What You Need to Know About Gen Z Employees 

When it comes to generational differences in the workplace, the Golden Rule is probably not your best guide. 

It sounds like common sense. Why wouldn’t we treat our co-workers or direct reports the way we would want to be treated? But what you find encouraging or helpful or motivational might not resonate with your younger or older co-workers. And the bigger the generational gap, the more likely that is to be the case.  

A better guide might be the so-called Platinum Rule: Treat people the way they want to be treated. 

That’s the thinking of management experts as a new generation of workers, Generation Z, enters the workforce. Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) workers bring subtle but important differences in how they think about work. 

Here are some of the key points to keep in mind as more Gen Z workers join your team. 

Less Engaged (or Maybe Not) 

According to a study by Gallup, Gen Z workers (as well as younger millennials) are “slightly more likely than their more senior co-workers to be ambivalent about their workplace.” But they also are less likely to be outright disengaged, so it’s a mixed bag. 

A bigger red flag is the risk of burnout. 

“Sixty-eight percent of Gen Z and younger millennials report feeling stress a lot of the time,” write Ryan Pendell and Sara Vander Helm at Gallup. “This should concern leaders. Stress and burnout influence job performance and long-term career growth.”  

A Search for Belonging 

A recent study by the Partnership for Public Service found that Gen Z civil servants have little tolerance for traditional bureaucracy. Instead, they prefer “flat organizational structures that prioritize collaboration, empathetic leadership and inclusive decision-making processes.” 

That attitude stems from a strong self of self, the study found. Rather than present a “work self” that blends in, Gen Zers “bring their individual personality, interests and style into the office.”  

And they look for others to embrace that individuality. 

“More than other generations, Gen Z seeks individualized relationships with empathetic leaders who cultivate a sense of belonging within the office,” according to the study. 

In Search for Flexibility 

The Partnership study also found that Gen Z workers, who largely began entering the workforce during the pandemic, value the flexibility that comes with a remote or hybrid workplace. It’s not just that it’s more convenient: They see it as a sign of trust. 

Managers need to keep that in mind if they want/expect people to work in the office. Rather than just ordering people back to their desks, the study recommends that leaders clearly communicate the need to be in the office and “thoughtfully cultivate a strong employee experience” once they are there. 

Ready to Adapt  

Having entered the workforce during a pandemic, Gen Zers also are more comfortable with change and disruption than preceding generations, according to a study by the consulting firm PWC. “For this generation, it can seem as if disruption is the new normal.” 

In particular, they are adept at adapting to new technology. Millennials are often described as “digital natives,” because they grew up using technology. But Gen Zers are in a whole different class. Gen Zers tend to view collaboration platforms and applications “as extensions of themselves,” PWC found. 

Socially Conscious 

The Partnership for Public Service notes Gen Z has a reputation for being socially conscious and wanting to give back. Government agencies can improve their odds of recruiting and retaining these employees by helping them feel connected to their agency’s mission. But that might be enough, their study found. 

Their social consciousness extends to the workplace itself. “They want their workplace and their specific work responsibilities to closely align with their personal values,” including a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the Partnership report states. 

Gen Zers also take an expansive view of diversity, according to a study by the consulting firm Deloitte.  

“Diversity matters to them through many dimensions, not just isolated to race and gender but also related to identity and orientation,” the study states. Consequently, organizations that lack diversity might find it more difficult to recruit younger workers. 

More to Come 

At this point, of course, Gen Zers are still a small slice of the professional workforce. According to the Partnership for Public Service, Gen Z accounts for just 1.6% of the federal workforce, compared to 41.6% for Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) and 29.1% for Baby Boomers. 

But agencies that want to build and maintain a strong workforce in the years ahead need to focus on these generational values, the Partnership report states. 

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