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Musing about Gen Z and Millennials in the Workplace Part 1

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

“Those Gen Z’ers are driving me crazy, And, I thought we were demanding.”

“Wow they think they can tell us what to do without any experience, I don’t get it.”

“No, they can’t have it all – leave at 5 pm, work from home, take breaks when they want to and then ask for promotions without putting in the hours.”

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“Ugh, my bosses aren’t into self-care. They say they are but if I want to leave after a long day, they think I’m slacking.”

“How can I work for an organization that doesn’t stand up for the issues they say they believe in because the donors don’t agree?”

“There’s too much talking, I need more direction. Tell me what you want and how you want it.”

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I’m guessing that some of these phrases have you nodding your head and maybe even smiling a bit. All of them are authentic and come from nonprofit organizations I’ve worked with that have Millennial leadership and Gen Z workforces. What’s right with this thumbnail sketch and what’s wrong with it?

What’s right is that both sets of expressions are true. They are all lived experiences from different perspectives, and one is not better or more right than another. Each perspective tells important truths of what’s happening in their workplaces simultaneously.

What’s wrong is that while both groups are listening to one another, they aren’t truly hearing each other. And, they certainly aren’t listening with the intention to understand each others’ concerns and collectively resolve these problems together. Instead, they are propagating stereotypes of one another and constructing that kind of silos that Gen X and Boomers have been accused of for decades.

Entering an Unprecedented Workplace Culture

In my 35 years of nonprofit leadership experience, I can honestly say that we are in the most complicated workplace culture yet. There are typically four generations working side by side in most organizations: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. Technology is getting faster every day and the group with the least amount of hierarchical power, Gen Z, has the most amount of informational power. Societal norms that Boomers and Gen X grew up with seem to be crashing down or disappearing entirely. Millennials, now the largest group of workers in the U.S., have a ton of messes to clean up that they, for the most part, had no role in creating.

What that leaves, if not managed well, is a lot of simmering angst at work– which is the perfect tinder for a roaring fire of dysfunction, unhappiness, and resignations.

Years ago, the nonprofit sector was often referred to as “human services; and the work as “the art of human relations.” This is an entire industry built on people serving others to improve life circumstances. People, as we know, are very complex, especially in a world that is changing by the minute. As Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Synagogue in Encino, CA so eloquently said on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the Jewish year), “every person in this world wants more than anything, to be heard, to be seen and to matter.”

Workplaces that listen and foster what it means to matter, value curiosity, compassion, and compromise. Time and time again these ageless values dispel simmering angst. They create and sustain trust because their stakeholders’ ideas and voices are taken into account whenever possible.

What does it mean to be heard?

Here is what I did.

Generational Differences Case Study

Challenge: A senior executive wanted their Gen Z staff to be more passionate and engaged with their work, resilient when their ideas were not implemented, and to speak to their colleagues and supervisors honestly and directly in order to solve problems.

Outcome/Solution: The organization needed to “press reset,” and go back to the basics of its culture– revisit its mission, create shared values and norms, develop trust, and begin communicating honestly and kindly together. They also needed to find out what was causing these behaviors in order to shape a renewed culture that was reflective of their Gen Z staff so they’d have ownership of the results. This combo would set the foundation for a thriving culture.

How Did I Do It: I began the process by interviewing the millennial staff leaders in a small group meeting. I asked them what solutions might work best for them, what if any were their non-negotiables (lines in the sand they wouldn’t cross), and what success would look like. Next, I developed a survey for all of the staff to find out what they would like to see as a result of the impending retreat, and how they would individually contribute to this goal. From these guidelines, I was able to implement a successful retreat that addressed the concerns of each generation and set the stage for a year of learning, experimentation and growth.

Read More About The Successes of the Case Study

As I mentioned above, it is important for every member of an organization to be heard and to feel valued. With Gen Z’s population continuing to grow in the workplace, companies should be continuously refreshing their operations to adjust to ever-changing dynamics. There is room for all generations to thrive.

Organizations that lean into these challenges and embrace changes to their culture find great success, as evident from my case study. In my next article, I will further discuss ways to overcome these generational challenges including the power of trust-building retreats.


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Bobby Harris
Bobby Harris
16. Dez. 2022

If there are results of your Case Study posted somewhere on the blog, can you please help me to find them. Thank you.

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