Decoding Generation Z in the workplace: Are they difficult or differently driven?

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, businesses are facing an unprecedented challenge leading multigenerational workforces with diverse needs, expectations and ways of working. With baby boomers delaying retirement, millennials asserting their influence and Gen Z expected to make up 37% of the workforce by 2035, conversations have been sparked regarding Gen Z work habits, values, and how well they align with current workplace standards and traditions. At Accru, we often engage with clients about their challenges of working with Generation Z. The conversation revolves around the belief that Gen Z individuals can be challenging to collaborate with, as their work preferences and styles may clash with those of colleagues who are accustomed to traditional “how to work” and “the right” work styles for our business.

Gen Z, spanning roughly 8 to 26 years old, have grown up in a rapidly changing world. They are considered digital natives, as they’ve been immersed in digital tools and platforms for most of their lives, be it shopping online, or relying on readily accessible information whether its news, reviews or products. The conflicts they see is visible 24/7 – whether historical or current – 9/11, GFC, Russia/Ukraine or now Israel/Hamas. Simultaneously, the worldwide count of millionaires has doubled, celebrities portray an image of flawlessness, everyday challenges with housing affordability and climate change persist and certain job roles either do not exist or are yet to be created.

Our experience is Gen Z’s alleged difficulty in the workplace might stem more from a misunderstanding of their motives and expectations. Every generation goes through an adjustment period as they enter the workforce, and they bring with them different life experiences, beliefs, values, behaviours and expectations of work. Their desire for flexibility, remote work options and a strong work-life balance pushes us as a business to rethink traditional ways of working for the benefit of everyone. Rather than dismissing these demands as difficult, we view them as opportunities to foster a more inclusive and adaptable workplace culture.

The real challenge is to embrace the fresh perspectives and demands of our business and to adapt and embrace to the changing wants, needs and practices that the business may be required to adopt in order to stay relevant or succeed. Gen Z’s want more open communication and collaboration which mirrors the growing trend towards flatter hierarchies. They want to have a voice – so regular employee experience surveys allow us to gain generational perspectives, and mapping the employee experience from onboarding to offboarding ensures we shape a supportive and engaging work environment and experience. This provides a great emphasis on teamwork, collective decision-making and the widespread access to information for everyone. Gen Z’s presence has certainly pushed us to re-evaluation of our leadership and management approaches resulting in increased growth, engagement and innovation.

Gen Z’s growing up in this rapidly changing world coupled with a recent pandemic, has bred resilience, adaptability, accountability and a willingness to embrace change. According to thought leaders, the World Economic Forum, Deloitte and McKinsey & Company, these are critical qualities that will help businesses seeking to thrive in dynamic markets. By harnessing Gen Z’s potential, businesses can unlock fresh ideas and perspectives. In turn this leads to innovative problem-solving and the creation of new ideas. Ultimately, this can result in increased satisfaction, productivity, and employee retention within the business and new growth opportunities for the business. Pairing Gen Z’s with more experienced employees can facilitate knowledge exchange, with Gen Z providing technological insights and older generations offering valuable industry wisdom, resulting in a powerful combination.

The debate over whether Gen Z is difficult to work with is less about inherent difficulty and more about understanding and accommodating their unique traits. Their preference for collaborative workspaces, continuous feedback and technological fluency can all be leveraged to create a more agile and forward-thinking business. As leaders of business, we need to strike a balance between maintaining established practices and embracing change. Instead of seeing Gen Z’s preferences as clashing with the status quo, business leaders should consider integrating these differences into a cohesive and adaptable work culture.

In conclusion, Gen Z’s entry into the workforce has ignited discussions about their compatibility with existing work norms. Rather than viewing them as difficult, it’s crucial to understand that Gen Z’s distinctive work style is a response to the evolving demands of the modern world. Their technological fluency, adaptability and new perspectives can be harnessed as assets, driving innovation and pushing businesses to create more inclusive, flexible and collaborative workplaces. As we navigate this generational transition, embracing change while respecting tradition will be key to unlocking the full potential of Gen Z in the workforce.

About the Author
Kate Donaldson , Accru Melbourne
As Director of People and Culture at Accru Melbourne, her role as part of the leadership team is to support and enhance the continued growth of the firm, build a contemporary people strategy and positive employee experience.
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