scorecardThe millennial boss' guide to managing Gen Z, based on 5 stereotypes of the younger generation
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The millennial boss' guide to managing Gen Z, based on 5 stereotypes of the younger generation

Juliana Kaplan,Rebecca Knight   

The millennial boss' guide to managing Gen Z, based on 5 stereotypes of the younger generation
Careers9 min read
  • Gen Z, who the pandemic, constant war, and the climate crisis have shaped, is hitting the workplace.
  • Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025 — and they're already reshaping it.

What happens when you take a generation of young people, add a seemingly endless war, a climate crisis, and a pandemic on top for good measure?

You get Gen Z, a new crop of workers born from about 1996 to 2012 who are determined that something's got to change.

Not only is Gen Z the most diverse generation in US history in terms of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, its members are also by and large, progressive, pro-government, and activist-minded. And their voices will be heard: This group, coming of age at a time of mass worker burnout, is set to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025 and they're not satisfied with the status quo.

While the oldest members of Gen Z haven't been in the workforce long at age 27, they're already ruffling feathers. They came into the workforce during a tight labor market, where unemployment was low, and opportunities were high. And they know the power they hold.

Their reputation precedes them, and stereotypes abound. They're pegged as entitled and overly demanding; they're seen as sensitive snowflakes with zero job loyalty. And they're labeled as TikTok obsessed and known for drawing firm boundaries in their work lives.

That may be why some millennial managers think of Gen Z as, erm, high-maintenance.

"The expectations that younger generations are bringing into the workplace — and, specifically, for their manager — are just really high," Emily Tsitrian, the CEO a and cofounder of Yeeld and the author of "Make Me the Boss: Surviving As A Millennial Manager In The Corporate World," told Insider.

Millennial bosses, Tsitrian said, are in a unique — and, in some ways, unprecedented — position. They're managing a generation that's demanding more of employers, while still balancing the needs of the business. "It's not enough to operate the machine and give people generic career advice like, 'Work hard and you're going to make it,' and 'Just show up and crush it every day,'" she said. "That's not resonating with younger generations."

So, what will resonate? Insider spoke with management experts, career coaches, and members of Gen Z themselves to reframe the narrative around how Gen Z is changing the workplace. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions about this generation — along with advice and ideas on how to lead them.

Gen Z demands to do things their own way

Gen Zers see vast potential for change in society and in the workplace — and think that their generation will be the one to drive it.

But this belief sometimes leads to one of the most common criticisms of this generation: Gen Zers' insistence on — and, some say, entitlement to — doing things their own way.

Kimi Kaneshina, a 24-year-old associate-product manager, told Insider that Gen Z workers are willing to question the norm — and are confident in doing so.

But that confidence can be off-putting to older bosses and colleagues. "A lot of young people have this idea that, 'I should be able to be entirely myself and offer my opinion to anyone at any time,'" Anthony Nyberg, a professor at University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business, told Insider.

And as much as you, the manager, want to encourage your young report's authenticity and enthusiasm, you also know there are certain behaviors, actions, and modes of communication that come across as rude or impractical.

"Organizations say they want to be inclusive and that they want people to bring their whole selves to work — but there's a caveat: They want your professional self," Nyberg said.

Nyberg recommended managers frame the issue to their Gen Z team members as one of influence. Remind Gen Zers of their audience. Don't lecture, but rather show them that if they're trying to sway corporate leaders, they'll have more success if they speak the leaders' language. Advise them to listen to the way senior leaders talk — including the words they use, the way they present ideas, and even how they dress.

Explain to Gen Zers that they can be more influential if they deliver their message in a way that appeals to older colleagues and executives, he said. "You don't talk to the CEO the way you talk to your friends on Saturday night."

Gen Zers overvalue their personal lives

Whatever else you say about Gen Z, one thing is true for many: This is a group that works to live, not lives to work.

Gen Zers are, after all, credited with ushering in the era of quiet quitting, which is, in essence, doing only what's in your job description and otherwise maintaining firm limits. Even for career-minded Gen Zers, boundaries and work-life balance are key. Your company is not your family, as recent tech layoffs have shown.

For Gen Z, "it's really important to respect people's boundaries," Kaneshina told Insider. For example, she said, managers should schedule meetings during the workday, not later, and they shouldn't email or Slack their team members outside of those hours.

If they do, they shouldn't be "expecting an immediate response."

While Gen Zers maintain that these boundaries are a way to make work more sustainable in the long term, the lines can sometimes frustrate their managers.

Lacey Leone McLaughlin, an executive coach and management consultant in Los Angeles, advised managers to "ditch past constructs" and outdated ideas of "how things have always been done."

"Do you care about people sitting in their seats from 9 to 5 or do you care about them delivering the work that's pushing the business forward?" she said. "Gen Z wants to own how their time is spent. Good managers leverage that, and bad ones are intimidated by it."

It's only when your workers aren't getting their jobs done that you have a problem, she added. "And that's Management 101," she said. "Make sure they're clear on priorities and expectations; make sure they understand what success looks like; and make sure you're communicating and giving a regular cadence of feedback."

Gen Z has no job loyalty

The rap on Gen Z is that they're all a bunch of job-hoppers with no loyalty.

And that's not entirely off-base. Gen Zers spend an average of two years and three months in a role and change jobs more frequently than any other generation, according to 2021 data from CareerBuilder, a jobs site with the largest market share among online-employment websites in the US. Meanwhile, a new study by Oliver Wyman, which surveyed 10,000 Gen Zers aged 18 to 25 in the US and the UK, found that responding Gen Zers don't stigmatize job-hopping, and that they're perfectly prepared to leave unfulfilling jobs without having a backup plan.

As a generation, they won the Great Resignation, landing bigger raises when they switched from one role to another. Many won't even apply to a role unless the salary is listed. All in all, it's good news for Gen Zers, who were particularly battered by the pandemic economy — but maybe not so much for their employers.

Avery Monday, a 21-year-old influencer-marketing manager, told Insider that managers shouldn't take it personally if their Gen Z employees are leaving. Gen Z sees staying put as an outdated norm, she said. "Our parents' generation — you stick with a company for 20 years, due to loyalty. Gen Z simply just doesn't have that type of loyalty to a company anymore."

Besides, people in their 20s are apt to move around from job to job more because they have fewer commitments and looser ties. Many, for instance, don't yet have a mortgage — will they ever? — or a family. As they get older, their tendencies might change. Recent tech layoffs have only served to reinforce the idea that work is not your family.

"Managers need to chill out about the length of time their Gen Z employees are going to stick around," Clare DeNicola, a principal at the10company, a management- and communications-consulting firm, told Insider. "It doesn't matter if they stay for years."

What matters, she said, is whether they're engaged while they're there.

And it's your job, as the manager, to engage them. To do that, DeNicola has two recommendations: teamwork and purpose. "This generation is very team-oriented — they want to collaborate and work with others," she said.

They also want their work to matter. "Make sure they understand the impact of their contributions. They don't want to feel like they're a number."

Gen Z lives online

Yes, Gen Zers love TikTok and are internet obsessed, but while it's easy to blame kids these days, it's also understandable that they'd be bouncing from app to app.

After all, younger Gen Zers spent some amount of their formative schooling online due to the pandemic. And many older members of Gen Z had their entry into the working world disrupted by Covid.

To be clear: Many Gen Zers do want to work in person. A survey by Dell of 15,105 people between the ages of 18 and 26 across 15 countries, found that while 29% of respondents said flexible- and remote-working arrangements are important considerations when choosing an employer, another 29% of respondents said they favor 9-to-5 office-based roles.

For Gen Z, being online is about expediency, Monday said. "Gen Z is a generation of working smarter, not harder," Monday said. "That can come across as a lack of work ethic or like, 'Oh, you're just not as dedicated as the generations before you.' But I don't always think that that's true."

Managers, meanwhile, need to be flexible and have some compassion, according to DeNicola. If they want to encourage more real-life interactions with their Gen Z reports, they need to be smart and thoughtful in how they go about it.

"Don't make them go through the paces," just for the sake of it, but rather "make an effort to integrate Gen Z into the workplace as early as possible," she said.

Find ways for Gen Z to feel more connected to the organization. "Give them more visibility. Give them a project or initiative that they can own and where they can shine. Think about who could mentor them," she said.

Be creative in how you lure them into the office. Host social events and parties; offer in-person training opportunities to develop their skills; invite them to high-level meetings and lunches to give them exposure to senior executives. "Make it fun, but with a purpose," she said.

Gen Zers are sensitive snowflakes

One of the more insidious stereotypes about Gen Zers is that they're overly sensitive, a critique that's been lobbied against several generations. For as long as there've been the new kids on the block, there've been complaints that they can't handle the heat.

But Gen Zers say their approach to work and life is more about respect — and experts think that managers can learn from it.

"When people think about Gen Z, there's a lot of discussion about the generation being very sensitive. I think it's important to challenge that assumption," Kaneshina said. "It's not necessarily that the generation is sensitive, but I think it's more that the generation is really aware of what's happening in the workplace, what's happening in the environment, and outside of work."

What might come off as oversensitivity is more about ensuring that everyone feels safe, comfortable, and respected at work, Kaneshina said.

Monday agreed. It's important for managers "to be in tune with how their Gen Z employee is feeling about certain things and give them positive reinforcement that other generations didn't necessarily always need," she said.

And Tsitrian said it's mischaracterization to ascribe greater sensitivity and awareness to just Gen Z. Both millennials and Gen Z have done "a lot more" to destigmatize mental-health challenges and normalize counseling and therapy. Those are lessons that everyone can learn from, she said.

"You can harness that into a superpower in the workplace," Tsitrian said. "Showing up and really deeply understanding yourself from a psychological and just social, emotional perspective can make you a superstar facilitator."