Gens Y and Z mark the end of the alphabet

AND the beginning of something lots of us don’t fully understand

Most organizations today are heavily steeped in a traditionalist value system. When we think someone’s got a really great work ethic it’s because we’re benchmarking against a traditionalist definition of what a work ethic is. Or if we say someone’s been really loyal to our company it’s because we’re defining it in that same way that the traditionalist did.  While that traditionalist mindset may not be present in your workforce as it relates to age (you probably don’t have a lot of people that are 74 and up) you likely still have people with that established set of attitudes.

For nearly two decades Giselle Kovary, president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc. has studied the expectations and behaviors of multi-generations in business and shared her insights with WorkTango. Her stance is that you can actually remove the age ranges associated with Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xs, Millennials/Gen Ys, and Gen Zs, and view them as three or four or five different mindsets you might have on a team.

While Giselle does not endorse or encourage anyone to promote or use labels simply based on age, she does believe you need to understand what engages individuals and why they want to get up and come and be part of your team each and every day. She suggests you use these descriptions as one lens to better understand your workforce at a macro level, stressing it will never replace the need to understand somebody at the micro-level: the individual personality.

“Every generation brings something new to the workplace and Millennials are no exception.”

– Kathryn MinshewFounder & CEO at The Muse

A lot has been written and there’s still a lot of interest in Millennials (born 1981-1995). This is the generation that was coming of age at a time when there was a huge focus on building their self-esteem. When Millennials started entering the work world there was a big “aha” moment both for them and for their managers; this generation was coming in with an expectation that they were going to be able to contribute, have meaningful work, be engaged and do fun stuff right from the get-go, right from day one. Millennials were also coached by their Baby Boomer parents that the world is their oyster and that they should go and create an opportunity in that world that’s really meaningful for them.

There are a few key characteristics that global data continually reinforces. Millennials hugely value flexibility in their work schedules, in their tasks and in their career paths. There’s more harmonization for them between their work life and their personal life. They’re willing to sacrifice something significant to get that, and that sacrifice is pay. They, in fact, will work for less, for an organization that allows them to have that level of flexibility and fluidity.

As a highly educated group (more professional Millennials have an MBA than have no higher education at all), they value the ability to contribute, to provide ideas and to share opinions.

Seventy-one percent also view their coworkers as their “second family”.  So business relationships are taking on a new hue. There’s less formality.  Organizations are being asked to create fun work environments with activities and events and opportunities to engage with colleagues through team activities outside of the office.

gens y and z work family

How should management behave? Acknowledge life events like birthdays and weddings. Be supportive during personal trouble times. Demonstrate you have their back. Show you’re authentic.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: “The philosophy of the parents in one generation will be the philosophy of business in the next.”

While Millennials were parented by their Baby Boomer parents in a way in which they were encouraged to live their dreams and fulfill their passions, almost 60 percent of Gen Zs (born 1996 – 2012) are being raised by Gen Xers in a way that says “hone in on what your goals are, deliver on your promises and be true to your work.”

Gen Zs are bringing back some very traditional values. In a national Canadian survey of 14 to 17 year olds, 85 percents said they want to stay with an employer for a long time. They’re a generation that wants to hang their hat and build their career in one place. And 74 percent believe it’s important to “do what your boss tells you to do” in order to advance.

While Millennials have been accused of accessing the bank-of-mom-and-dad thanks to the wealth of their Baby Boomer parents, the majority Gen Zs are being raised by parents that were significantly impacted by the 2008 recession. That messaging has come down loud and clear to their children. And that’s likely why 25 percent of Gen Zs are working full-time while they’re in school full-time. They watched the impact the recession had on their parents, and heard or were part of transparent discussions around costs and finances and investments and what happens when you lose your job.

Most important to future GenZ employees:

89% –  a job that will help me develop new skills and learn new things

89% – a job that’s secure

88% – a job with great benefits

86%  – a job working in an industry that I believe in or that matches my personal values

85% – a job that I can stay at for a long time

Despite the desire to be practical and realistic about their financial futures, Gen Zs aren’t willing to sacrifice everything for their work or to focus so much on saving money that they can’t enjoy their lives today. That desire extends to the three considerations they identify as key career success factors:

  1. That they can be creative problem solvers
  2. That they can contribute well to their team and
  3. That they can collaborate well with their colleagues in a diverse and inclusive environment

Interestingly, this generation doesn’t see the lines and forms of diversity that we do in older generations. It’s just a given for them that there’s going to be inclusion.  And defining diversity is incredibly broad for them, with the thinking “I need to show up as my whole self and that’s going to be recognized. It’s going to be celebrated. It’s going to be integrated into the work.” It’s an expectation. It’s a foregone conclusion.

gens y and z diversity

How do we frame all this in the context of employee engagement?

Align your relationships to the generational expectations and behaviors, the different mindsets you have represented in your organization and on your team and take the following into account.

Leverage cuspers

There are people that are born in a specific generation but actually behave and identify more with behaviors from another generation. And, there are those that might toggle between two generations. They’re great people to have.  Leverage “cuspers” to be a bridge point within your team

From an onboarding perspective…

Set up a mentoring or peer program for new hires early in their post. Allow less experienced newcomers to have some opportunity to job share or job shadow in different parts of the organization, to find out what’s happening, and to get a sense of the different cultures corporately, regionally, by division and department.

Encourage senior leaders to recognize that there’s going to be a transition period when someone joins the organization in terms of acquiring tacit knowledge: the nuances around how you do things in the organization, what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

Younger people are eager and hungry to know how they’re contributing and organizations have to connect those points for them.

When it comes to authority…

With competency-based promotions we now have younger people leading more experienced individuals in age. Recognize there can be some emotion tied up with that.

Fundamentally the younger generations are less and less impressed with authority for authority’s sake. What you’ll find from younger colleagues is they respect competency and skill. And from Gen Zs, predicts Giselle, “we’re going to see they respect the process, they’re going to respect what’s being done IF they’re informed around the WHY.”

About fluidity and change…

What the younger generations have done is to challenge organizations to think more broadly around the ways in which we can incorporate greater flexibility, fluidity and agility.

Millennials have an expectation that their personal and professional lives will be blended.

gens y and z work life balance

Gen Zs will expect the same thing plus, they’re going to want more agility. Think of this agility as something like an elastic band. Organizations can expand and contract based on what the business needs are, or the time of year, or quarter-end, and on what works for the business, what works for the employee, what works for the leader and what works for the team. “If we have to be here and it’s really structured and you need me in the office, that’s great. But the times that you don’t, relax about it.”

Communication is critical…

Video is leading in every category as a way to engage people. If you can, do live events or live online events.  Maybe your senior leaders can respond quickly in real-time via video taken on their smartphones.

Whatever you do, don’t withhold information (or access to information) as power. Once upon a time, leaders guarded information and only shared on a need-to-know basis. Gen Zs and Millennials find everything online. Be as open and transparent as possible.

At the same time, recognize and remember that Millennials want their colleagues to act as a second family and Gen Zs are going to come in with the desire for a really collaborative team environment. Be aware that whatever you say to one Millennial or Gen Zer, you’re potentially saying to all within their “second family” or peer group.

And when it comes to on-the-spot or scheduled performance feedback acknowledge and recognize there’s always a team component to it.

Invite insights, creativity and innovation…

Have faster, better feedback loops. Use pulse surveys to solicit opinions frequently. Ask for those suggestions, those ideas, those insights. That’s how to hear the voice of the employees, quicker. That’s how to make better decisions. Be sure to follow up in a timely manner. And importantly, manage expectations. Communicate what you can do and what you can’t do, and deliver on your promises to demonstrate transparency and responsiveness.

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!

WORKPLACE GUIDES

It is important for every leader to be able to tap into the values and expectations of each generation to increase levels of engagement and productivity.

Watch our recent webinar, Different Generations – Different Approaches to Work™: Leading and Engaging Millennials & Gen Z

WEBINAR

Read great blog posts on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys.

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