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Managing Gen Z: Six tips for working with your youngest colleagues

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Whether you’re a project manager or team leader, it’s important to know how to manage Gen Z workers. Aged up to 24, they are the future of the workforce, and they have different expectations and needs than previous generations. Here are six tips for managing them effectively.

1. Seek to understand them

Gen Z were born after 1995. While they share characteristics with Millennials, their early years have been influenced by a very different world, which is what helps set them apart. Here’s how:

  • Digital natives: Gen Z were born into the world of technology. An abundance of information and the opportunity to connect are at their fingertips. However, too much time spent on devices can result in less developed social skills.
  • Values-driven: Gen Z want an alignment between personal and company values. They care about equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I), work‑life balance and want to feel like their work is meaningful.
  • Mental health: Gen Z faced mental health challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic. More time isolated has taken its toll.
  • Politically astute: Gen Z are politically progressive. They are very open to sharing opinions and more likely to be activists.

2. Tailor your communication style

Good communication really matters to Gen Z in light of the shift to remote and hybrid working. When allocating tasks, be clear about your expectations, including:

  • how they’ll go about completing the task, including next steps;
  • timescales and deadlines;
  • where to turn for support;
  • when and how you will communicate; and
  • any possible obstacles and how to overcome them.

Agree with individuals and teams how and when you will communicate. You may find Gen Z prefer online messaging rather than phone conversations or email. And don’t forget the importance of connecting socially; it doesn’t always have to be about work. Having open conversations will help multi‑generational teams get to know each other. 

3. Give the right welcome and onboarding

Starting a career is a significant milestone and early impressions matter. You will want to ensure that Gen Z workers’ onboarding process goes well. Consider:

  • Thinking longterm: Build a robust onboarding plan for the first 12 months. If you provide in‑depth support during their first year, you’ll see results in terms of staff retention, progression and loyalty.
  • Selflearning: Gen Z are digital natives so self‑learning is the norm for them. They prefer training content to be delivered online and on demand.
  • Giving support: Mentors or buddies can be extremely helpful. However, also encourage them to create networks, stakeholder relationships and other learning opportunities.

4. Develop their confidence

Young people may not feel confident to speak up in meetings or know how to communicate assertively face-to-face. Here are some tips to help:

  • Coach and mentor them through potential discussions. It really helps them to think and talk through scenarios in advance.
  • In meetings, draw them into the conversation by asking them a question they know the answer to or talking about something they feel confident discussing.
  • Encourage them to practise talking through what they’re going to say in advance.
  • Ask them to take on a role they’re comfortable with in the meeting, e.g. capturing flip-chart notes or collating completed Post‑its.
  • If you want to ensure their opinion is included, invite the group to share thoughts on Post‑its or in the chat box if online.

5. Plan, organise and be proactive

The brain isn’t fully developed until we reach our mid‑20s. That means young people don’t always access the rational, thinking part of their brain in the same way as older adults. So, they need support to think through plans, actions, risks and mitigations. Take time to talk through and plan out thoughts, behaviours, risks, consequences and mitigation actions. They’re far more effective when they have a better idea of the roadmap ahead.

Set clear expectations around behaviours and outcomes you want to see when it comes to showing initiative and being proactive. Help them to understand what you mean by that, bring it to life and role model it.

6. Leverage their strengths and energy

Gen Z have great strengths, such as adaptability, digital skills, innovation, creativity and problem‑solving. Look for and target the energy they show for different tasks and opportunities. What lights them up? How can they get more of what they want? Help them to identify the skills that will leverage their career and create development plans to support their growth. Encourage them to diarise and protect development time.

Trying to evaluate the behaviours of an entire generation is tricky. However, by following these tips, you can create a workplace that is attractive to Gen Z and set them up for success in your team.

For a longer version of this article, see the Autumn 2022 edition of Project journal, an exclusive benefit for APM members.

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