If McKinsey publishes an insight on Gen Z, you know the corporate world is struggling to define a phenomenon. The article is probably aimed at educating the older C-suite that's still working through hierarchies that have gone unquestioned.
Everything was mechanical and predictable in the private sector before. When a job is offered to you, you stick to it for as long as you can because jumping out is a risk that you were conditioned away from — the culture would be different, and your journey would have to be built from scratch. What happens if the workplace turns out to be worse than where you're at right now? More importantly, would this jump not reflect badly on your resume?
So, you press your troubles against your gut, switch off any skepticism, and go plant yourself in an endless cycle of dissatisfaction. You are paid enough. Mortgages and other pressures of adulthood will remain regardless of where you work. These worries can be pushed to another column in your wide brain to be dwelt on later. You can sit at your desk, see every day turn from white to black for ten years straight, and then expect a promotion worthy enough to back your application elsewhere.
But Gen Z isn't willing to hush everything up. They may be perceived as the weaker, less resilient generation that has no idea about the high-intensity work culture that would blur boundaries between a workweek and the weekend. The world — or to be more precise, work — doesn't stop because that's how an entire environment has been programmed. If a project delivery is expected on Monday, requests come in on Friday, at noon. You are then forced to work over the weekend and complete it. But the lack of better planning and communication is never called into scrutiny. What matters is whether or not the delivery happens on Monday. The deadline itself is decided largely by employees who are indirectly, and not directly, involved in the project. For all the talk about reliability and loyalty, the corporate world would best benefit from project management that talks volumes not just on paper, but also in actual life
Gen Z is now wrecking all definitive terms at the workplace. They're impulsive, they're less tolerant of the status quo, and more importantly, they're always on the go. Companies are finding it difficult to box them up into existing personas.
It's not that complicated
Not too long ago, we wrote about the welcome shift to a four-day workweek. This productivity trend was unimaginable before. That was until it was actually tried and tested — and shown to be effective.
Most of us are reluctant to change. The same reluctance comes into play for the older generations at work while managing Gen Z. There are real questions that this generation is starting to raise. If they choose to move out of a job just two months into it, the reason isn't necessarily "the place was a huge vibe kill." And it's not because they're scared of having a serious appraisal conversation with their manager. It's because these conversations have historically turned out to be futile. There will be promises given but very little follow-up action. A little play about dipping performance will be thrown in and a convenient cover-up of these promises will quickly unfold. Loyalty, as we've come to realize, rarely works in both directions. The point of check here should be whether or not there's transparency within the organization. If the company spins out hazy boundaries and roles, there will be discontentment across all ranks — and maybe Gen Z is more vocal about this.
Speaking up about dissatisfaction has nothing to do with being less resilient. In fact, the standard of resilience that our parents or grandparents had to put up with was utterly unfair. If you glued yourself to your cubicle for fourteen hours straight, it was considered a feat worthy of accolades — but did you ever receive tangible appreciation for this extra mile you went? Not in most cases. Surely enough, employees today have started treating their job with the same transactionality that once their bosses characterized workstreams with. Your best bet at getting productivity is to incentivize workers with longer time for themselves — as with an "early finish Friday" or a shorter workweek — and not get them further back into the grind. Pay them well, respect their boundaries, and everything will turn out well.
Companies and the corporate structure at large have to rethink how movement within the organization works. How do you evaluate employee competency? How do you reward them for the work they've done? How do you appreciate cross-functioning and not make it a burden for existing employees? There are several questions that point to loopholes within the system. And these have nothing to do with reorganizing the Gen Z. If an employee knocks on your door and requests a pay hike, your go-to answer shouldn't be "You've not worked long enough" or "We do not know if you'll do well in situation X".
By 2030, 30% of the workforce is going to be occupied by this generation. From their current experience, most employers should know how well these younger workers grasp requirements and step in to do jobs they've never done before — and mind you, deliver good results. If anything, upskilling is a constant in their ambitious trajectories. This is precisely why an anticipatory situation X can be tracked well if Gen Z is onboard and convinced about the company's values. They aren't aversive to feedback. But, they do want a space to show what they're capable of instead of being undervalued because of inadequate experience.
There are three simple things that any company can do to solve the Gen Z problem: one, be transparent in organizational capacity; two, alter evaluative standards; and three, guarantee flexibility and accessibility. The old cubicled work culture cannot meet the growing demands of a new generation.