How Much Should We Accommodate Generation Z?

An argument could be made that workplaces accommodated the Millennial generation too much. After all, was any previous generation worried about to such an extent? When my Generation X entered the workforce there wasn’t that much worry, much less angst, about our arrival. I suspect it was the same for those older than us. 

I saw yet another article a few weeks ago in The New York Times about keeping Generation Z workers happy. The idea of hiring a consultant especially for that purpose was dangled.

The argument for thinking strategically about keeping entry-level employees happy is that your competitors are doing it, so if you don’t do it, your employees will seek employment elsewhere. Do you think that’s true? If so, how much accommodation is required, and more importantly, what is the long-term developmental impact of such coddling? 

There are general comforts that make sense to extend to all employees because they are dictated by common sense rather than the needs of a particular generation. For example, in the digital age, employees who are not customer-facing shouldn’t be required to come into the office unless there is a specific purpose like a meeting or a project that requires in-person interaction. Similarly, unless there is a particular reason that an employee needs to work specific hours each day, it should be up to employees which hours they choose to work. As long as those hours add up to a full-time schedule, and the works gets done on time and in good condition, it shouldn’t matter. Those are comforts that simply make sense.

Then there are comforts that are thought of as generational, such as the focus of Generation Z and Millennials on collaboration. It’s a corporate compulsion today to encourage and even enforce it through open-plan layouts and shared online systems, group work, and near-constant interaction. But let’s say the work your employees do doesn’t require such collaboration. In truth, maybe the work they do benefits the most from solitary concentration. You’ve heard the younger generations like heavy collaboration and interaction. What do you do? Do you throw in superfluous collaboration and interaction requirements? Or do you simply break the news to these young people that they sometimes need to work independently, focused within, for certain periods of time?

The younger generations, often raised with significant parental oversight and scrutinizing, are said to like managers who hold their hand through assignments. It’s great to make new employees feel secure in their jobs, but, in the long-run, is hand-holding a good idea? If you start employees off with the mindset that they have to frequently check in with managers for approval, and get detailed instructions for assignments, how will that impact their development? With that early accommodation, I foresee a generation of insecure employees too frequently in need of affirmation. These employees I envision would be paralyzed with fear to move forward in their work without the manager’s express approval and expression of happiness. Those aren’t employees I would want at a company I owned. Do these employees sound like the kind you would want?

If not, what are ideas for doing a humane kind of sink-or-swim? You could start by showing confidence in new employees right from the start. That means sending a message of empowerment. Managers would be encouraged to let new employees know they were carefully chosen for their new jobs, and that the manager has faith in their abilities. Part of that faith is a belief that even new employees can be trusted to use their good judgement to make decisions on their own. 

Much has been made of the “latch-key” kids of Generation X. The good part about being a latch-key kid is you’re used to not having a babysitter. Maybe Generation Z can become honorary workplace latch-key kids and learn how much they can figure out all on their own. 

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