Value of the Gen Z Workforce

Dr. Tricia Groff, executive coach, psychologist and new author of the book Relational Genius: The High Achiever’s Guide to Soft-Skill Confidence in Leadership and Life, shares her take on the benefits companies can have by embracing Gen Z as they grow into the workforce. With both their perspective and the changes wrought by COVID-19 that can create uncertainty and anxiety in employment systems, Groff outlines some of the primary characteristics of Gen Z and how these may improve the world of work.

They expect tech to work, and they have the skills to fix the glitches.

“Let’s face it, clunky tech frustrates everyone. As Gen Z grows in the workforce, they will demand user-friendly technology that increases efficiency,” she says. “On one hand, those expectations will put pressure on organizations to transition away from dinosaur systems. On the other hand, the new employees present will have the perfect skillset to effect that change.

They expect congruence between the mission statements on the wall and the behaviors in a company. Over the years, Groff says of her clients’ disclosed that their low morale stems from companies’ hypocrisy about values.

“They tolerated it because they assumed that most places had the same problem. Gen Z values authenticity more than maintaining the status quo,” she says. “If we don’t walk the talk, they will walk. Over time, the demand for congruence may level up issues of integrity and culture, thereby increasing morale, decreasing employee turnover and supporting a healthier bottom line.”

Respect for diversity will become non-negotiable, in the same way that honesty is viewed as non-negotiable by older generations.

Groff says that while for many years this culture has provided a surface level acknowledgment of diversity that has not contained safety or inclusion. “We assumed that multi-ethnic images in our ad campaigns was enough. In contrast, Gen Z believes that a day that marks an important historical event should be celebrated it as a holiday versus ignored. She also points to the fact that today’s Gen Z leaders will stand up and defend their female colleagues.

They want to align with companies who have a greater purpose, and this shift may lower burn-out rates for all of us. One of the primary reasons that people burn out or change careers is due to lack of meaning in their work. While this fact isn’t new, Gen Z will likely put decision-making power behind it, opting for work experiences at companies that are able to define how they add value to society. If workplace cultures embrace the need for humans to feel a sense of purpose, engagement and productivity increase and both employees and the ‘bottom line’ can win.

Their desire for work flexibility, lifestyle perks and mental health awareness may reduce the regrets found in previous generations.

“While the Industrial Age created a path toward efficiency, we’ve spent the last several decades with a silent forced choice: have a successful work life or a successful personal life. It had been determined that you can’t have both,” says Groff. “Out of that milieu comes the stories of people who regret choosing business over family. Organizations may struggle as they adapt to the expectations of the new workforce, but the older employees will also benefit from the new paradigm. In the same way that the forced changes of COVID yielded greater profit margins for some companies, we may discover unanticipated returns as we begin thinking about work in terms of goal accomplishment versus the amount of time spent in a chair.”

Their desire for frequent feedback will help to fix ineffective performance review systems.

Groff says he number one complaint she’s heard over the years is the lack of feedback.

“Great workers wonder if they are doing well; people who are reprimanded wonder why no one said anything earlier,” she says. “It’s natural for us to want to avoid conflict or to feel uncomfortable giving compliments; however, the lack of real-time communication about progress results in a snowball of problems and frustrations that build over time. By the time people reach a six-month performance review, there simply isn’t the bandwidth or memory to capture the specific examples that would clarify performance generalities.” But Groff believes that Gen Z may lay a path toward executives giving small, time appropriate feedback that is more easily digested and instantly actionable.

The completely-in-denial, soul-sucking, selfish and useless aphorism of “it’s not personal; it’s business” will finally find it’s grave.

“While Gen Z research does not directly speak to the business-personal intersect, their emphasis on authenticity demands it. We work with people we trust. We do business with people we trust. We all work better when we feel like we can be our whole selves,” she says. “Personal lives affect work lives and vice versa, whether we want it to be true or not. Remote working in COVID — with its pets, children, and Zoom faux pas — has battered the pretense of people waking up in their business suits. Gen Z will tear down the rest of the facade.”

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