As one of the oldest generations in our workforce, Baby Boomers (as well as Generation X) have achieved a lot, and they’ve had to put up with a lot. Boomers have spent the past 15 years or so adjusting to millennials — figuring out why they work differently and learning that they don’t do everything by the book. Unfortunately, many Boomers have spent way too much time complaining about them, rather than adjusting to them. I get your angst.
Having consulted for companies with employees of different generations, I can tell you that many millennials arrived with perceived feelings of entitlement and a focus on driving change that did not exactly enamor Boomers. However, many Boomers missed the opportunity to learn from the change millennials brought to the table. So to ensure you don’t make that same mistake with our Z’s, I’d like to provide you with a quick guide for working together.
Let’s begin by understanding a little about Gen Z, also known as the iGeneration, those who were born between the mid-1990s and 2010. Good news first: It seems that this new generation has shed some of the laissez-faire approaches of millennials. They grew up in a recession and have been hearing their parents remind them that nothing will just be given to them. Understanding this message has formed a determination and willingness to work hard to get to where they need to be. This should resonate positively with older generations, who typically share the same values. Along with that strong work ethic, Gen Z has an appreciation for more traditional work benefits, like health care and tuition reimbursement, with seemingly less interest in the Ping-Pong table and sleeping pods that were thought to be so important to millennials.
Millennials have done a good job of preparing you for Gen Z’s preferences and attitudes. Here are the four crucial things to know about working with Gen Z.
1. They process information much differently.
Remember when there was no internet? While Boomers have had to adjust to the introduction and never-ending updates of new hardware and software, consider this: Gen Z is the first generation that has been online since before they could walk. Research suggests that technology is indeed evolving how we think. The presence of a smartphone, for example, has been found to reduce a person’s cognitive capacity and negatively affect their working memory, with those who are most dependent on smartphones paying the highest “cognitive cost.” While younger generations like Gen Z may be more adaptable to change and able to keep pace with technology, there’s a concern that they’re more likely to be distracted and forgetful and less likely to think through problems critically.
So a couple of things to think about: First, when you require some deep critical thinking, I suggest doing so in sessions no longer than 30 minutes rather than hosting long brainstorming sessions. You need to provide Gen Zers with an opportunity to build this skill and strengthen certain parts of the brain. Also, to help give them a break from their constant reliance on technology, consider adopting policies that allow, and in some cases require, employees not to respond to work emails out of hours.
2. They use technology to communicate about issues and important topics.
The internet has significantly changed the time and speed at which we communicate and interact. While many Boomers still prefer and rely on face-to-face conversations, many Z’s seem to be more comfortable and confident complaining and campaigning online. This is not to say they don’t like face-to-face meetings, but you should prepare yourself for more issues and problems to be communicated via technology, as this is their preferred medium.
Many Boomers will often interpret this as a sign of disrespect, but you must understand that this is merely how this new generation is growing up. Rather than fighting it, consider investing in internal communications platforms that will allow your employees to voice problems, receive messages and get information digitally. Remember: If you don’t offer this internally, your Gen Z employees may potentially express their opinions outside of the workplace. Emphasize face-to-face meetings to not only share information but also to build relationships.
3. They learn via videos.
This generation is comfortable learning most things online — 66% of Gen Zers use YouTube to find how-to information. Embedding videos into your classroom or online learning platform is easy and perfect for mobile devices, and the videos are typically quick and informative. Traditional training courses that require hours of sitting in a classroom or reading numerous pages of a book are just not going to cut it for many Gen Zers. They’re very comfortable utilizing videos to learn processes and tasks and to generate ideas, so it’s essential to consider how new employees learn roles and responsibilities. Incorporating a significant amount of video content into your training is important now and will be even more so in the future.
4. They’re more open and accepting of differences.
Generation Z is the most diverse workforce in history, not only regarding race but also in how they view others and their acceptance of varied points of view. When it comes to the workplace, Gen Zers who I’ve worked with have said that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. They’ve communicated that they don’t like closed-minded prejudices that can hurt others. Z’s are less tolerant of outdated thinking and bias. When they see injustices, they respond and want you as their manager or employer to acknowledge and align with them. This doesn’t mean you need to adopt radical viewpoints, but you need to be open-minded and ready to listen. Providing a safe environment where these Z’s can be themselves and express their views is extremely important.
Hopefully, these insights will help you navigate this new generation of employees. I know you’ll find some of the things I’ve mentioned about our younger workers a little uncomfortable and disconcerting, but I urge you to look at them as ways to bring your business forward and improve your culture.
By Shane Green
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