Businessolver Blog

What Does Gen Z Want from its Leaders?

What Does Gen Z Want from its Leaders?
Posted on Thursday, July 1, 2021 by Jack McDonald
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Hello, I’m a Gen Z’er and will soon be joining the full-time workforce.

What-gen-z-want-in-the-workplace

As scary as that is for me to say—and for some to read—it’s happening whether we like it or not.

And while the majority of Millennials already have their footing in the workforce, Gen Z is just now flooding into break rooms, zoom meetings, and virtual workouts. Despite what the internet says, we aren’t that different from previous generations. However, we do have a few asks, or, as Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley put it, demands.

During Harris’ intentional leadership session at Businessovler’s 2021 Vision event she discussed these demands in greater detail. “They demand as table-stakes three things; transparency, inclusivity, and feedback,” Harris said. I want to look at these three demands more closely and discuss how they relate to Gen Z as we enter the workforce.

Transparency

Harris says transparency starts with authenticity, and she is spot on. Authenticity is contagious, employees who see their leaders as authentic are more likely to bring their authentic selves to the table without fear of judgement. This level of authenticity fosters a more transparent environment and in turn, happier and more engaged employees.

When you build an authentic environment, honesty is part of the package. And honesty is the basis for any good relationship, whether it’s at work or in your personal life. I don’t think wanting transparency is exclusive to Gen Z. Most people want to hear the truth, even if it’s difficult. But when it comes to the workplace, Gen Z might be the first generation to demand it from leadership.

What does this demand look like in action?

Well, here’s an example.

I remember sitting in the Businessolver offices in March as the COVID-19 pandemic began. My fellow Gen Z coworkers were concerned, we didn’t know what was going to happen to us. We hadn’t worked from home before, and that was really the least of our worries. We were more worried about whether we’d have a job after the next week.

Our leader pulled groups of us into meetings so that we could air concerns and figure out what our plan was. Ultimately, only a few us were enabled to work from home because no one knew what we were getting ourselves into. People were upset, and they had a right to be, they were going into their spring break without a job and weren’t sure when they’d get it back, if at all.

Corey Jacobson is the person who held our team together through his dedication to transparency. He gathered phone numbers from everyone and made sure to be in contact. He made our team feel wanted and included. He provided updates on what he was hearing and didn’t pull the wool over our eyes, if he knew something, we knew it as well.

When our team fully transitioned to working from home, we had a better relationship with Cory because of the way he treated us during a trying time. His transparency helped a group of Gen Z workers find their way through an unprecedented scenario.

Gen Z wants its leaders to be honest about what they know and what they don’t. That honesty should pertain to conversations about returning to the office or simply being straightforward about the time commitment of an expedited project.

In the workplace, and as consumers, Gen Z takes transparency into account when making choices. A Devries Global research study showed that 96% of their Gen Z respondents indicated that they would be willing to pay a premium for brands they deemed transparent. This level of commitment to transparency can’t be ignored.

We may be the youngest generation in the workforce but being able to trust our employers about the vision and mission of the organization is very important to us. And, honestly, how an organization showcases their transparency will greatly affect who we work for in the future.

A seat at the table

Gen Z grew up in the digital age and has not known a world without the internet, thus making them very apt to work at home and problem-solve. That being said, we still want a seat at the table.

“If you want to be seen as an inclusive leader in your environment, you simply solicit other people’s voices,” Ms. Harris said. She goes on to say that the best way to solicit someone’s voice is by asking them for input by name. Including Gen Z in the discussion can help them feel like a necessary component of the operation and gives them a reason to believe that their input is crucial to their team’s success.

As the youngest generation in the workforce, leaders need to ensure members of Gen Z are seen and heard. In fact, 40% of Gen Z employees want daily interactions with their boss and may think they’ve done something wrong if they have no interaction.

As a Gen Z employee, I value being called upon by name because it shows that my specific perspective is valued and that I bring something to the table. To be clear, I don’t want or need my ego stroked, I just appreciate being seen and heard in meetings and group discussions so that I can feel comfortable contributing without questioning whether I should in the first place.

Monty Williams, head coach of the Phoenix Suns has a quote that I think fits here perfectly. “I’m not calling you out,” Williams says, “I’m calling you up.” If you’re calling Gen Z up, you are including them in a real way that makes it impossible for them not to be a positive contributor on your team.

DEI

Gen Z, at large, demands diversity and inclusion from the companies they buy products from, work for, and interact with. Gen Z is quick to know if an organization is simply putting out a statement and not following through. A 2020 Monster survey showed that 83% of Gen Z job candidates said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.

Growing up in a digital age made it easy for Gen Z to form opinions on organizations based on their online profiles, reviews, and anything else they can find while web sleuthing. To harp on authenticity again, don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Erin Thomas, U.S. diversity manager for Grant Thorton LLP spelled it out clearly. “Don’t misrepresent your organization and sell something very different from what your diverse new hires will experience — that can be a landmine later,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to shock people with the expectations you’ve set.”

Feedback

Feedback and mentorship is something Gen Z will demand from their leaders. 

Gen Z is on its way to being the most educated generation to date. This fact cannot be ignored when thinking about hiring or understanding Gen Z’s work and life experiences and how they approach/respond to feedback and mentorship. Gen Z is less likely to work in their teenage years than previous generations, and they are also more likely to finish high school and be enrolled in a two-year or four-year college.

To put it simply, Gen Z is having different life experiences than Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers.

My generation is made up of lifelong learners who are attacking their careers like degrees because they hope to further develop in a life where many jobs and multiple careers are almost a certainty. In fact, 67% of Gen Z learners said they spent more time learning in 2020 than the year before. And 76% of Gen Z said that they believe learning is the key to a successful career. It might seem simple, but that’s 15% more than the Millennials.

Career growth is top of mind for Gen Z for a few reasons. For one, we are just getting started and can’t necessarily see our futures or where they might end up. One way to combat this feeling is to work hard and to accumulate skills that will foster success no matter what job we find ourselves in. We’ve also grown up in an age of change, first with the recession of the late 2000s and now with the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve seen parents, friends, and many others struggle throughout these two separate defining times. It’s taught us that the best way to find stability is to make yourself into an asset to any organization, not just the one we find ourselves working for today.

To learn more about effectively leading Gen Z, check out Carla Harris’s session from Vision