How to manage the next generation of employees: Offer praise, set goals and limit in-office phone use

Andrea Park - Print  | 

As many employers still struggle to crack the code on managing their millennial employees, another generation has started aging into the workforce, one that will require even more hands-on treatment and near-constant feedback than their older siblings.

This cohort, typically defined as the 61 million people born between 1995 and 2012, is sometimes referred to as Generation Z. However, since young people rarely enjoy being named after their predecessors, and since this particular group has grown up fully in the internet age, Jean Twenge, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, prefers the term iGen. Whatever you call them, this generation is already flooding into the workforce, and is estimated to comprise 20 percent of the working population by 2020.

Here, Dr. Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, discusses what this generation is looking for in their employers and careers, and how managers can ensure the most success from these cautious and practical employees.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How do iGen employees differ from their millennial predecessors and their millennial/Generation X/boomer bosses?

Dr. Jean Twenge: IGen is less confident and less optimistic than millennials and Gen Xers were when they were young. They are very interested in safety and are risk-averse. They are also significantly more likely to experience anxiety and depression than millennials. They take equality based on race, gender and sexual orientation for granted, with attitudes around LGBT issues showing the biggest generation gap with older generations including Gen Xers and boomers. Their work ethic is stronger than it was for young people 10 years ago — they realize they are going to have to work hard to succeed, yet they have continued the trend toward wanting work-life balance that peaked with millennials.

Q: As iGen ages into the workforce, what will they be expecting from their employers?

JT: With student loan debt and big-city rents higher than ever, compensation is a central issue. Flexibility and work-life balance are musts: Gen Xers demanded work-life balance but often didn't get it; millennials demanded it and sometimes got it; and iGen just assumes they'll get it and are surprised when they don't. IGen's number one requirement is a stable job — they are very practical.

Q: What are iGen's general attitudes toward work? What can employers expect from these hyper-connected workers?

JT: In many ways, iGen is good news for managers — they are a cautious, hard-working generation who want to build careers in a stable environment. However, they will need more guidance and reassurance than millennials to reach their goals.

IGen also has less experience with independence at an early age — they go out without their parents less and are less likely to drive and work during high school. Thus they may need more precise instructions for tasks and more encouragement to figure things out on their own. Managers who learned to be cheerleaders for millennials will find they are more like therapists, life coaches or parents for iGen.

Q: What are some concrete adjustments employers can make or new practices they can put in place to ensure the most success from their iGen employees? 

JT: IGen has gotten used to instant results, so waiting a year for a performance evaluation or a promotion doesn't come naturally. Give feedback often, and make sure to use the "praise sandwich" (praise, then constructive criticism, then praise). Give them smaller goals they can reach on the way to the years-long promotion or advancement. Make sure you have clear rules about phone use at work.

In general, have clear rules about everything — iGen has grown up in a time with fewer concrete social rules, so sometimes they are uncertain about what to do or how to behave. But they are willing to hear guidance and follow the rules — you just have to spell out more for them than you might have had to for millennials 10 years ago.

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