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Understanding the Gen Z Mindset: Insights for Managing the Next Generation

When I first entered the workforce, I was grouped with the millennials, a generation that was generally viewed negatively. In fact, for me, being called a millennial was almost an insult, as one would be stereotyped as entitled, with unrealistic expectations of work. There was also the perception that we were impatient due to the hurried attempts to climb the corporate ladder. Of course, I thought that I was none of those things😊. Yet here we are in 2024, having a similar conversation about the newest members of the work cadre, Generation Z.

Born between 1997 and 2012, Generation Z, colloquially known as Zoomers brings their unique characteristics, values, expectations and perspectives to the workplace. However, there are mounting concerns about this generation’s attitude to work and the potential implications for employee retention. It is perceived that Gen Z team members will be more likely to leave a job if it doesn’t meet their needs. This trend is reflected in their resumes, as it may highlight short tenures in various roles across different companies. As a result, there is apprehension about the level of Gen Z commitment.

In this month’s newsletter, I take a closer look at understanding the Gen Z mindset and considerations for effectively managing these team members.

The Gen Z Mindset: A Closer Look

Values are described as basic convictions on how to conduct yourself or live life properly [1]. It lays the foundation for the understanding of attitudes and motivation. Research suggests that persons within a generation experience defining events related to war, culture, politics, technology, and economics that create shared values [2]. These experiences present each generation with unique work values, ethics, and preferences for managing and being managed [3].  The table below presents a selection of a few differences among the generational groups.

If we want to understand the Gen Z mindset, it is critical to explore what this generation values, as it influences their priorities and expectations. In reviewing the table, it is apparent that changes in the environment of Gen Z members are fundamentally different from other generations. For example, the oldest member of Gen Z would have been 23 when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, and they would have been just preparing to enter or already experiencing their first steps into the workforce. During this period, there was a heavy reliance on technology and changes to how we work, for example, more flexible working arrangements being introduced.

Zoomers grew up in an environment where technology plays a central role in most of their lives ranging from communication to socialization, approach to learning and leisure activities. Hence, being referred to as the digitally native generation. Whilst access to readily accessible internet and technology can be viewed positively, it also carries some negatives. The constant technological engagement resulted in other issues coming to the forefront such as technology addiction, attention deficit issues, being more individualistic and less social, lack of sleep, and elevated levels of depression and anxiety [2].  

In exploring the historical backdrop of Gen Z, compounded with the technological advancements we can begin to understand their core values of Zoomers such as their entrepreneurial spirit, desire for autonomy and purpose-driven work, tech-savviness and work-life balance and mental health prioritization. These experiences can be connected back to their behaviours in the workplace, such as questioning authority, seeking feedback and valuing flexibility.

Managing Gen Z effectively

In researching this topic, I came across the DITTO framework (diversity, individualism, teamwork, technology, and organizational support). According to Pichler et.al, this framework provides a solid foundation for leveraging Gen Z’s unique strengths [2]. The evidence-based recommendations for managing Gen Zers based on DITTO are represented in the table below.

DITTO: Research-based policies and practices to leverage the uniqueness of Gen Z [2]

Some specific considerations for implementing the DITTO framework include [2]:

  1. Diversity:
    • Create employee resource groups. These are employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organization’s values.
    • Implement diversity training to support the creation of an inclusive organizational culture.

Desired outcome: Enhance organizational attraction

  1. Individualism and Teamwork:
    • Promote work organization and person-organization fit.
    • Create a sense of purpose for employees and teams.
    • Facilitate self-directed teams.

Desired outcome: Retain top talent.

  1. Technology:
    • Integrate technology with performance management.
    • Support alternative ways of working.
    • Introduce online/web-based learning.
    • Invest in IT tools that support virtual interactions.

Desired outcome: Gain competitive advantage.

  1. Organizational Support:
    • Develop employee recognition programmes.
    • Invest in supervisory support training.
    • Develop wellness programmes.
    • Examine employee benefits.

Desired outcome: Improve firm performance.

Managing Gen Z requires us to be open and acknowledge that as the world continues to evolve so will the workforce and the expectations of its members.

Implications for Managerial Practice

Older millennials are turning 43 years old and the younger millennials are entering their late-20s. This suggests that millennials are now progressing in their careers and are now first-time supervisors or entering mid-level or senior managerial positions. They will be challenged to manage the incoming Gen Z workers, their peers and persons who are older than them. The differing values can potentially create conflict.

Out of curiosity, I examined the Statistical Institution of Jamaica (Statin) data about Jamaica’s labour force and identified that 52% of our labour force is between ages 25 and 44. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t facilitate a further deep dive into the specific generations. Nevertheless, this information is useful as it paints a picture of Jamaica’s multigenerational workforce.

Jamaica’s Labour Force by Age Group as at October 2023, Data Source: STATIN

Presently, there isn’t much guidance for millennial managers on how to manage Gen Z workers [4]. This means that millennial managers will need to adapt their leadership styles to effectively manage this younger generation. Here a few considerations for leaders, in particular millennials as they prepare to lead Gen Z [4]:

  1. Lead with authenticity and transparency – Gen Z team members want a positive communicative leader who provides mentorship and other developmental opportunities.
  2. Develop emotional intelligence skills (soft skills) – this may require formal managerial training to help managers with the tools and techniques to communicate, empathize, manage their emotions and lead with emotional intelligence.
  3. Encourage open communication -Gen Zers appreciate autonomy. It is important to ensure that they are given adequate onboarding and training which will foster the trust needed when assigning them to projects. It will help in driving innovation and encouraging accountability.
  4. Provide frequent feedback and recognition – establish check-ins, offer constructive feedback, and celebrate wins to help your Gen Z team members feel valued.
  5. Foster an inclusive culture – cultivate a culture of belonging, where diverse perspectives are welcomed and encouraged.

Conclusion

It is important to continue learning about Gen Z which will help us to work with members of this generation effectively. Driving innovation and positive change in the workplace is desired by most organizations. There are benefits to leveraging Gen Z’s strengths to potentially drive these changes based on the unique perspectives they bring to the workplace.  I encourage you to:

  1. Take a moment to assess how well your company’s values and practices align with the Gen Z mindset. What areas could be improved to better attract and retain this generation?
  1. Reflect on your leadership style. how well do you think you’re adapting your leadership approach to effectively lead Gen Z teams? What areas do you feel you need to improve in?

 In my opinion, one of the core issues in managing the next generation is the openness and willingness to change how we approach things. It isn’t necessarily about who is right and who is wrong but how can we leverage the experiences of each generation to create a work environment that brings out the best in each individual and ultimately creates a workplace that will win in the marketplace.

References

  1. Robbins, Stephen. 2015. Organizational Behaviour,16th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall
  2. Pichler, S, Chiranjeev Kohli and Neil Granitz. 2021. “DITTO for Gen Z: A framework for leveraging the uniqueness of the generation.” Business Horizons. DOI:10.1016/J.BUSHOR.2021.02.021
  3. O’Sullivan, Kevin. 2020. “The Generational Enterprise: Challenges and Values.” https://knowledgecompass.com/the-generational-enterprise-challenges-and-values/
  4. Gabrielova, Karina and Aaron A. Buchko. 2021. Here comes Generation Z: Millennials as managers. Business Horizons 64, 489 – 499. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2021.02.013

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