How To Work with Gen Z Co-Workers

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You don’t need to know the latest TikTok trend (see: “It’s Corn Kid”) to understand why Gen Z is setting a new standard for work-life balance. Many Gen Z workplace behaviors are construed as lazy or out-of-place. But they might not be any less productive – just less traditional. 

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“This generation has not experienced a pre-pandemic work environment,” Laura Mills, Head of Early Career Insights at Forage, said. “Gen Z has been forced to try to pick up on unspoken workplace etiquette while working remotely, and while trying to learn their jobs and build new relationships.”

Think about it: Gen Z hasn’t had the easiest professional ladder to climb. If they completed a four-year collegiate program, they most likely graduated into a global pandemic and economic dryspell. Many organizations that were uncertain of their own post-pandemic fate were put on a hiring freeze. Those Zoomers who are finally prying their way into the workforce in 2022 have just been hit with another economic recession. 

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According to a 2022 survey from Deloitte, 29 percent of Zoomers say that covering cost of living is their greatest concern, with almost half of the Zoomers surveyed saying they live paycheck to paycheck. In short, they’re going through it.

At a company that creates free virtual work experience programs for students, Mills sees the change Gen Z is bringing to the workplace. “This generation has lived through political uncertainty, warring countries, a global pandemic, and civil unrest,” Mills said. “They have seen the unexpected become a reality time and time again. As a result, Gen Z has developed a healthy skepticism.”

Gen Z workers want a sense of community and opportunities to upskill, at the right company. They’re not just looking to become a good fit for their workplace – they want their job to be the right fit for their lives, too. Working with the next generation? Follow these tips for effective management and co-working with Gen Z employees.

Set Clear Expectations

The misconception that Gen Z employees are lazy or less proactive than past generations in the workforce may stem from a larger issue with how organizations choose to work. 

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“Gen Z is bringing real change to the workplace,” Mills said. “They are fed up with a world where productivity matters more than mental health and they are leading the charge to a healthier workplace.”

Experienced professionals and mental health experts have hopped on the viral trend of advising young professionals to create a better work-life balance. That includes clear and effective communication of the expectations, from both their managers and co-workers.

If the company says business is conducted between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you better prepare for your Gen Z coworker to be offline at 5:01. If you add tasks to their workload, they may remind you if those tasks don’t fall under what was laid out in their job description.

Do not expect Gen Z employees to stay long if they are constantly expected to do more than what they agreed to be compensated for.

As a co-worker, make an effort to understand what your other Gen Z co-worker’s role and current workload looks like. If you’re working together on a project, meet with them and your manager to break down what tasks best align with each of your roles.

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As a manager, take note if a Gen Z employee has more on their plate than they originally bargained for. Mills said giving proper recognition can motivate Gen Z workers to keep doing their best work, but have a sense for when a reevaluation of their compensation or role may be in order. If you wait too long, they may leave before coming to you to ask.

“They are seeking authenticity from their manager,” Mills said. “An effective management style when working with Gen Z employees would be one of transparency, understanding, and frequent feedback.”

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Consider Company Culture

According to Deloitte, 46 percent of Gen Zs in the workforce feel burned out due to the intensity or demands of their work environment. Those feelings could be enhanced by the isolation that remote or hybrid work can create.

Dan Manian, co-founder and CEO of workplace relationship-building tool Donut, said belonging is a key tenet Gen Z is looking for in the workplace.

“While fostering friendships may seem outside of an employer’s scope, they play a huge role in how people feel about their workplace,” Manian said. “Whether or not someone develops friendships at work can affect overall retention, productivity, and happiness. In fact, employees who report lower levels of connection at work have a 313 percent stronger intention to quit.” 

But companies can retain Gen Z workers and help them thrive by promoting a sense of community in the workplace. Consider using mentorship programs and prioritizing time for team-building in your work environment, even if you meet remotely.

Let Them Grow

Although Gen Zs are twice as likely to leave their current job in the next month, they could stick around for an opportunity to grow with your company. 

According to a report from Lever, 36 percent of Gen Zs are likely to ask for a role change at their company. Opportunities for upskilling or reskilling, such as professional development courses, and clear upward mobility can be motivators for Gen Z co-workers.

So don’t leave the “where do you see yourself in five years?” question at the interview. As a manager, seek opportunities to check-in with your Gen Z co-worker about their career goals and interests, and find ways to expand them at your company.

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