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Stop Worrying About Millennials — Gen Z is Here!

Millennials. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say something about the millennial generation, and that something is usually tinged with disdain. While we’ve been spending our time focusing on this generation that are now between ages 23 and 38, we’ve been pretty much blind to what’s coming next.

The next named generation is Generation Z (Gen Z). Gen Z is officially the largest generation in American history at a whopping 86.43 million – and counting! The next largest generation in history is the Baby Boomers at 73.47 million total. If you think you don’t need to worry about these kids just yet, you’re wrong. The oldest members of Gen Z are in their early 20s and are already in the workforce.

Gen Z at work are major disrupters. They challenge what we all accept as norms and push buttons like none other; making demands such as flexibility, autonomy, ultimate inclusion, and deep social engagement. They’re not content to work just for the sake of working and they don’t want to punch out at five and leave work at work. They want to work remotely and incidentally, given solid direction, they will work circles around the rest of us.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a few from this newest generation in a sort-of mentor/unofficial leader role and here’s what I’ve picked up so far:

  1. They crave structure and direct but it has to make sense to them. At first I was a bit irritated by their questioning. I could hear my mother in my head sternly telling me to stop asking why and just do what she told me to do. Gen Z are not content merely being compliant so when providing structure for them to work within, it’s important to think about why you’re asking them to do this work and explain those reasons. It’s challenging to me, personally, because it often forces me to examine the question myself. Sometimes I even find myself coming to the conclusion that the instructions I’m giving aren’t actually as sound as I thought. This kind of examination ultimately makes me better at my job, in my opinion.
  2. They need space. Try and micromanage a Gen Z and you’ll end up dealing with a shutdown. Once you’ve given them structure and direction trust them to get the job done. Yes, you should still verify the work is being completed, but you don’t have to hover. I suggest that once you get them moving in the direction you want them to go you check in with them on a regular basis. When you do, begin by asking them how they think things are going. I have been surprised more than once by this group’s openness and willingness to be direct about difficulties that are being faced.
  3. They are digital natives, so don’t expect them to work device-free. Instead, embrace a bring-your-own-device philosophy and allow the devices to be part of the work, if possible. I’m not saying give them license to do whatever they want. That doesn’t work for any generation so, again, you may have to think about the structure you want to see them working within. I’ve suggested someone in the group capture the audio of a meeting and run it through a transcribing app so we can all have notes later. Another way to engage their devices is to allow them to participate in content creation for your agency’s social media. Perhaps you could institute a teammate-content day where everyone submits their photos and videos of how they’re serving your agency and customers.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking down on new generations as they enter the workforce. They’re not going to do things the way we’ve always done them, and, for the most part, that’s ok. If you’re like me, you may have to leave your ego at home so you’re clear to not only work with your young Gen Z teammates and employees, but also to learn from them.

Lisa Menke is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a digital media developer who is passionate about the intersection where opportunities for professional growth and participatory culture meet. As a training specialist for the State of Nebraska, Lisa is currently responsible for the creation of digital media in support of agency training & development, and communications. Read her posts here

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

I loved reading this blog and think your perspective is absolutely right – Gen Z is getting no mindshare compared to millennials in terms of HR and workforce effects. While it might be tricky for some to adjust to new, different perspectives in the office, I definitely think it can serve as a wonderful moment for reflection on current practices and be an excuse to challenge the current status quo.