When I tell people I work at a Gen Z company, they usually say two things: the first is “OMG WOW THAT’S SO COOL”, the second is “OMG WOW THAT SO COOL…my kid is Gen Z. I don’t understand you guys at ALL”. Obviously, I don’t [prefer] the latter, but I think it sparks an interesting and necessary conversation about the inflated sense of intergenerational understanding that we seem to have. With Gen-Zers coming of age and entering the workforce, it is important to debunk some of the myths about Gen Z in the workplace. More specifically, I want to address two main misconceptions:
1) “Gen Z Has Unrealistic Expectations”
Now more than ever Gen Zers are bringing the fullness of their unique identities and digitally crafted perspectives to their work and sharing it within a workplace. This is a good thing.. actually, a great thing! While Gen Zers do want change, we are very practical about how we wish to bring about such change. For example, I’m only 22, and I’ve already lived through life changing events, most of which have taken place within the last two years. Some of which include global health crises, two economic recessions, life altering supreme court decisions, mass-shootings, an insurrection, a climate climate crisis. As a cohort of young people, we’ve divested from the traditional expectations and goals we’ve been taught to look forward to. We’ve seen that our futures are not promised and are fighting for a life that does not feel like it can be taken from us by more “unforeseen and unprecedented” circumstances. Gen Z doesn’t want radical change overnight, but we do expect radical change in our lifetimes. Our survival depends on it. Gen Z doesn’t have “proof of concept” that the traditional values of the workplace and society at large will work in our ever-changing world. Gen Zers are suffering the consequences of decisions that we did not make. Older generations can learn from our lived experiences and make real-time changes based on the adverse effects their decisions had on us.
Consider this: Gen Z does not have unrealistic expectations– our expectations outgrew and are no longer compatible with some of the traditional values and expectations of the workforce. This framing challenges workplace culture and organizational structure to be the agents of change versus Gen ‘s values and morals.
2) Gen Z is lazy
Gen Z is NOT lazy—we’re just burnt out. How could we possibly be lazy after experiencing all of the crises listed above? As it pertains to the workplace, we need to create a clear distinction between the Gen Zers on your team and the Gen Zers that live in your homes. We are not your children and the failure to distinguish the attitudes your Gen Z family members give you versus the valid critiques and boundaries Gen Zers establish in the workplace shuts down any chance at intergenerational dialogue within the workplace. The more you compare me to your son, the less valid my feedback and team contributions will seem. Gen Z is not a monolith—we are multi-faceted beings that have unique insights and a wealth of information that we are ready to bring to our jobs.
Gen Z is shaping out to be the most educated generation yet—continuing the upward trend of high school and college graduation rates. Despite this great accomplishment, our research found that 56% of Gen Zers feel underestimated at their jobs and 32% of Gen Zers would leave their jobs because of poor workplace culture. Perhaps the implicit bias against the capabilities of young people in the workplace coupled with the expectation Gen Zers have of their employers creates the perfect storm for an overall lack of enthusiasm. This leads to “quiet quitting”, the process of prioritizing your mental health and well being by no longer going above and beyond for your employer. In other words, doing the minimum amount of work possible in order to keep your job. Like any other generation, Gen Z wants you to believe in them, and not discount us as key players simply because of our age or “lack of experience”.
The future of work is here, and it’s time for employers to invest more into understanding this new generation of employees. Gen Z is not “too difficult to understand.” We share similar values with past generations and use the teachings of those before us to formulate new and innovative ways to materialize our collective desires. Employers can [& do] benefit from facilitating intergenerational dialogue and amplifying the voices of Gen Z in the workplace.