For every “OK Boomer!” tweeted, there’s an older manager complaining about the youngest members of their team. This isn’t something new — for decades, older generations have blamed what’s wrong with society on its young members. I mean, those who have lived longer obviously know enough that they haven’t done anything wrong, so it must be the younger generation’s fault. Right? Well, not always.
Why the youngest generation is a scapegoat.
It’s easy to blame workplace woes on the youngest generation — they’re new to the workforce, so they have less experience. They’re unfamiliar with workplace culture; their skill sets aren’t up to par with people who have worked for years; they have new ideas that clash with the traditional ways that do — and have always — worked. When someone new shows up to a place that seems to be running smoothly, they’ve got a good chance of shaking things up. While change can be great, it can be controversial, too.
Right now, the youngest generation in the workforce is Gen Z. Gen Z includes people born in the mid-to-late 1990s. They’ve been exposed to the internet since they were born and are comfortable collecting and managing information from multiple sources. They value individual expression and aren’t afraid to mobilize for causes they’re passionate about. They’re collaborative and want flexibility.
Gen Z becomes a scapegoat when they’re painted as digitally obsessed, impulsive and easily offended. Their internet abilities make them seem tech-focused instead of people-oriented or even afraid of human interaction. Their passion for certain causes makes others believe they expect too much from the companies they work for and the brands they interact with. Their ability to navigate multiple sources of information and platforms makes them seem distracted, without the ability to concentrate. These are just some of the negative stereotypes older generations have about the younger generation.
7 Reasons why they shouldn’t be a scapegoat.
While Gen Z may bring big changes to the workforce, they’re not reasons to use them as a scapegoat. Instead, this generation offers unique benefits to the workplace in innovative, exciting ways. Here are some reasons why we shouldn’t blame the younger generation for trouble in the workplace and examples of what they have to offer.
1. They’re more likely to be on the pulse of new trends.
What’s great about the youngest generation is that they’re constantly in communication with other members of the generation. With Gen Z’s internet abilities, if they’re not texting their friend about the latest work updates, they’re on Twitter finding new articles. Gen Z’s on top of all of the latest trends, which can be helpful regardless of what industry they work in. They’ll be ready to pitch new ideas that will no doubt keep their company on the top of its game.
2. They’re able to communicate quickly and concisely.
While Gen Z gets flack for having a short attention span, this also means that they don’t have the patience for drawn-out, overdone dialogues. Rather, Gen Z is great at communicating messages with intention and purpose — so they don’t take up too much of anyone’s time. They can look at various sources of information and condense the work into a clear, effective message.
3. They can multitask.
Because much of a Gen Zer’s life has been focused on navigating many platforms at once, they’re great at multitasking. They can balance numerous projects at once, whether they’re linked, one-offs, or even long-term. While you may hire a Gen Zer to work in a specific area of the office, chances are, they’ll be willing to help out other departments when the time comes.
4. They’re able to use technology to communicate.
Gen Zers may have the reputation of being screen-obsessed rather than valuing face-to-face interaction, but they’re actually great with using technology to communicate. For example, they’re probably comfortable using video chat to explain a new pitch or program to someone remotely, which helps create flexibility in the workforce. Or, if you’re looking to explain new guidelines in an engaging format, they’re great at working with different types of media to communicate their ideas to others online.
5. They’re open to learning new things.
The youngest generation in a workplace will most likely have a very different skillset from the oldest generation. Yet you won’t feel much resistance to bridging that gap — Gen Zers are willing and eager to build their skillsets, whether it’s with a new technological program or understanding new responsibilities. Gen Zers are problem-solvers; while they may prefer to learn independently, they’re likely to share their knowledge with others once they’ve gained a new skill.
6. They care about the mission of their workplace.
Gen Zers are passionate about world issues, and they hold their values close, especially in the workplace. This means that they genuinely care about the missions and messages of their company, industry or whatever they decide to work for. While people from older generations may consider this trait over-sensitive, it can push the workplace in a positive direction, holding companies and brands responsible for following through on their missions.
7. They’re willing to receive feedback.
If older generations still believe Gen Zers are to blame for their workplace problems, they should communicate these worries to them! Gen Zers are open to — and desire! — feedback from their managers. According to The Center for Generational Kinetics, a majority of Gen Zers want multiple check-ins from their manager during the week, and almost half want them to be daily or multiple times each day. Frequent feedback will not only help these younger workers improve their skills, but it’ll also help improve retention.
Tips for managing Gen Z
• Focus on dialogue and collaborative efforts.
Because Gen Zers work best with others, promoting collaborative work efforts can help them thrive in the workplace. This doesn’t mean that Gen Zers should never work alone, but frequent group check-ins, inclusive meetings (even remote ones) and group projects can bring out their collaborative spirit.
• Keep things moving quickly.
The younger generation has grown up in a world where nearly everything’s at their fingertips with the click of a button. They’re used to fast, nearly instant responses and work quickly and efficiently. When you’re managing a worker in this generation, keep things moving quickly. Because they’re great at multitasking, you may be able to give them extra projects or side responsibilities to accomplish this.
• Use different forms of media to keep their attention.
Gen Z intakes media from many different platforms and in many different forms. To keep their attention, change up their assignments, projects and pitch forms every so often. If you can, focus on visually-oriented work rather than text-oriented; because they value efficient, quick communication, they’ll work better with visual media than long stretches of text.
• Offer workplace flexibility.
Workplace flexibility helps Gen Zers achieve the work-life balance they’ll need to avoid getting burnt out. Because they’re technologically adept, you won’t have to worry about communicating with them remotely. Consider using email, video chat and even Slack as ways to communicate with Gen Z workers instead of making them come into the office every day.
• Provide opportunities for more responsibility.
Gen Zers aren’t into the step-by-step corporate ladder many older employees are familiar with. Instead of using higher titles and job promotions as the only incentives, offer new projects, programs and responsibilities. Gen Zers will take pride in having more responsibility and be more motivated to complete projects well than get a new title.
• Value their perspective.
Many Gen Zers have strong values that they’d like reflected in their workplace. This doesn’t just mean diversity and inclusion; it also means having a strong company mission. Listen to your Gen Zer’s perspective on your company’s mission, and focus on how it can be shared through every aspect of your work, from hiring to outputs to your company guidelines.
Working with employees from another generation can be difficult, especially if you think that generation’s responsible for your workplace woes. Yet just because someone shakes things up things doesn’t mean their way of doing things is inherently worse than the status quo. Although it may take some getting used to, workers in Generation Z have lots of unique skills to bring to the workplace, whether it’s a passion for collaborative working or the ability to multitask. They're bringing some exciting changes to the table — whether it’s a virtual table or one in the office.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoeakaplan.com.