How to Manage Your Gen Z Employee

by Susan Mullin

We recently joined a panel discussion by the American Marketing Association on “Managing Gen Z Employees” where we debunked common Gen Z stereotypes and shared management advice. In our last blog, we tackled these stereotypes and in this one, we offer actionable advice on managing your Gen Z employees to help you support them effectively and bridge the generational gap.

managing gen z

Contextualizing Their Tasks and Tying Them to a Bigger Picture

Gen Z employees seek to understand the broader context of their tasks. As discussed in our previous blog, the younger end of Gen Z is experiencing a pivotal transition from college to the workforce – they’re used to having clear rubrics, and deadlines, and receiving letter grades that give them a clear indication of their performance.   Therefore, it’s important to contextualize their tasks and everyday efforts and tie even menial tasks to the bigger picture.

For instance, instead of just sending the bottom-of-the-barrel tasks to your youngest employee without any context, such as fixing an Excel sheet or formatting a slide on a deck, give them insight into the bigger picture, explain the project, the objective, etc. Also communicate the big wins that they were a part of, like the deck that they fixed landed the company a client, or even if someone higher up complimented the formatting of the deck. Reinforcement matters for motivation.

Striking the Balance Between Autonomy and Accountability

Ensuring accountability while providing autonomy can be challenging. You don’t want to micromanage your Gen Z employees but do want them to be accountable for deadlines. For instance, managers can set clear expectations while allowing Gen Z employees the freedom to approach tasks creatively which fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility. 

Consider a scenario where a Gen Z employee is asked to create a slide deck for a client meeting. Instead of dictating every slide’s content, you could set clear, high-level objectives for the presentation and give them a deadline for a draft. This way, you provide a framework that they have to follow and comply with (accountability) while allowing them the creative freedom to design and structure the presentation (autonomy). Check-in with them once the draft is done to ensure the objectives are met, balancing both autonomy and accountability effectively.

Communicating Deadlines Effectively

It’s very important to have clear communication regarding deadlines. Whenever possible, avoid giving the sense that a deadline is arbitrary, it will inevitably reduce the sense of urgency for them to complete the task. Naturally, many roles have internal deadlines which are often set arbitrarily, but – arbitrary or not – they are still important to meet. Tie the deadline to another event or external deadline to emphasize the consequences of not getting it done. 

For example, if you simply say “I need a draft of this memo by Thursday,” and your employee doesn’t get around to it, they might think it’s okay to give it to you Friday if historically they’ve seen that the deadline isn’t a “hard deadline”. Add some context and say “I need the memo by Thursday – it will be sent to X senior leader Friday morning who will then send it to X media platform.” Here you are creating a domino effect of tasks that will be held up because of their lack of adhering to deadlines.

Adapting to Individual Work Styles

In a world where we’re starting to be more open about mental health, neurodiversity, and the fact that not everyone works and thinks the same way, it’s important to learn the work style of your Gen Z employee. For example, recognizing when an employee needs a balance between creative and analytical tasks and adjusting task assignments accordingly can prevent burnout and maintain productivity. You can get this information by having a chat with them during your 1:1 and discussing what tasks they find to be easier and which ones they get stuck on and need extra help with. This way, you can vary their work so that they aren’t doing back-to-back tasks that burn them out by sprinkling in some of the things they’re more natural at.

So What?

Our interactive panel “Managing the Gen Z Employee,” provided a comprehensive look into the nuances of managing Gen Z employees, focusing on the importance of clear communication, providing meaningful feedback, and adapting to individual work styles. As organizations continue to evolve, embracing these insights could be instrumental in ensuring the Gen Z employee group is productive and building a productive and harmonious multigenerational workforce.

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