10 Do’s and Don’ts for working with Gen Z

They’re good people in a very strange world.
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Howdy beautiful business people!

Today we’re talking about those crazy kids:

  • 10 do’s and don’ts for working (and winning) with Generation Z

Let’s do it! 

(Want to watch this as a video? Here you go!)

When I mention Gen Z (Born 1995-2012), lots of people start chirping: “They’re too sensitive!” "They have no respect!” or “They don’t want to work!” 

But I think they’re one of the most interesting generations in history. 

And if you figure out how to work with them, they’re amazing. They’re just totally different than other generations.

Three big factors that shape who they are:

  • All information has been instantly available their entire lives
  • They grew up with social media
  • They grew up with Gen X parents

So if you work with them or deal with them, here are 10 things you can do to succeed… and maybe hack their brains a little.

1. Never tell Gen Z “that’s how it’s always been done”.

These kids grew up with Gen X parents like me. We treated them the way we always wanted to be treated: like a peer. I ask my kids’ opinions and see what they think. 

So when they show up for work, they have a lot of freaking ideas. 

Their entire lives, there’s been instantly available magic internet information about everything at their fingertips. They can click a button and a car will show up to take them wherever they want to go. They click another button, and anything they need gets delivered to the door. 

It gives them a different perspective on the world. They have no time for situations that are impractical or people doing things inefficiently, because the world in front of them has always been so efficient. 

They don’t care that you have 20 years more experience than they do. In fact, they think it’s lame that you’re 20 years past them and you still don’t know how to sign a PDF on your computer.

2. Expect Gen Z to be demanding.

This one also ties back to this ubiquitous internet idea: if you could demand anything of this device and it brings it to you pretty quickly, of course you're going to be demanding in life. 

Combine that with the polarization that comes from seeing constant media all the time, which is all about extremes, and they're going to reflect that back into the world. They're going to come to your office demand the things they want. 

It can be off-putting to us older people — why are these young people being so uppity? They need to wait their turn, and earn some experience!

But in the end, it’s kind of our fault. We were their parents. We gave them whatever they needed whenever they wanted it. So… this is what we get.

3. Make sure Gen Z understands the “why”. 

Gen Z has grown up with the world of information and everything they could possibly need at their fingertips. That changes you. They are more focused on practicality than any generation ever. 

I remember having to explain to my kids why they actually need to pass high school. They're like, why does it matter? I don't need to be able to analyze poetry or do algebra or whatever. They didn't see the practicality of it. 

So if you want to motivate them, explain the “why”. Just “because” isn’t good enough.

4. Show Gen Z a path forward for their future.

This entire generation has grown up with the most negative-facing set of inputs ever. They’re constantly seeing perfection on Instagram. They’re cyberbullying each other. They have more polarized, negative news. Politics are super negative. And it feels that way more than ever before. 

It’s created an entire generation of kids who have defeatist, pessimistic attitudes. You’ll hear them say things are hopeless, that there’s no point, they’ll never buy a house, they’ll never own anything. 

it's basically the opposite of the Baby Boomers. Their parents came back from the war with a level of exuberance. Everything was going great for the USA. That’s not the attitude anymore.

Be proactive. Be a partner to them and help them shape the future they want to have. And not just professionally — personally, where they want to live, and all that kind of stuff. 

You don’t have to pry. They’ll be transparent with you and happy to talk about those things. Your opportunity is to be a partner with them in figuring that out, even though it's hard for you as an older boss.

5. Expect anything you do to get shared online.

Gen Z’s relationships are very different than what we’re used to. 

I had people at work, people at home, my friends at school, whatever — all basically in-person relationships. But Gen Z has grown up with a ton of relationships online.

As a boss, if you let somebody go over Zoom or whatever, you should expect it to be recorded and shared. That's just the way it’s gonna go. So it definitely requires being careful. 

But to Gen Z, they don't even think that's weird. They've grown up on camera, especially during an era of COVID, where remote first and remote-only relationships are a normal thing. They’re used to being recorded. They're digital natives.

6. Compensate Gen Z for their results and provide them autonomy. 

Gen Z hates the Baby Boomer belief in rewarding seniority and experience. 

If Gen Z, the most practical generation of all, feels like the pie is growing because of their work, they feel they deserve a slice of it. 

If you can figure out ways to give them skin in the game, then give them the autonomy to get the job done, they will love you for it.

7. Protect Gen Z from unnecessary bureaucracy.

Politics, bureaucracy, endless meetings, incompetent employees, stupid processes… this is kryptonite for Gen Z. 

When you see them getting frustrated by that stuff, your job as a boss is to insulate them. They just want to know what you want them to do, and then they want the autonomy and freedom to get it done.

And if you trust them to work when and where they want, they’re super motivated. 

When they say they don’t understand why they have to be at the office at 9 every morning, well… mostly it’s because the Baby Boomers liked that and beat it into us. Sorry!

8. Be authentic with Gen Z. 

A study analyzed 70 million words from Gen Z and found some of the most popular words. They were stuff like: relatable, gender identity, free, true, honest, fake, cancel, ghost, block, fam, and squad. 

A lot of those words are really concerned with one thing: fakeness and authenticity. 

Think about why. They grew up with an internet full of fakeness. Fake Instagram, fake people, fake politicians, fake messages, fake emails. They have to look at everything and figure out if it’s real or not. 

So now they can't stand it when somebody in a position of authority comes to them, somebody they’re supposed to trust, and that person is inauthentic or does the opposite of what they say. 

As a boss, you need to be real. If you say you're going to do something, do it. When things happen, be direct and truthful about why. If you're being fake, once they figure it out, you'll lose their trust forever. And once that happens, they’ll either be out the door or totally unmotivated.

So be real. This is a big one.

9. Expect Gen Z to be not so adult in their 20s. 

Ubiquitous tech plus Gen X parents means Gen Z is the slowest generation to grow up. Like, ever.

By growing up, I mean the things that us Gen X folks did as kids — we were bad early. There was premarital sex, drugs, rock and roll. We were out of the house partying when we much younger. 

Gen Z is the opposite. They're delaying adulthood, slowing down on things like premarital sex, dating, relationships, getting a job. 

When I was growing up in the '80s, it was very normal for a 14 or 15-year-old to have their first job. That’s not the case anymore. 

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it's something to consider when you’re working with them. If you're the boss of a Gen Z, this may be their first job. They may be calling mom and asking her how to do something because they didn't have a lifeguarding job when they were 16.

10. Last one: be compassionate with Gen Z

Gen Z has the worst sleep as teenagers of any generation in recent history. 

They’re up all night on their phones, tweeting and Snapchatting, making them the most sleep-deprived generation in history. This sleep deprivation makes them tired, which is a gateway to depression, anxiety, and a host of other issues. Then the cycle is exacerbated by the phone itself, leading to more anxiety, sadness, worry, pessimism, and chronic lack of sleep.

This is a tough situation for any young person to be in.

I personally have a lot of compassion for them, watching my own kids grow up and navigate the stresses of their generation, plus dealing with having my generation as parents. 

The good news is, they’re more comfortable than we are with talking about their mental health. They will show up to work and be open about how they feel and the challenges they face. 

They’re trusting you to be partners in helping to solve those issues.

I'm really passionate about this subject and hope you enjoyed this. I highly recommend the book Generations by Jean Twenge. I got a lot of these insights from there. 

At the end of the day, we have an opportunity to help Gen Z integrate with us older folks.

They’re good people growing up in a very strange world.

Have a great week!