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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

Managing Gen Z: How to Get the Most Out of Your Team

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As a manager, you’ve worked your way up through various jobs and bosses. Each had their own management style, and your personal experience likely informs the kind of relationships you aim to have with your own team. Still, when it comes to managing Gen Z employees, it might be unchartered territory.

This younger generation is changing the workplace, and demanding a shift in strategies on how to manage them. Are they really a challenge to work with or does it just take a different approach?

Here’s everything you need to know about managing Gen Z and how to get the most out of your team—from experts on this generation.

Who is Gen Z and how are they different from other generations?

Born between 1995 and 2009, Gen Z currently makes up 30% of the world's population and is expected to account for 27% of the workforce by 2025.

As the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age, they can quickly adapt to the changing tools and technologies of the modern workplace. On the other hand, they’re often just out of college, which means their time in professional settings has likely been limited.

“What many may lack is a depth of experience and vast networks of professional contacts that older generations, including millennials, possess,” says Mark Beal, marketer, professor, and author of Win the Job & Thrive in a Multigenerational Workplace. “But they’re a generation of entrepreneurs who challenge the status quo with innovative solutions and recommendations.”

The key difference between Gen Z and prior generations is their expectation of career longevity, says Gregg Witt, youth culture specialist at Youth Vine Agency. “Unlike their predecessors, Gen Z workers don't expect to stay at a single company for the long haul. Therefore, leaders must treat them as transient contributors, planning accordingly to maximize their impact during their tenure.”

Common misconceptions about Gen Z at work

There are often broad strokes painted about every generation in the workforce, whether it’s that millennials love avocado toast too much to ever be able to afford a house or that Gen X doesn’t understand new technology.

As this newest generation of Gen Z enters the workforce, they might also be bringing with them unwarranted assumptions—like the digital acumen they possess results in a lack of focus and attention to detail. But is there any truth in these stereotypes?

“The criticism that Gen Z employees can be challenging to work with is misplaced,” says Dr. Zachary Ginder, PsyD, MSW, co-founder of Pine Siskin Consulting. “When we’re talking about an entire generation, there is no validity to this claim beyond individual perception and stigma. Challenges arise with the application of one's own cultural values and norms—and those of the generation in which they were raised—on a different generation of workers.”

“Supervisors and colleagues from different generations cannot always expect to use the same management and communication styles that were effective with them and get the same results with younger generations,” he adds. “This just isn't realistic without modification.”

Read more: 7 Tips for Effective Multigenerational Leadership

Witt agrees, adding that while it's true that this life stage inherently brings certain challenges, such as navigating career choices and balancing social life, it's essential to recognize that these are universal experiences for young professionals, regardless of generational labels.

“While some of these observations may fall under generational stereotypes, it is undeniable that Gen Z workers bring a unique perspective and set of skills to the workplace” Witt says. “Their pragmatism, collaborative spirit, and eagerness to learn from their predecessors make them valuable assets in navigating the challenges and opportunities of the modern workforce.”

How to manage Gen Z in the workplace

When it comes to that modern workforce, almost half (49%) of Gen Z say that their job is central to their sense of identity, and they’re not going to settle for anything they believe won’t contribute to an overall sense of purpose and achievement.

To attract and retain the newest generation of workers, you need to know their motivations, values, and preferences—and how to use that to ensure they can not only survive, but thrive in your organization. Here are some expert tips to keep in mind:

1. Be supportive of your team

According to a recent survey by Deloitte, Gen Z ranked empathy in a boss as a “prerequisite to engagement at work.”

Ryan Jenkins, keynote speaker and Wall Street Journal bestselling leadership author, found that nearly a third of Gen Z is motivated to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager, and 37% would never tolerate an unsupportive manager.

“The archaic approach to managing employees as a task master will never work with this generation,” says Beal. “Take quality time to mentor and collaborate with Gen Z employees on career goals that are unique to each individual, and then present opportunities in the workplace for them to achieve those goals while delivering measurable value to the organization.”

Read more: Why Empathetic Listening Is Crucial for Your Career—and How to Do It Well

2. Embrace learning from mistakes

Gen Z also appreciates leaders who normalize failure as a part of the learning process, says Ginder. That's why managers should share their own experiences, reinforce that everyone is continuously learning, apply the "fail forward" concept, complete feedback loops routinely, and provide coaching and mentorship opportunities.

Read more: 8 Pain-Free Tips for Learning From Failure

3. Foster transparency

Transparency is also highly valued. “Because Gen Z is accustomed to being ‘in the know,’ they may respond more positively to leaders who are open, honest, and forthcoming about the company's goals, challenges, and decision-making rationales,” says Ginder. “Leaders should make a practice of regularly communicating updates and finding opportunities for two-way engagement to foster trust.”

4. Lead by example

Gen Z also values managers who lead from the trenches, meaning they’re actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the team. “Leaders who roll up their sleeves and work alongside their team members earn respect and admiration from Gen Z workers, who value authenticity and hands-on leadership,” Witt says.

5. Highlight company values

According to Jenkins, the top obstacle Gen Z has for joining an organization is “not knowing what the organization is like.” Therefore, to effectively attract and retain new talent, leaders must understand— and reinforce—what Gen Z is looking for in a workplace.

Currently 48% of Gen Z identify as racially or ethnically diverse, and they want to join companies that prioritize and welcome diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and thoughts where they truly feel like they are included and belong.

“Additionally, as the purpose generation, they want to work for companies that have a higher purpose than simply generating a profit,” Beal says. “They want to work at companies where they feel like they are contributing to a better society and world.”

6. Offer flexible work arrangements

Gen Z is also the first generation that didn’t start their careers working in a traditional office setting where they commuted and worked five days a week.

“During the pandemic, they demonstrated incredible resilience and adaptability,” says Beal. “They proved that they can successfully complete projects and assignments from their mobile device in the palm of their hand and their laptop. With that, they’re looking for workplace flexibility.”

So much so that 72% of Gen Z is the most likely generation to have either left or considered leaving a job because their employer did not offer a feasible flexible work policy—compared to 69% of millennials, 53% of Gen X, and 59% of boomers.

“Older generations live to work while Gen Z works to live,” Beal adds. “Work is not and should not be the epicenter of Gen Z and how they live. They value employers who are innovative in their approach to work-life balance and offer opportunities to be a digital nomad where they can work for a week from their favorite beach or mountain.”

7. Promote well-being

“Unlike previous generations, Gen Z prioritizes mental health and are motivated by employers who recognize this and offer mental health days as an employee benefit,” Beals says. “Gen Z is motivated by employers who recognize that they have a life well beyond work and encourages employees to pursue their passions and side hustles.”

Read more: 19 Companies That Prioritize Your Mental Health and Well-Being

8. Encourage a culture of community

Just because they want a flexible working policy and a life outside of work doesn’t mean they don’t want to be connected. In fact, Jenkins says that connection is now the most valuable team currency for Gen Z, and that 73% of Gen Z report they feel either sometimes or always feel alone.

“To attract and retain Gen Z, organizations and leaders need to build cultures of connection, where Gen Z feels a sense of belonging with their manager and colleagues,” Jenkins says. “When team connections and belonging are high, workers are 167% more likely to recommend their employer and there is a 313% less intent to quit.”

9. Know what motivates Gen Z in the workplace

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to Gen Z's motivations for workplace success—it’s a very individual drive shaped by a complex interplay of factors—but there are some common generational themes. Employers who recognize this are better equipped to create environments that empower Gen Z workers to thrive and contribute meaningfully to their organizations.

Beals suggests empowering Gen Z employees as “ZEOs,” and present opportunities for them to leverage their entrepreneurial mindset and digital savviness in a genuine and authentic manner that drives measurable business value.

In fact, when asked about what motivates them in the workplace, 61% of Gen Z respondents cited a desire for more opportunities to move up or increase responsibilities and 76% wanted more opportunities to learn or practice new skills.

“Gen Z appreciates both positive and constructive feedback more often than previous generations,” Ginder says. “Paired with this desire for additional feedback is a craving to continually learn and grow. Offering additional opportunities for professional development and engagement will likely support a broader need for this generation and help build them into even more competent professionals.”

10. Recognize their good work

Gen Z also places specific importance on their work having a purpose and positive impact, whether that’s societal, environmental, or other. ““Leaders in mentorship roles should consider exploring what is important to their Gen Z mentees and leveraging that information to build suitable roles and duties within their positions. And regardless of their level within the corporate hierarchy, there is an expectation that their ideas will be valued and heard,” says Ginder.

Jenkins agrees, saying that “Over 46 years of employee motivation studies, only one answer has been cited every time among the top two employee motivators—‛full appreciation for work done,’ followed by ‘recognition from managers.’ Supportive managers should strive to communicate these things to Gen Z employees: recognize their good work, their value, and that you’re going to places together.”

What Gen Z says managers can do

We’ve heard from the experts, but what about Gen Z themselves? When asked by Witt what would motivate them to apply to, join, and stay with a company, here’s what Gen Z shared:

"A positive work culture is non-negotiable for Gen Z. We want to feel valued and supported in our roles. Companies that prioritize inclusivity and well-being will earn our loyalty and commitment." —Marley Gee, 22

"Flexibility is key for Gen Z. We value remote work options and a healthy work-life balance. Companies that prioritize flexibility will have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent." —Torrin Hughes, 20

"Hey managers, want to attract and retain Gen Z talent? Start by making your workplace cooler than all the boring companies. Make a vibrant culture and unique vibe that keeps us coming back for more, even if we're not lifers. It's all about the experience" —Talisen James, 17

"Gen Z craves meaningful work and opportunities for growth, not just superficial perks. To retain us, companies need to invest in mentorship, career advancement, and a culture of innovation." —Rami Neem, 21

"Listen up, bosses! Gen Z workers aren't just here for a paycheck. Support our side hustles and personal brand ventures, and watch our loyalty soar. Provide resources, mentorship, and a space to pursue our passions outside of the 9-to-5 grind, and we'll stick around longer than you think." —Pranoti Johnson, 19