders assume that Gen Zs have knowledge they don’t have, and fail to explain things properly in the process. 

  • Gen Zs are completely inexperienced! We all were at one point, so let’s not forget that.

Tip #2: Informatliy comes naturally to Gen Zs

Gen Zs have become accustomed to a WFH environment where one dresses as one pleases.  As such, twentysomethings might baulk at an in-office “uniform” policy: and with good reason. They have no experience of it.

If it’s company policy to return to the office and dress a certain way, make the transition painless by explaining why. It’s for the benefit  of clients entering the premises; it engenders a sense of pride in oneself - whatever the reasons might be.

#Tip 3: Help keep distractions to a minimum

Gen Zs struggle to stay focused on tasks, managers tell us. Well, this might be true, but it’s something that we’re all having trouble with! 

In a modern attention economy, people - and products - are vying for our gaze all the time. And many companies are part of the problem.

You see, it’s tempting to jump right on board and force staff to be attentive to Teams, Slack, email - even WhatsApp. But all you’re doing is severing someone’s attention and stopping them from achieving what Cal Newport dubs “Deep Work”. 

Institute a policy where no one WhatsApps or emails after a certain time, or on a certain day. This way, you can start to retrain people to become deeply focused on a single task.

It’s not just a Gen Z problem, you see: it’s a problem for all of us. 

#Tip 4: Don’t always rely on technology

If you’re a thirtysomething or older, you remember the good old days. You’d take the minutes of a meeting, and sort out the calendar or admin. It was good old-fashioned Dirty Work, and it’s become something of a lost art.

Why? Because there are now a myriad of AI-driven apps that automate these things.

The net result: we need to find new ways to teach graduates and interns these skills. 

To mix things up, dispense with the AI tools every now and then and ask your junior staff to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into this busywork. It might seem pointless, but taking notes during a meeting teaches the valuable skill of listening; sorting out schedules is a good organisational skill to have; and writing emails (sans ChatGPT) teaches the importance of laying out an email in a logical, well-ordered manner. 

Tip #5: Take their worldview seriously

Gen Zs are very hot on social justice issues, and these views should be treated with respect. After all, every generation has been hot on one or two topics. 

By considering the workplace through a social justice lens, ask yourself whether you’re doing enough. Is your office wheelchair-accessible? Are your WFH hours at all flexible? Are you practising inclusivity in your ways of working? Have you run a diversity, equity and inclusion workshop for your employees to ensure they know how to be inclusive? Not only will you make staff engaged, you’ll also protect yourself against negative feedback on Glassdoor and the like.

It’s a win-win for both.

Tip #6: Bring back face-to-face communication 

So much of communication in everyday life is non-verbal. Yet when you’re communicating most often through email and instant messaging platforms, all of those subtle non-verbal cues are lost. That’s why, more than any other generation, new graduates struggle to find their footing in corporate workplace environments. They simply have had no hands-on practice.

So bring back in-office days, social events  and the face-to-face meeting. 

In the end, Gen Zs are like any other generation. They have their hot-button issues and their way of doing things; their likes and dislikes; their outlook on the world. But in the end, they’ve entered the workforce ready to learn. And as opportunities for practical learning diminish - in part because of AI, in part because of remote working - it’s up to you as a manager to foster these soft skills. 

Remember, we were all young and inexperienced once. And often all it took was a kind word and a small piece of advice to put us on the path to building good habits.

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