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Managers Not Too Enthusiastic About Generation Z Coming to Work

A young woman in glasses sitting at a desk in an office.

​They'll be difficult to manage, hard to communicate with and won't have a particularly strong work ethic.

While that may sound like what older generations were saying about Millennials not too long ago, it's also what some workplace managers are now saying about the latest addition to the workforce—Generation Z.

Generation Z members—generally, those born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s—are just now entering the workforce. And they haven't particularly impressed their more-seasoned co-workers, according to a new poll from APPrise Mobile, a mobile employee communications tool.

"To the extent Millennials are associated with 'entitlement,' there probably is a level of fear that Gen Z will turn out worse," said APPrise Mobile's founder and CEO, Jeff Corbin. "The farther away in age, the greater the likelihood that [current managers] believe that they won't be able to relate to [Gen Z]."

Among the findings of the poll, which relied on a Google Consumer Survey of 1,000 workplace managers in the United States:

  • More than a third (36 percent) of managers believe that Generation Z will be more difficult to manage than older generations.
  • 27 percent of managers believe Millennials will be harder workers than Generation Z, compared with 16 percent who believe it will be the other way around.
  • 29 percent of respondents expect it will be more difficult to train employees from Generation Z compared to older generations.
  • 26 percent said it will be more difficult to communicate with them.
  • Millennial managers appear most worried about company culture: 20 percent of Millennial managers said they believed that Generation Z would make the company culture worse.
  • Only 2 percent of respondents feel that phone calls will be an effective way to communicate with Generation Z. As a result, the survey authors wrote, "Connecting over the phone could become a thing of the past."

Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based consultancy Rainmaker Thinking, said managers' fears about Generation Z may not be unfounded.  He said his own research shows that managers worry most that Generation Z will view jobs as short-term transactional relationships and that these youngest workers will demand a great deal of flexibility and responsibility early in their working lives.

"It may be attributable to being raised by helicopter parents who have provided more guidance, direction, support and coaching to young people than any generation in history," Tulgan said. Thus, these young people "often have unrealistic expectations about where they stand in relation to others and what they can hope to achieve and receive in the first years of employment. [They aren't] going to want to take it slowly, get a feel for the place, learn who's who and what's what before starting to add value.  They want to be set up for success, and they want to start proving themselves on Day One."

Given that most Generation Z members grew up with a mobile device in their hands, "there is a tendency and expectation of instantaneous gratification," Corbin said. "They want the answers now.  They are all about tweets and short responses. As a result, many Gen Zers are going to be too quick to respond rather than deliberate and thoughtful.  … [T]he concept of professionalism, formality and quality in communications may be a foreign one to many in Gen Z, which could be problematic to older generations."

On the Bright Side

On the other hand, 44 percent of managers believe Generation Z's reliance on technology will be an advantage as they enter the workforce, the poll found.

But that doesn't mean that companies necessarily have the cutting-edge technological tools that Generation Z is likely to expect.

"Companies aren't necessarily on board with mobile as a business strategy," Corbin said.  "Yes, they recognize that [it's] important, but what about the ways they are doing business that haven't changed even though the people they are dealing with and their ways of living have changed considerably?"

For example, he said, many companies still spend considerable resources creating lengthy newsletters that are distributed through the usual channels—such as print, intranets and e-mail.

"Are Gen Zers really opening an e-mail and reading an entire newsletter on their mobile device?" he asked. "My eyes are hurting just thinking about it.  Are they spending an hour at their computer after work reading the newsletter or printing it out?  To really embrace the philosophy of being part of a digital workplace, [companies] should rethink the newsletter in terms of how Gen Z [is] consuming content and their predilection for short stories, newsfeeds and soundbites."

Tulgan said his research suggests a downside to Generation Z's reliance on technology.

"A lot of employers are troubled that young workers are always on their devices during work, distracting them from work throughout the day," he said. "Some young workers may want their employers to 'get over it' and let them use their devices all day, freely, without being bothered about it."

Same Old Story?

[SHRM members-only Express Request: Generation Z/Centennials]

It wasn't too long ago that a poll by American Express and consulting firm Millennial Branding found that many managers tended to look askance at Millennial employees, believing them to be slackers with little focus and inflated compensation demands. And research from EY, the global firm that includes Ernst & Young LLP, found that employees widely perceived their Millennial managers to be entitled types who were easily frustrated and mostly out for themselves.

Donna L. Haeger, a professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, said that hasn't necessarily turned out to be the case.

"My research into [Baby Boomers] and Millennials has [revealed] a lot of assumptions that are baseless," said Haeger, who has conducted considerable research on intergenerational exchanges in the workplace. "Asking people what they think will happen is not the same as finding out what is making them think this way. Ultimately, as managers, how we understand employees indicates how we affect policy and interactions. I do not think any cohort will be difficult as managers or employees as long as we strive for a shared understanding. All have strong contributions to make as long as we cultivate one another's strengths."

Said Corbin: "Older generations are inherently going to be skeptical of the newer and younger ones.  I think the expectation that Gen Z will negatively impact company cultures is the result of the fear of the unknown. And that's OK. Better to be wary and prepared than not."

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