Working with younger generations — 7 thoughts

When I hear discussions about special rules for working with millennials or Gen-Z, I often think it's silly and contrived. That said, I think there are several observations worth noting.

1. Every generation comes with stereotypes. Every generation that enters the workplace is characterized in one way or another. For instance, newer generations face stereotypes that their work ethic is markedly different from that of their predecessors. I always joke that so many of the people I work with must have missed that memo — most work just as hard and as smart as any other generation. I don't think you can label entire generations easily, and broad cliches hold us back from better understanding any real differences and similarities between generations of workers.

2. Generational differences are shaped, in part, by major events and economic circumstances. The views of millennials and Gen Z are often clumped together when it comes to working life, but there are subtle differences in how the two generations may approach various topics. Take work-life balance, for example. Many millennials — born between 1981 and 1996 — entered or started their careers in an economy fractured by the Great Recession, which tempered expectations for balance and flexibility with an aversion to risk. Those born after 1997 in Gen Z, on the other hand, have had their choice of work in the most flexible economy in memory. One thing holds true for every generation: The economy into which you graduated can influence your views on working and career-building for the rest of your life. It's helpful to remember this about the views of others and your own.

3. Speaking of work-life balance. It may be convenient to depict one generation as more preoccupied with work-life balance than another, but this aspiration is not limited to any one group of people. At the end of the day, there is nothing atypical about the desire to (a) do meaningful work with dignity, (b) earn money to support oneself, family and a full life, and (c) have time to live that full life. Technology, the economy, innovation and other factors can create new opportunities for people to make productive contributions to the workforce while also attending to family and other responsibilities. These advancements should be celebrated and encouraged, and younger generations should not be admonished for making the most of them.

4. A higher level of social consciousness. As I look at some parts of culture, I've found where my generation was very focused on the economic prize, this generation is motivated in such a way, too — but they also have a higher level of concern. Gen Zs and millennials are deeply concerned about the state of the world, and try to balance the challenges of their everyday lives with their desire to drive societal change. These generations are much more inclined to want to do something good with their work and companies, and they expect their companies and leaders to be highly engaged and doing good, too.

5. The job hopping generation continues to be redefined. In 2016, millennials were called the most job-hopping of generations, with a Gallup poll finding 21 percent of millennials having changed jobs within a year — more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same. Now the torch is passed to Gen Z-ers, who joined the workforce just as the pandemic shook up the labor market and shaped their willingness to job hop. Members of Gen Z are switching jobs at a rate 134 percent higher than in 2019, according to LinkedIn data. That compares to 24 percent more for millennials and 4 percent less for Baby Boomers. The pandemic underscored certain drivers behind decisions to change jobs in two years or less, such as where one works (home, hybrid or in an office). Job-hopping may not be as stigmatized as it once was to employers, especially in a competitive job market, but companies still look for moderation versus extremism here.   

6. Younger generations will continue to become more technologically advanced than prior generations. The most recent college graduates — class of 2022 — have always been able to refer to Wikipedia. A visit to a bank has been a rare event for them. What you may see as a technological innovation — a before and after transformed by tech — younger people may see as an ordinary backdrop in their life. Technological skills, tools and attitudes are inherent in how they grew up. Employers need to be ready to regularly challenge and upskill these digital natives, whose higher baseline of tech aptitude drives a strong appetite for continual learning. 

7. Making space for mental health in the workplace. The youngest working generations are seen as the most vocal yet when it comes to mental health in the workplace, and yet they still experience a great deal of hesitance in discussing mental health at work. At the beginning of 2021, Deloitte surveyed nearly 23,000 millennial and Gen Z respondents from across 45 countries. Nearly six in 10 said they did not tell their leader about their stress or anxiety, and 49 percent and 47 percent of millennials and Gen Zs who took time off work for mental health reasons gave their employer a different reason for the absence. This signals the likelihood that mental health will be an upward priority for employees and employers in years to come, which can be a good thing for all. Mental health is not exclusive to young adults. In fact, a recent survey found Baby Boomers to consider mental health days "absolutely necessary." 

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