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Tech-savvy, vocal, radically inclusive, pragmatic, and politically progressive are terms that have been used to describe Gen Z—the most recent and most diverse generation to enter the workforce.
As a Gen X or Millenial manager, it can be hard to know how to effectively communicate in the workplace with your Gen Z colleagues, even if there’s only a few years difference between you. Each generation has its unique characteristics that influence its values, work styles, and expectations, which can potentially lead to intergenerational clashes and mismatches in the workplace.
Effective communication within an organization is key to overcoming these challenges. Not only does it allow you to manage intergenerational teams, but knowing how to communicate with the younger generations helps you attract and retain Gen Z workers.
Who Is Gen Z?
Generation Z includes people born between 1996 and 2012. They are the youngest members of your workforce, aged 26 and under.
Generations are typically characterized by the events they grew up with. These events shape their values, outlook, and how they interact with the world around them.
For Gen Z, a defining feature of their childhoods is technology, especially smartphones. They are considered true digital natives as they have never known anything else when it comes to having technology in their lives. Gen Z is the first generation to never have lived in a world without the internet. They have grown up in a hyperconnected environment and—as a result—can build digital relationships that are as meaningful as real-life connections.
Other key events that have shaped Gen Z include:
- social media
- climate change
- the effects of terrorism, even if they haven’t lived through the events—such as 9/11—themselves
- human rights and social justice movements such as the Black Lives Matter, Arab Spring, and Me Too movements
- the aftermath of the Great Recession
- the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a result, Gen Z is typically tech-savvy and pragmatic with a developed awareness of social issues.
Gen Z is on track to make up a third of the workforce by the next decade. So understanding Gen Z’s attitudes to work and how to communicate with Gen Z employees is an essential skill for managers.
Gen Z in the Workplace
These defining events have developed certain workplace characteristics, as well as Gen Zs’ expectations of their employers.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion
A defining characteristic of Gen Z in the workplace is the importance they place on diversity. Demographics show that Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet to enter the workforce. They, therefore, have high expectations of their employer’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Employers seeking to attract and retain Gen Z workers need to demonstrate that DEI is one of their core organizational values. This involves embracing, promoting, and showcasing diversity in all its forms—age, race, gender, religion, disability, and education. Beyond clearly defined DEI policies, Gen Z expects clear action from its employer in terms of valuing and recognizing each employee for their unique contributions.
Alignment of values
In the workplace, Gen Z emphasizes finding an employer that aligns with their personal values. Having grown up witnessing and participating in a range of social movements, they want to be able to identify with their employer’s mission and engage with meaningful, impactful work.
Gen Z also expects their employer to act ethically—this goes beyond compliance to proactively take steps to address “moral blind spots”. Transparency and honesty are of utmost importance to Gen Z both in general and in the workplace. After all, Gen Z’s access to technology means they can fact-check anything, at any time. If you’re not walking the talk, be prepared for your Gen Z workers to call you out or even leave.
Gen Z also seeks a higher level of flexibility when it comes to well-being in the workplace than other generations. This is particularly relevant to benefits, autonomy, and work-life balance offered by an employer. Gen Z also expects their employers to prioritize employee mental health.
With these characteristics in mind, we can look at Gen Z’s communication preferences to understand how to effectively communicate with them in the workplace.
How Does Gen Z Define Good Communication?
As a fast-growing demographic of your workforce, it’s essential to understand how to communicate with Gen Z in the workplace. Poor internal communication comes with a cost, especially for your Gen Z workers. In one UK survey, 68% of employees aged 16 to 24 said poor internal communications could be a catalyst for them to quit.
Unsurprisingly for a generation that grew up with it, Gen Z is extremely comfortable using technology to communicate. They want options when it comes to communicating with their colleagues and can switch effortlessly between different platforms and channels.
The quicker this communication can happen, the better. Gen Zers are often described as having short attention spans, shaped by the use of social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok. But a more nuanced understanding of this is that Gen Zers have highly concentrated attention spans—on average, it takes them 6 to 8 seconds to understand if a piece of content is interesting for them. So ensuring your Gen Z workers can connect and communicate instantly is essential.
Gen Z communication is also typically informal. They prefer chat over email, where they can use emojis, GIFs, voice notes, and videos to quickly exchange ideas and contribute to conversations. Seeking a closer relationship to authority than their Millennial counterparts, Gen Zers’ manner of communicating is also more informal, even with managers and supervisors.
McKinsey describes Gen Zers as a “hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experience.” This means that when it comes to communication, Gen Zers are “dialoguers”—preferring discussion over confrontation.
5 Tips for Communicating With Gen Z
Prioritize mobile-first communication
Gen Z knows their way around a smartphone. Mobile-first connection and communication are second nature to them. So communicating with your Gen Z workers needs to be at least mobile-friendly, if not mobile-centric.
A mobile communication app such as Connecteam is a great way to do this. Interactive and flexible, an app facilitates high levels of real-time collaboration—an important workplace feature for your Gen Z workers.
The mobile communication app you choose needs to be visually appealing and responsive —60% of Gen Z won’t use an app that is too slow to load. Relying on a mobile connection app with poor user experience will likely result in low levels of engagement with your Gen Z workers.
In addition to facilitating direct communication between your employees, a mobile app gives your Gen Z employees on-demand access to information relevant to their role and company policies. It delivers a familiar social media-like experience where they can receive and react to regular company updates, maintaining their engagement.
Don’t forget human interaction
While mobile-first communication is important, a mobile app should only be the starting point when communicating with your Gen Z employees. Gen Z fully embraces technology but it still highly values human interaction. In fact, it may even prefer it to digital communication given its important role in building authentic relationships.
Setting up regular one-to-ones with your Gen Z workers is a good way to address this preference. In addition to giving you a chance to provide regular feedback to them, these catch-ups also offer Gen Z the chance to be heard on any issues or concerns they have.
Regular face-to-face communication also helps combat digital stress and offers a break from the constant digital connectivity Gen Z is likely to be immersed in. Given Gen Z’s expectations of employers when it comes to employee mental health and well-being, this is a worthwhile topic to address.
Use communication to support and promote diversity and inclusion
Gen Z expects their employer to support and promote the diversity their generation represents. With up to 75% of Gen Z employees saying they would reconsider applying for a role if they were unsatisfied with the employer’s approach to DEI, it’s important that your organization not only has strong DEI policies and procedures but that you also communicate them to your employees.
Digital communication channels—such as a mobile app—provide employees with the space for inclusive and informative conversations. You can also use these channels to highlight the actions your organization is taking to ensure DEI in your workplace, reinforcing that your organization takes these issues seriously. These channels can also be used to communicate your organization’s other cultural values to Gen Z workers.
Communicate honestly and transparently
We know that Gen Z values honesty and transparency. Your communication with your youngest workers is a great way to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to these values. In one UK survey, 53% of respondents in the 16-24 year age bracket said they would accept a pay cut to work for an employer who more frankly communicated its strategy to its workers.
Disingenuous or vague messaging won’t go down well with your Gen Z workers. Keep in mind that Gen Zers are fact-checkers by nature. They won’t hesitate to do their own research to get to the truth of a matter. Uncovering dishonesty not only puts your Gen Z workers offside, but they will also be the first to call it out and bring it to their coworkers’ attention.
This is why clear, honest, and transparent communication builds better engagement and loyalty with your Gen Z employees. When you communicate with candor and authenticity, Gen Z feels they can trust you as an employer.
Feedback is essential
Gen Z is used to regular feedback and expects it from their employer. 40% of Gen Z respondents in one survey said they want daily interactions with their manager and they will assume something is wrong if they don’t have them. This is why one aspect of your communication strategy with your Gen Z workers should focus on giving regular feedback on their work—for example—during your one-to-ones with them.
In contrast to Millennials who thrive on positive reinforcement, Gen Z is willing to embrace and learn from their failures. Providing candid feedback supports their professional development while also demonstrating your commitment to honest communication.
But you also need to be prepared for this feedback to go both ways. Gen Z is comfortable
raising any concerns they have and expects their employer to listen to them and take their feedback on board.
Effective Intergenerational Communication
Knowing how to effectively communicate in the workplace with your Gen Z workers is a key skill for managers and supervisors. But intergenerational communication can be a steep learning curve for everyone involved.
Using a mobile communication app is a great place to start. On top of that, setting up regular one-to-ones satisfies your Gen Z employees’ need for both face-to-face interactions and regular feedback. Approaching any communication with honesty and transparency also helps you to effectively communicate with your Gen Z workers.
An awareness of common generational characteristics can be useful in understanding how Gen Z operates and thrives in the workplace—as well as supporting intergenerational communication. But it’s also important not to oversimplify or overgeneralize. Regardless of their generation, each employee is unique and your job as a manager is to recognize this and treat them as such.
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