As Gen Z enters the workforce, for the first time in history, five generations of employees will be working together under one roof, at least for a short period of time.
In this environment, Gen Z, whose oldest members recently celebrated their 23rd birthday, will join a workforce with an almost fifty-year gap between the oldest and the youngest employee — a phenomenon that presents a range of unprecedented challenges for leaders and organizations.
According to Hana Ben-Shabat, founder of research firm Gen Z Planet and author of the recently published book, Gen Z 360, each generation has its own views about what makes a good employee, how work should get done, and what they can expect from the workplace, and Gen Z is no different. They enter this multigenerational melting pot with their own set of values and expectations, and they have a genuine concern about the way they are perceived by older generations and the potential impact it could have on their work experience. In her research, Ben-Shabat found that Gen Zers noted relationships with older generations as one of the top 10 challenges they face.
Generational differences in values and working styles as well as unconscious bias and stereotyping could create serious conflict at the workplace. One that if left unchecked, could lead to resentment, and could negatively impact engagement, collaboration, and productivity.
Therefore, to increase understanding and acceptance among workers and protect workplace productivity, Ben-Shabat advises that companies should embrace four strategies:
Provide an opportunity for constructive learning by jointly examining the events and experiences that shaped each generation’s worldview and find commonalities on which better working relationships can be established.
Get employees from across generations familiar with each other by exposing them to each other’s ideas and working styles in a structured way through work teams or through special projects that are not related to their day-to-day work.
Pair a member of Gen Z with an older employee so they can learn from each other. Gen Zers bring their knowledge of youth culture and digital savviness, and they can benefit from an older colleague’s experience on how to navigate the organization and their careers.
Avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach to benefits. What may be appealing to a Baby Boomer may not be as appealing to a younger employee. Identify what benefit programs suits each life stage and apply it accordingly.
In addition, Ben-Shabat explains that managing a multigenerational workforce cannot be viewed as simply another exercise in managing workplace diversity but also as an opportunity to rethink leadership. “Gen Z is arriving at a time of rapid technological disruption and societal changes, leaders must not only transform their organizations but also rethink their leadership styles in order to accommodate Gen Z’s workplace expectations,” she says.
As she notes, most senior business leaders today are Gen Xers or Baby Boomers who grew up with a business leadership style that was top-down, direct, and controlling. “Now they need to adopt a style that is more lateral, shared, and dynamic,” says Ben-Shabat. “They have to accept feedback from all sources and exercise compassion and empathy, they have to understand the value of emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, and people-related innovation, and they have to encourage people to reach their full potential and connect them to the broader mission of the company.”