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Musing about Gen Z and Millennials in the Workplace Part 2

Hi Friends and Colleagues,

When we last spoke, I highlighted the unprecedented workplace we are currently experiencing. Since then, the challenges in sharing a workplace with intergenerational colleagues seem to have only grown.

A big question coming up again and again from employees is: How do we all work together to feel seen and heard by others who are very different from us? And, along with that, how do I assert my leadership with others I may oversee, who no longer seem to respect my role as their supervisor?

A tremendous amount has changed over a relatively short period of time, in workplaces across North America. And the overarching query, I believe, for so many nonprofit settings today, is: How do we move from conflict or combativeness to collaboration, where multiple generations can thrive together?

Case Study Results

Getting Started

From my 35 years of leadership work, I believe more than ever that the key to success in making any change is to co-create it with the people involved. To start the process of culture change, we want to hear from the primary players themselves about what’s working, what’s not, what would it look like to have a thriving culture, and what roles they could play.

For one of my clients, I assisted in accomplishing exactly that. The first step was conducting a survey of Millennial leaders and Gen Z workers to uncover trends in their organizational strengths and challenges. The results were fantastic – we had an 85% completion rate. Everyone was told that the changes we’d make would be heavily based on the survey’s feedback and their participation. As a result, participants expressed that they felt seen and heard, which allowed them to place their trust in the process and to take the risk.

We decided to begin the culture change process with a half-day retreat away from the organization’s office. I tallied the staff’s responses and prepared an agenda that was based on their top core values: respect and generosity of spirit; honesty and resilience; and support and appreciation. It also included two main issues, which was that the Gen Z staff didn’t feel seen as full humans, but solely as workers. And, that Millennial and Gen X staff often felt confused and misunderstood by Gen Z staff’s communication styles and work ethics.

Next, I designed the three-hour experiential session to:

  • Create an open and welcoming environment

  • Model their top core values in everything we would do

  • Share staff’s top strengths and learning styles

  • Begin establishing new team norms using our improved communication and trust

  • Learn more about each other by deep listening and sharing

  • Develop a growing awareness of one another’s different needs

AHA Moments

Throughout the retreat, staff was able to express themselves in a new light that had not seemed possible with the previous norms. One particular game-changer activity was a curated conversation about the staff’s different learning styles and how they preferred to be communicated with whenever possible.

Another “aha moment” occurred when the Gen Z workers and Millennial and Gen X supervisors discussed working habits that were driving each other crazy. It turns out that while the Gen Z’ers were excellent at navigating new technology, the supervisors needed help learning some of it, and also wanted to temper it with more live connection and creative conversation.

Sometimes, as we all know, the real genius is not in the shiny and new but in the centuries-old skill of truly listening to one another and then acting from that place of empathy and respect. Recognizing each other’s strengths and preferences then allows us to more easily adapt. And encouraging everyone to participate in the way that works best for their learning style fosters a more collaborative and productive culture. Organizations will find they can move quickly from frustration and brewing hostility to collaboration and creativity when everyone feels valued and supported.

The plan for the retreat was based on reshaping the staff culture because the activities built upon their strengths, strengthened their challenges, and revisited their culture with a new lens.

To help make lasting change, I normally advise short monthly evaluations using the POP method (Purpose, Outcome, Process), and more detailed evaluations at six and twelve months. Accountability is key for ensuring progress is not undone and that the new workplace culture is adaptable to feedback and change as needed. At the end of this process, progress is clear and everyone feels enlightened!

Moving Forward

As Gen Z workers continue to flood workplaces across all industries, it is becoming exceedingly important to adapt organizational norms to ensure everyone feels heard and valued, regardless of one’s generation or background. Organizations that dedicate themselves to this mission will find greater communication and productivity.

While workshops like these are immensely successful, there is still more to learn in navigating this unprecedented generational divide. All four generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z) may have different work styles and values but when they come together the possibilities are endless. The biggest challenge is taking that first step in organizational change.

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