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9 No-Nonsense Tips That Will Help You Connect With Gen Z

Gen Z is soon going to surpass Millennials as the most populous generation on the globe. How to find a common ground with Gen Z (not only) at work?
Małgorzata Galińska

Małgorzata Galińska

Dec 9, 2021 | 13 min read

9 No-Nonsense Tips That Will Help You Connect With Gen Z

Generation Z (Gen Z) - the generation born between 1997 and 2012 - is the world’s first digitally native generation entering the job market right now. And whether we like it or not, it will slowly displace Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers.

In fact, Gen Z is soon going to surpass Millennials as the most populous generation on the globe. So prepare yourself for a world with over one-third of its population counting itself as members of Gen Z. Even today, members of Generation Z make up more than a quarter of the US population. And it’s projected to become the most diverse generation in the nation’s history.

How do previous generations approach Gen Z?

Gen Z is demanding and too sensitive

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I’ve often heard that Gen Z is demanding, emotional, and indecisive - and workers don’t recognize or respect authority.

But is this depiction accurate?

Judging from 14+ years of experience (yes, I'm that old!) in Marketing and EB, it seems that different values guide generation Z. That’s why the methods of communication cut out for Millennials aren’t going to work with Gen Zers.

On top of that, for Baby Boomers and Millennials who often had an emotionally cold upbringing and tended to block their emotions, the rapidly-changing emotional states of Gen Z are hard to handle. And it’s not about changes of mood, it’s more about emotional openness which seems unnatural for some Millennials.

Previous generations didn’t give themselves the right to have emotions (especially at work). Positions, titles, and badges - the attributes of power - were of great value to them. Their experiences brought them closer to a hierarchical approach and red management style, not the flat structures and turquoise organizations preferred by Gen Z.

The assessment of Gen Z as the "demanding, sensitive" type is therefore not a fact but an opinion most often shared by members of older generations. And like any other evaluation, it’s shaped by the filters and beliefs of the evaluator.

An analysis of the causes and intergenerational differences could be the subject of a separate article (or rather a hefty book). In this article, I will share specific advice on what to do to simply get along. We can all see the differences and friction with the naked eye, so let's start looking for solutions!

Here is my subjective list of tips on building a good rapport with 20-year-olds - what we can do to understand each other better and be on the same page (not only) at work. The text is directed primarily at managers and people managing various teams.

Note: This article is about late millennials and Gen Zer - that is, twenty-something-year-olds (22 - 26 yo), but I will refer to this group collectively as Gen Z.

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As I mentioned in the introduction, your position and title in the corporate hierarchy won’t impress Gen Zers much. If you can’t convince them with your approach, Gen Zers won’t follow your word.

Gen Z expects to be led by example. In their perspective, hierarchy is replaced with partnership and friendship. You can see an increasing number of CEOs and founders who give up on the attributes of power (be it a separate office, a tie, or a badge in a gold frame). Humble leadership comes to the forefront for this generation because it matches Gen Z's values ​​perfectly.

So mentor them, don't teach.

Be a guide, not a manager.

2. Let them express their emotions

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Gen Z grew up in a culture that promoted self-awareness and staying in touch with one’s emotions, whether it’s joy or sorrow. Gen Zers express their feelings openly and consider it a natural part of their work. The older generation was taught that emotions aren’t professional and should be kept secret.

If you’re looking to get along with a more sensitive person, be prepared for them to share their emotions using expressions such as “I don't feel comfortable when...”, “I was angry when...”, “I'm afraid that....”. Boomers and Millennials find this challenging because they were taught to hide their emotions and put their analytical capabilities first. It's worth bearing in mind so as not to inadvertently increase the intensity of communication.

Okay, but does this mean that team meetings are now therapy sessions where everyone talks over and over again about how they feel? No, of course not.

The solution is balancing it all. In my opinion, this balance is about creating a healthy space for Gen Zer to express their emotions, listening to them empathetically (without judging!), and taking action. Specific, effective, and planned.

3. Give feedback right away!

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Gen Z expects honest and immediate feedback. That’s why it’s best to share your thoughts as soon as something happens.

Corporate annual evaluations are a thing of the past.

I realize that giving feedback is stressful for managers (that’s right, for managers). Still, when working with a team of twenty-somethings, it's worth moving away from fossilized methods of assessments in favor of lively, natural, and systematic conversations.

Honest, constructive feedback makes Gen Zers feel noticed and appreciated. It also gives them a sense of security - they know where they stand with you.

Take a look at TikTok and you’ll see many clips where Gen Zers show their anxiety. "The boss wrote "Hello" on Slack - they’re going to fire me!". The fear of losing a job is a common phenomenon (not only) in the corporate world. Regular short feedback reduces this tension and increases the motivation of these young workers more than a huge fanfare at the end of a quarter or year.

Besides, this type of feedback gives people room for improvement - the person gets to learn which parts of their job need some more work.

Also, don’t forget about the power of compliments and appreciation! Nothing motivates workers like a nice message and paying attention to a specific (!) well-done task. Personally, I recommend praising and developing strengths rather than fixing bugs. Fixing bugs only leads to a form of correctness; developing strengths leads to mastery.

As a boss, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback yourself. Give the team a voice and listen to what they have to say.

4. Create a space for self-realization

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Give people the freedom and space to be themselves. Older generations took satisfaction from external norms and always strived to fulfill them. I’m talking here about all the rules imposed by the supervisors and company procedures.

What young workers seek instead is an opportunity for self-realization.

When I talk about self-realization, I don’t mean pursuing one’s hobbies like embroidering, painting, or playing the ukulele. Every workplace is a business environment, and the company’s interest is at the core. It might come as a surprise, but managers can point Gen Zers towards self-realization with a few well-chosen management techniques:

  • Setting clear goals,

  • Watching out for deadlines,

  • Accounting for the results of work.

In other words, say WHAT needs to be done but let the workers decide HOW it’s done. I recommend the principle of careful trust: "Trust but check." Trust people and allow them to surprise you. Give them space and the opportunity to accomplish something on their own.

In my experience, what puts GenZ off (and me too) is micromanagement. It’s a damaging form of management that takes away any sense of autonomy or meaning from work.

I also recommend asking a lot of open-ended questions, like:

  • How would you like to complete this task?

  • What other options are you considering?

  • What result do you expect to get by doing this?

  • What threats do you see?

If you’re doubtful, avoid talking about this directly. Instead, do your best to direct your team members to potential solutions by asking a few intelligent questions. Allow people to come up with solutions on their own and feel like they really have an impact on the company.

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5. Treat them like adults

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Age ain't nothing but a number...

Don’t measure a person’s value to the organization by their age and seniority in the company. The older the generation, the more likely its members are to give value to these elements. This can be very misleading because age and seniority don’t always go hand in hand with competence.

In the past, you could only become a company director after a certain age. Everyone dreamed about getting a promotion and scoring an annual bonus. Today, according to a recent Nielsen study, around 54 percent of Gen Zer want to start their own company. And they do it incredibly fast - sometimes right after graduation.

They have grown up in an environment filled with amazing startup success stories. No wonder that they’re looking for this kind of success and independence. This holds more value to them than, for example, getting a degree. In the United States, university-level education is very expensive and often possible only by taking long-term loans. Without considering travel expenses, the costs of getting a degree can reach even $74,570 per year - as in the case of Stanford University. To get a degree from Stanford following four years of education, the student would theoretically have to pay a devastating $298,280.

More and more high school graduates embrace the mindset of Income - not debt. They want to start working towards their goals and grow up faster.

More than once, I have heard comments like "What does this young guy know" or “She’s still a young girl!”

Well, I think that a 24-year-old often fits the role of a boss or independent specialist better than many 40-year-olds with 15 years of experience in the industry. On the other hand, with age, we gain a certain maturity in life - a sense of distance and peace of mind - but there is no single rule for this. I’ve met both capricious, chaotic, and emotional 40-year-olds and impressible well-organized 20-years-olds.

So, I recommend that you eliminate these beliefs. First, meet a person from Gen Z, and then evaluate their competence and maturity. You’re in for a surprise.

6. Let them (and yourself) make mistakes

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Older generations were scolded for their mistakes or judged (many thanks to our educational system!).

Gen Z makes mistakes and sees them more often as experiences and lessons learned.

Support them, observe them, and then say stop when they make an error - let people learn from their mistakes.

When explaining what went wrong, be consistent and patient. Most importantly, always assume that they had good intentions.

I also recommend setting an example in this area - be open about your mistakes and ignorance in a given subject matter - this helps to build a valuable environment for development. Older generations caught committing an error would feel ashamed. In the past, mistakes were hidden and covered up. I think it's about time to break this habit.

Sh*t happens - and without it happening, we don’t develop as professionals and human beings.

Open communication about what we don’t know increases closeness and trust. People are willing to follow a manager who isn’t afraid of that. In my opinion, how you behave after making a mistake is more important than being a perfect know-it-all.

"I don't know... How can I find out more?"

"Ok, that was a mistake. Next time, we’ll do this instead."

"Oops, we f*cked up. Our process was missing X or Y and we’re going to change that now."

And that's how it’s done!

7. Maintain good communication

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Verify that you share the understanding of the conversion’s subject and goals.

Use communication support tools such as a paraphrase - restating of the text’s meaning using other words - and asking the person to say how they understand their task in their own words.

Praise effectively - praise for a specific task! Instead of saying, “You’ve done a fantastic job with this design,” say, “You arranged all the elements perfectly, and your selection of colors was really clever.”

Comfort people when things go wrong.

Adapt your communication to the recipient, and never forget that Z is a generation that grew up with the internet, social media, and memes. Leave the Written Statements of the Management Board to the Boomers. :)

8. Don't expect work from - to

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Working from - to is slowly becoming a thing of the past. So is working in one place or even in one chair. Today, hammocks, poufs, and standing desks are becoming increasingly common in office spaces. I'm not saying that you need to make a change yourself - but let younger workers go crazy. For them, this can be of great value that increases fun at work.

The question of the outfit is similar. Except for professions and places that require it (banks, offices, etc.), we don’t really need a dress code. In the past, a white shirt reflected promotion and seriousness. Today... see point 1.

If you want to get along with Gen Z, focus on what a person does and says, not what they look like or whether or not they have any tattoos.

9. Don't forget to have fun!

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For Gen Zers, work is part of life - the hard division into 9-5 work is blurred. The boundaries are also unclear because business messengers (Slack) are available on our smartphones and cloud solutions are on 24/7. The younger generation wants to feel good not so much at work as while working.

Smile, play, have fun, organize social initiatives, charity runs, and donations to save rhinoceroses or… unicorns ;-) This is what interests and engages them. Create an excuse for integration, fun, and joint laughter.

The rat race and sad faces are a thing of the past - especially in the IT industry.

Summary

Communication is an art that requires a degree of willingness on both sides. Applying the advice in this article isn’t going to work if you come across a young rebel closed to any conversation and feedback. However, if you have a natural, open Gen Zer in front of you, taking into account the points above will lead you to work wonders together!

GenZ has the entrepreneurship gene, and in my opinion, they can be characterized to possess very good intuition (that probably results from being in touch with one’s emotions). This is a generation that is full of passion, ambition, and dreams. Gen Zers are digital natives who move smoothly in the digital world. Finding a common language and managing such a diverse team allows you to implement some truly groundbreaking ideas and projects.

Take a look at what we do at MasterBorn (where approx. 30 percent of our crew are 20-24 years old) and let our products and applications speak to the quality and effectiveness of Gen Z - and intergenerational cooperation.

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