Actionable tips for guiding Gen Z-ers to success from an insider's experience.
March 04, 2022
by Mimi Doe, 2022
In the years since I co-founded my company, a college admission counseling firm, there has been a profound cultural change in the students we advise. When we started the business, our students were millennials, born between 1981 and 1996. About eight years ago, that changed. Enter Generation Z.
Gen Z, or kids born after 1997, have unique generational hallmarks. They are totally distinct from millennials, growing up as digital natives in a post-9/11 era. We have collectively invested so much in understanding the millennial mindset — their preferred working styles, motivators and values — to ensure that our workplace cultures evolve and we collectively thrive. Now, with the oldest Gen Z’ers entering the workforce, it is time to once again readjust the sails.
As college admissions advisors, we have had a head start in understanding how to respond to the needs of Gen Z-ers and guide them towards success. Here are five actionable tips for building a workplace culture that will create wins for both your younger employees and the company as a whole.
1. Present information in simplified, visual and bite-sized chunks
Gen Z grew up as the Internet collectively transformed our lives. Although the rest of us can remember a time before smartphones, Gen Z has been deluged with content since they could look at screens. While this makes them savvy digital navigators, it also means they don’t have much patience with or time for dense or poorly presented information.
In our practice, we make sure to deliver information in concise formats — visual, simple, concise — to fit their distracted digital lives. Simple charts, bulleted tasks and plenty of spacing is key in helping Gen Z focus.
2. Combat angst with flexibility, especially in location
Whether it is living in an overloaded, digital age or world-altering events such as the Great Recession that occurred during their short lives, Gen Z is a generation filled with angst. A profound, almost existential anxiety drives many of their decisions. We have had students mention factors like the impact of climate change on the local region when they are choosing where to go to college.
One solid strategy for alleviating this anxiety is to provide them with flexibility. For example, we expect geographic location to be increasingly important for our students. Enabling younger employees to work and live remotely will be a huge draw to companies that are able to accommodate the new reality of Work 2.0. Any area where you can reasonably provide flexibility without negatively impacting your business will be a win.
3. Be ready to talk about — and support — mental health
Because of their anxiety overload, Gen Z is ahead of the game in addressing mental health issues and challenges. Talking about mental health issues is normalized in this generation; so is seeking help. This dynamic could be uncomfortable for older generations who were taught to be more private, but Gen Z will expect a certain level of literacy and, most importantly, support. Healthy, happy employees are good for your workplace. Figure out how to have these conversations now while keeping your workforce mission focused. We routinely publish information on tactics to handle anxiety for our Gen Z readers.
4. Embrace the specialist
Prior to Gen Z, the mandate for college admissions was to cultivate the “Renaissance” student. Great at academics, extracurriculars and community service, these students were generalists with a broad skill set. Now, the profile for a successful college applicant has changed. Colleges expect an incredible amount of depth in an identified passion. It used to be that a student would apply to an undergraduate business program like Wharton with a general interest in business; now, they are applying having already published papers about the economic impact of the Dust Bowl on prices of Nebraskan sugar beets.
Our students know how to present their specialty and continue to build expertise, going to conferences, taking classes and doing research. Don’t be afraid to engage the expertise of the young adults entering the workforce. They have a lot to learn but might be unexpectedly helpful when allowed to lean into their specialty.
5. Learn to listen — but define the mission
In that vein, Gen Z expects to be listened to — but they might not always have something to say. They are hyper-literate in the issues of the moment, but unfortunately, Gen Z was taught to ask, What can I get? rather than What can I give? The most success we have found in working with students is finding a specific civic application for the expertise they have cultivated. For example, we might encourage our budding historian to volunteer at the local historical society doing community outreach.
Even if a young person has been hired into a specific role, be open to shifting their focus. For example, the entry-level marketing analyst you hired might have a deep passion for community building. If the need to address grassroots organizations arises in your organization, tap your analyst to be a voice. They can be an advisor for you as you craft a strategy around emerging issues.