Managing Gen-Z: Accommodate – Don’t Merely Tolerate
By Mr. Bhaskaran Srinivasan
Gen-Z is upon us and what a refreshing breeze of air they bring with them. Enthusiastic, full of ideas, raring to get things done and wanting to demonstrate that they can contribute. On the other hand, organizations too want to integrate such employees into their organization as rapidly as possible. So why does this not always happen? And why do today’s leaders sometimes look upon the Gen-Z workforce as something to be tolerated?
The context in which Gen-Z lives
I have worked with literally hundreds of senior professionals over the last couple of years. A constant thought I hear reverberating with them is “how on earth can I manage the new-bees out of college when they seem so arrogant, irresponsible, and impatient?” My invariable response has been to paraphrase the following quote:
They [Young People] have exalted notions because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things -- and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning -- all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything -- they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.
This is a quote attributed to Aristotle circa 300 BC. And if you search the net, you find any number of such quotes from virtually every generation. Perhaps the real question to ask ourselves is “are we doing enough to understand Gen-Z?”.
Gen-Z is living through one of the most transformative times in human history. The changes that we have seen during the Industrial Revolution, the IT revolution, or the more recent Biomedical Revolution will seem primitive in comparison to what lies ahead for us.
Gen-Z was born into the world of the Internet, grew up in the world of mobile devices, and is used to getting most of their requirements met online. They don’t have to stand in line for most of their hygiene requirements, nor do they see a need for pen and paper when everything that needs to be said or done can be done electronically online.
Accommodate – Don’t Tolerate
Many corporates, unfortunately, are not changing as fast as they should. Modern corporates do not always reflect the world that the Gen-Z grew up in. I do not mean that corporates are not adopting new technologies. The change needed is more in terms of the organization’s culture, processes, the hierarchical structures, and value system that seems to reflect the reality of an earlier era. Is it any surprise that Gen-Z finds it so difficult to adjust and fit in?
I believe there are a couple of things that organizations can do to make this integration more seamless so that the younger workforce grows to their potential far more quickly.
1. Create a culture of Learning within the organization
The reality of technical obsolescence is one of the biggest fears that Gen-Z has today given the pace of change. They need to stay on top of the curve and they are engaged with organizations that provide them with this opportunity. It also makes business sense because a competent workforce is the only sure-fire way to remain competitive in the real world. I have often had managers ask me why they should train their employees – only to see them leave for better pastures. The alternative is far worse. Imagine the situation where you don’t train your employees and they don’t or can’t leave. Most organizations, of course, have a base set of hygiene practices towards creating a competent workforce. This includes special projects, membership to professional bodies, access to digital libraries and on-demand training programs, not including the traditional class-room training opportunities. In addition, companies can also:
a. Establish book reading clubs, organise tech talks and technical competitions, publish employee written technical newsletters, and encourage special interest groups.
b. Perhaps the most important is to tie appraisal objectives with new competences gained by the employee.
2. Use role-modelling as the preferred Leadership style
Todays’ managers and leaders no longer live an insulated life. They are being constantly contrasted with some of the best managers and leaders in the world thanks to the democratisation of information. Linkedin, Glassdoors, Indeed, and Vault are a few of the many sources of such information for the employees.
Employees get disenchanted very easily when they are forced to work with managers who really don’t make the cut. Today’s leaders must demonstrate a strong set of ethics and values cast in stone. Some good practices that I have seen demonstrated are:
a. Be transparent about your set of values. When will you accommodate, and when will you really put your foot down? Make the red lines obvious to your team members.
b. Manage your biases and prejudices. Your team members know that a prejudiced manager is not necessarily a trust worthy manager.
c. Deliver on your commitments. A commitment made is an unfulfilled promise.
d. Learn to learn. Not only from books, but from other great managers and leaders.
e. Use mentors to grow. In today’s world, one mentor is hardly enough.
I believe that:
1. Employees are increasingly more loyal to a domain than a company. Creating a learning culture helps create more engagement.
2. The management axiom that employees join companies and leave managers is increasingly becoming a truism. Managers and Leaders who are role-models are far more respected than managers who are there by virtue of their title.
It is not a surprise that leaders at times find it challenging to manage the Gen-Z workforce. Great organizational cultures and empathetic managers can make a world of difference.
Don’t merely tolerate the younger workforce. You will be far more successful if you accommodate their realistic asks and help them meet their ambitions.
About the Author
Bhaskaran Srinivasan is the Director of Academics for Manipal Global Education Services. He is responsible for the quality of content and pedagogy. He is also responsible for ensuring the high quality of faculty used to deliver the best knowledge to all programs. He works with the Banking Academy, the Global Nxt University, the IT Academy, and the Data Science Academy.