Every new generation entering the workforce throws the rule book out the window. There’s outcry by existing workers about the youth of today and their lack of respect. But over time the world adjusts, change happens and a new way of working is developed.
Gen Z are no different. On the surface they aren’t just throwing out the rule book, they’re ripping it up, shredding it then setting the remains on fire. But what if the working world needed that shake up? What if they’re pushing us down the road of change which we need to travel down? What if they’re finishing the fight we’ve been having for years?
There’s no doubt that Gen Z will change the workplace and as part of that they’ll change the idea of leadership and management. If you let it, then those changes will be for the best and will push businesses forward prioritising diversity, inclusion, work life balance and breaking the established norms. But to keep the best Gen Z talent and to nurture them into tomorrow’s leaders, current leaders will need to change their style and embrace the change.
When we think about traditional management and leadership styles, we think of school.
Someone telling you what to do, when to do it and being reprimanded if you dare disagree. There are clear rules and you’re expected to toe the line.
Over time the lines have softened, there’s more opportunity for collaboration and feedback… but only when asked. For many organisations there’s still a top-down hierarchy with established ways of working that go back years.
Unlike previous generations, Gen Z don’t have any qualms about challenging the status quo. For some this will be seen as disrespectful and disruptive. It’s these organisations that will resist change. Let us tell you something, change is coming. Gen Z’s will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025. They can’t be avoided, ignored or pushed out. Instead we need to understand their expectations, ideals and aspirations so we can harness their energy and use it for the greater good.
Gen Z’s expectations
Understanding how Gen Z will change leadership in the workplace comes down to understanding what they expect from a job. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z don’t live to work, it’s very much the opposite. They don’t see a job as core to their identity, instead they see it as a facilitator for the rest of their lives. That attitude makes them far less likely to put up with a job that’s in opposition to their values or aspirations.
Impact and value
Gen Z workers embody a strong sense of purpose. That means they need to understand where they fit in and how their work makes a difference. It also means that they want to do meaningful work. 96% of Gen Z employees state it’s important for them to feel valued at work. For leaders this is a move away from expecting employees to complete whatever work is necessary because it’s their job, to looking at the why around tasks and their importance.
Diversity and inclusion
Across job seekers there’s been an increase in the importance of diversity and inclusion. But for Gen Z it’s an essential, with 73% claiming they would leave a company if their practices were not ethical and 58% would leave due to political differences. Standing up for what they believe in and being unwilling to compromise on their beliefs has the potential to create a challenging working environment for leaders.
Gen Z are the first generation to grow up immersed in technology. They don’t remember dial-up internet, 4 channels on the TV, or landline phones. Their lives are intertwined with technology and it’s how they live. That means they don’t see an issue with remote or flexible working. The technology exists so why shouldn’t they utilise it? Many faced important educational milestones during Covid times using technology so why should work be any different? For them, it’s a hill to die on, with 90% more likely to redesign work towards remote working when finding a new job. Leaders will need to rethink their expectations and justifications to engage with Gen Z over when, where and how they work.
Mental health, workload, and personal development are all areas that concern Gen Z. But they see them as business issues, not things for them to cope with on their own. 28% of Gen Z workers say that they struggle with their mental health because of their boss. Gen Z workers see management as their champions in the workplace, and that it’s their job to protect and support them, quite a turnaround from the traditional role of leaders. That view requires leaders to be proactive about supporting their younger employees and managing up to ensure the right working conditions are in place.
Change or be changed
With Gen Z establishing themselves in the workforce, change will happen. This is a generation that have grown up in a period of extreme disruption - Brexit, covid, a potential recession, high inflation and interest rates. Their view of the world is different from previous generations and if encouraged in the right way, that can be a valuable asset.
Leaders need to recognise that and understand that they can choose to change their approach or be dragged kicking and screaming into the new way of working. If they choose to change then they can nurture Gen Z to become great leaders themselves, who stand up for what they believe in and take action.
How do leaders need to change?
● Encourage Gen Z to voice their opinions in an appropriate way
● Become more assertive themselves and challenge the status quo
● Focus of embedding diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the business
● Adapt communication style, methods and frequency to individual team members
● Provide ownership of specific pieces of work and more responsibility earlier
● Create a positive culture that celebrates achievement and encourages flexibility
● Compensate fairly and generously
● Manage upwards to protect employees from unrealistic and unreasonable expectations
Instead of painting Gen Z as the naughty kids who’ve come in and upset everyone, there’s a real opportunity for leaders to harness their passion, energy and fight. But for that to happen workplaces need to adapt and leaders need to change. Ditching the leadership styles they saw as junior employees and becoming more inclusive, more collaborative and more open to new ideas.
When you look at the ideals that Gen Z bring to the workplace they aren’t unrealistic, in fact they’re what we’ve been talking about for the past few years. These new workers could be the answer to changing leadership for good. Breaking down those walls and creating new rules for how workplaces operate. There’s no doubt that change on that scale is uncomfortable and intimidating but if leaders manage the situation properly and use their experience to guide the conversations, there’s a chance that the change will be for the better, for everyone.
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