Building Stronger Cross-generational Communication: Understanding Gen Z Employees

building stronger cross-generational

ARE YOU OR is your team frustrated with the youngest generation entering the workforce, Gen Z? I have often heard negative descriptions of Gen Z employees, such as lazy, addicted to technology, impatient, having unrealistic expectations, or needy. In fact, Gen Z is looking for the same thing that all employees want, and that is to be heard and valued. But how they define value is different from older generations. If you want to be successful with the new generation, it will require you to understand the keys to communication and motivation with Gen Z.

Let’s start by understanding a little about the four main generations in the workforce today.

  • Baby boomers (58 to 75 years old): In general, baby boomers’ work philosophy is “Achievement comes from paying one’s dues,” or, “Nothing is gained without hard work.” Baby boomers are known for their strong work ethic. They value loyalty, job stability and career progression built on years of dedication and achievement. Baby boomers tend to view their career advancement as a structured, linear path leading to a defined destination.
  • Gen X (42 to 57 years old): Gen X tends to believe in “Work hard, play hard.” This generation consists of the latchkey kids; they tended to be very self-sufficient and independent due to their parents being driven workaholics and rarely home. They watched their parents being loyal to companies, and during the tough economic times, companies were not being loyal to their parents, so they were more cynical to job loyalty. Many are now caring for their more aging parents and still raising kids, so flexibility is critical. They appreciate a more adaptable approach to work, where flexibility is key to meeting their personal and professional responsibilities.
  • Gen Y or millennials (28 to 41 years old): This generation believes communication should be frequent, authentic, transparent and delivered in real-time. This group tends to be collaborative and wants success for the team. Work-life balance is critical for this generation so individuals can seek opportunities to pursue personal interests alongside their careers.
  • Gen Z or the “TikTok generation” (10 to 27 years old): This generation has grown up in a fast-paced, technology-driven world. These young people are accustomed to instant feedback on their social posts and their schoolwork. They value social and environmental consciousness and seek organizations that align with their values. They are purpose-driven and tend to believe if their work matters, then “I matter.” Gen Z views each job as an experience rather than a path to career goals. The goal is to learn, grow and contribute to the greater good with each job experience.

If you understand more about Gen Z, you can take advantage of this generation’s unique skills and competencies. Gen Z can multitask on many different projects and creatively finds solutions and efficiencies. The individuals in this group are confident in their abilities even without experience, which means they are unafraid to offer new ideas and suggestions. They are resourceful, independent and driven to learn. They are the most diverse generation ever, with over 50% of them racially diverse and over 20% identifying as part of the LGBTQ community. They don’t consider diversity and inclusion an option at work but a requirement. So, what are the keys to success with Gen Z employees?

1. Career Perspective: Experience Versus Career Path

Most older generations have seen their careers as a path with planning and spending time building reputation and skills at each company. Gen Z considers each job to be an “experience.” The previous generations might see their careers as more of a road map they follow, with each job taking them closer to a final destination or goal. Gen Z might see careers more like a tree with multiple branches, with each job offering a different experience in which they learn, with the next experience possibly being completely different. Gen Z employees will not stay at a company just to enhance their career objectives but will stay to learn and make a greater impact.

Gen Z employees average two years with each company compared to eight to 10 years in one position for older generations. To keep Gen Z engaged, you must create learning and development experiences. This generation will not stay to earn a paycheck or look good on a resume but will stay at companies that contribute to the greater good. The company and the employee have a purpose: they are learning, being challenged, growing and contributing.

2. Embrace Social and Environmental Issues

Gen Z tends to consist of global thinkers that deeply care about social and environmental problems. They want to work for an organization that aligns with their values and beliefs. In fact, 85% consider diversity and inclusion a critical factor in the job search. They may only apply for your job posting if they perceive your company as having a diverse or inclusive work culture.

To attract and retain this generation, it is critical that your organization has authentic social and environmental policies or initiatives. It can’t be a checkbox program, or it will backfire with this generation. Your diversity and inclusion policy must have real actions and results communicated with transparency. Young people will see through inauthentic, superficial efforts and not stay with the organization.

3. Foster Transparency and Authenticity

Gen Z values transparency and authenticity in workplace communication. Leaders and managers should strive for open dialogue, sharing information and insights that build trust and foster collaboration. Engaging Gen Z requires a culture of transparency where employees feel comfortable.

The older-generation parents (Silent Generation) would tell them, “Children should be seen, not heard,” so they believe that workers should wait until they have earned the right to speak up. This can cause real issues with baby boomers and Gen Z, who believe they have something to offer today, even without years of experience to back up their confidence. Baby boomers will often get frustrated with their confidence and need to communicate. As an organization, you need to listen and learn from all generations. Gen Z has great insight to offer but is willing to learn if you are patient and encouraging.

4. Provide Immediate Feedback and Recognition

Gen Z grew up with instant gratification, followers or “likes.” This generation expects the same in the workplace, so managers must give instant, real-time, immediate feedback on small tasks as they accomplish them. It might feel like overkill for older generation managers, but a short statement that is authentic and personalized to their work will do wonders for motivating Gen Z. For example, “I just heard your conversation with the customer, and I liked how you connected with them and listened to their problem while staying positive.”

Yearly or quarterly performance appraisals will not be sufficient for this generation. Employees will not wait around until the end of the year for feedback. Instead, personalize the feedback for everyone. If you have a younger employee that would like to meet with you weekly with feedback, then listen and give them what they need, but if you have another employee that is very self-sufficient and would prefer to meet quarterly to update their results, then adapt to them.

Recognition needs to be personalized to individuals. Get to know your employees and what they like. Get them a gift card to a favorite sporting event, restaurant or theatre. Gen Z appreciates experiences more than just money bonuses. Of course, these employees still want a competitive salary but they are not solely motivated by money – rather, great experiences and thoughtful, personalized rewards.

5. Embrace Technology and Efficiency

Gen Z has grown up as a group of technology natives that become quickly frustrated with inefficiencies or lack of technology at an organization. If your application process is long, arduous and has them repeat tasks to apply for a position, they will stop and move on to another company. Most of Gen Z will want the interview-to-hire process to last about a week. These potential employees will not do video interviews on a blank screen; they want face-to-face communication, even by video. Your job posting must be positive and succinct; again, a long job posting with a long list of requirements will lose many qualified potential job candidates. Walk through your job interview, training and other processes with some current Gen Z or millennial employees and ask them for recommendations on making these more efficient and easier.

The training process must also be fast and efficient. Training can’t be a four-hour class they must sit through; you will lose them. Instead, short, interactive and self-guided clips or reels of training will be much more effective.

6. Foster Schedule Flexibility

Millennials and Gen Z consider this a critical factor and will take less money to have schedule flexibility. You need to reconsider your traditional 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule and think about what is required for the business model and where you can create flexibility, either with some hybrid work or hours flexibility. Focus more on work objectives instead of measuring how much time someone is “on the clock.” Set goals for achieving and hold employees accountable but allow your team to direct how and when they work to achieve your goals.

I believe Gen Z will be our “greatest” generation because it demands better from organizations when it comes to social and environmental causes, workplace mental health and work-life balance. As consumers they will demand that companies do better, and as employees they will demand a new work culture focused on work-life balance and inclusive culture. In the upcoming years, they will force organizations to look in the mirror and challenge the status quo. As an organization, you can choose to be in front of changes and attract top talent or be behind the eight-ball when it comes to talent optimization.

Michelle Jolivet, PHR is the Founder and Managing Director of DEI Recruiting and Consulting. Michelle has over 30 years of experience in the corporate world in various leadership positions, including Division Manager of an executive recruiting firm. She has a BA in Business from the University of North Texas, a Diversity and Inclusion certification from Cornell University, a Professional of Human Resources (PHR) certification, and a Green Belt certification in Six Sigma. Michelle is a US Air Force veteran. She received multiple awards, including a top graduate of the NCO Academy, top Airman of the base, Levitow Leadership award from her peers, and two Commendation Medals of excellence. Michelle is a proud native of the great state of Texas and resides in Dallas with her wife and grandson, where she never gets enough time to play golf.


Caminiti, Susan. “Majority of employees want to work for a company that values diversity, equity and inclusion, survey shows.” CNBC, 30 Apr. 2021, www.cnbc.com/2021/04/30/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-are-important-to-workers-survey-shows.html

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