Gen Z doesn’t want to work. Or do they?

Gen Z might just be the most polarizing generation in human history. They’re not the first generation with vastly different ideals than their predecessors, but social media makes them the first ones to live their entire lives under very public microscopes. Every generation had counter-culture moments, but no one’s every move is as in-your-face as Gen Z. And sure enough, the rest of us have an opinion. 

But when it comes to their work ethic, our opinion is just wrong. Gen Z gets a bad rap for being lazy, unproductive, unwilling or uneducated about the expectations of work, but let’s give credit where it’s due — they’re redefining the traditional notions of work with their own flair. 

Every generation integrates new technologies and reshapes the modern workplace with its own unique needs, values and expectations. Boomers brought a strong work ethic and commitment to company excellence. Millennials are to be thanked for more open and transparent environments. Gen Xers championed independence and the importance of a work-life balance. 

Gen Z’s desire to make an impact is no different.     

Their focus is on a mutually beneficial relationship with their job. They know what they want from it, and they’ll hold you accountable for delivering. And when you deliver, they’ll work their asses off for you. To engage them, tap into the transformative and purposeful aspects of work they crave. While you might not fully share or understand their mindset, it’s crucial to understand you won’t survive without them. Futurist Ben Pring puts it this way: attracting and retaining Gen Z must be seen as an existential crisis for your business. 

Soon enough, they’ll be the leading generation. And if you don’t attract and keep them, your competitors will. 

Create a culture where all generations prosper

I always emphasize that a high-performing culture is a crucial force in driving your company’s strategic execution. Good luck executing without it. And any conversation about culture needs to consider every generation in the workforce, including Gen Z. 

It’s time to create an environment where every age group thrives and feels valued. A multigenerational workplace allows you to leverage diverse strengths, but how do you unleash this assortment of skill sets? Provide upskilling opportunities, assign meaningful work, prioritize inclusion and offer flexible working options that fit each generation’s needs. A supportive workplace goes a long way with anyone, especially our budding Gen Z professionals. 

Peel layers, building trust with authenticity

Gen Z is perceptive. They sense insincerity. They sniff it out. They won’t stick around without authenticity and genuine concern for the individuals on your team. 

Everything is about relationships, so take a moment to get to know this new generation of employees — remember birthdays, ask about their pets or chat about upcoming vacation plans. While these efforts may seem small or wasteful, the impact is anything but. A smile or compliment goes a long way for anyone. Just make it sincere. 

Just as peeling the layers of an onion reveals its depth, getting to know your team builds a foundation of trust one layer at a time. When trust is established and team members genuinely feel valued, it triggers a ripple effect of effort in their work and overall job satisfaction (see my previous comment about working their asses off for you). 

Foster the greatness of mentorship

In a changing landscape where traditional entry-level roles are disappearing, Gen Z workers may seem to lack the specific skills or experiences you seek but underestimate them at your own risk. Mentorship from you, a dedicated member of your leadership team, or an outside support system may be just what they need. 

Most recently, I sat down with Ryan Groth, CEO of Sales Transformation Group, Inc., on my podcast, “The Frustrated CEO,” where he shared that the right mentor bridges that missing connection through encouragement, knowledge transfer and sincere care. After all, being a mentee was an important pitch in Groth’s professional game. 

“My first mentor was a few years older than me and has had success,” Groth shared. “That friendship created a trust factor. He was helpful to me and my situation as I tried to figure out the next phase of life. I was taking that information and applying it. I think that built equity in our relationship.” 

So, what’s the point?

As a senior leader, you must recognize and accept how critical Gen Z is to the success and survival of your business. But rather than do it with contempt through gritted teeth, try embracing it. In fact, try embracing them. They’re not lazy, unreliable, overemotional or “snowflakes.” 

They’re diamonds. 

And like diamonds, some are rougher than others. But they are diamonds, nonetheless. Instead of whining, try mining and refining them. 

To hear more about Ryan Groth’s leadership experience, listen to his episode of “The Frustrated CEO.”

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