Debunking Gen Z stereotypes

by Susan Mullin

The workplace is often riddled with stereotypes that can hinder understanding and collaboration in the workplace. We recently partook in a panel discussion on “Managing the Gen Z Employee” hosted by the American Marketing Association. We debunked some common stereotypes associated with Gen Z in order to help managers understand their Gen Z employees on a deeper level and adapt their management styles to fit them better. Through an engaging conversation, we explored various stereotypes with the help of our Chief Culture Officer Julie Lowe and Marketing Manager Gabrielle Gramont who is both a Gen Z employee and manages one as well. Here are the stereotypes we broke down.

Gen z stereotypes

Lazy, Entitled, and Demanding

The idea that Gen Z is lazy and entitled isn’t a new thing; we’ve heard this tune before with other generations when they first hit the job scene. One of the areas that people accuse Gen Z of being demanding and entitled is salary. What’s often misconstrued as entitlement or demanding nature stems from Gen Z’s progressive stance on salary transparency. A recent survey highlighted that while only 15% of Gen X individuals discuss salaries, the figure jumps to 37% for Gen Z. This newfound openness is also illustrated through social media platforms like TikTok, where individuals share their salary information, fostering a culture of transparency. Moreover, the ongoing discussions and movements around wage equity and better working conditions have equipped young job seekers with a better understanding of their potential worth in the marketplace. Their expectations around work/life balance, good DEI practices, and remote work are reflective of an evolving work landscape and not mere entitlement. 

Have a Lot of Mental Health Issues

Gen Z’s focus on mental health is often misinterpreted as a sign of increased mental health issues. In reality, it’s a manifestation of more open societal discourse on mental health and better tools to diagnose and treat mental illness. Today’s mental health resources, along with meaningful conversations around mental well-being, enable more accurate identification and open discussion about mental health issues, contrasting sharply with previous generations.

Want to Cancel Everything

The stereotype of Gen Z being quick to cancel is more about a broader societal shift towards accountability than a generational quirk. Having lived through numerous social justice movements like BLM, #MeToo, and March for Our Lives, Gen Z has witnessed the power of collective action to address injustices. The rise of young activists like Greta Thunberg and Malala showcases the impact of youth voices, fortifying Gen Z’s resolve to hold individuals and organizations accountable for inappropriate or discriminatory behaviors.

Screen and Social Media Addicts

Gen Z grew up with computers in the classroom, using them from middle school to high school years to college. They have learned to associate technology with work, as throughout their academic careers many have had to rely on technology exclusively in order to submit papers, create presentations, etc. The pandemic made everything remote and caused them to completely turn to technology when Zoom replaced in-person meetings.

In terms of social media, a McKinsey study found that older generations’ engagement with social media platforms was on par with Gen Zers. Baby Boomers in eight of the 26 countries surveyed report spending as much time on social media as Gen Zers, with Millennials being the most likely to post.

Impatient and Seek Instant Gratification

This stereotype relates more to the transition from college to the corporate world and does not relate exclusively to Generation Z. It just so happens that Gen Z is the current generation is entering the workforce. Many first-time employees are used to immediate gratification for their academic efforts. In college, they would invest a certain amount of time and work into a presentation or paper, and they would be rewarded with a letter grade that allowed them to quantify their performance vs. having to wait for reviews or a certain amount of time for promotions. 

Job positions at the bottom of the food chain (aka junior roles) are often quite siloed, with day-to-day tasks that are mundane and repetitive. They might be asked to fix Excel sheets, format PDFs, etc. This can make it hard for them to understand how their small efforts contribute to the overall success of the company. With no midterms or exams to pour their energy into, it’s easy for them to become unmotivated and natural for them to seek some sort of “instant gratification” that allows them to quantify their effort and measure their success at their role.

While this is a rite of passage that every employee has had to go through, it’s not specific to a specific generation, rather it’s specific to a certain age period.

Disinterested in Politics and News

In the world of Netflix and Hulu, there has been a huge decrease in people who watch the news through traditional cable television. A 2022 survey found that younger consumers were most likely to use social media as a news source, with 50 percent of Gen Z and 44 percent of millennials reporting daily usage. By contrast, 43 percent of Boomers said that they never used social networks for news.  Instead, younger individuals are seeking information through modern channels like social media and user-generated content, showcasing a shift in media rather than a lack of interest. Instead of watching the news at a given hour, individuals can follow particular news outlets on their pick of platform, from Twitter to Instagram to TikTok, and many subscribe to new organizations that do daily breakdowns of the news.

To wrap up, understanding Gen Z goes beyond the stereotypes. In our panel discussion, we shed light on the nuanced reality of Gen Z’s perspective as they integrate into the workforce. Open dialogues is a step towards bridging generational gaps and creating a more inclusive work environment for all generations. As we move forward, embracing the unique attributes of each generation will only enrich our collective experience and drive success in a multigenerational workforce.

Read our blog on Managing your Gen Z Employee.

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Posted in , Hiring Managers, Workplace Culture