Employment partner Charlie Thompson recently contributed to a long read article in The i (subscription required) about the generational differences in working styles between Gen Z and their elders. In this article Charlie provides full commentary on those differences and how employers can adapt accordingly.

Although it is tempting to paint in a broad brush, within each generational cohort there is a lot of diversity. The generally accepted groupings of Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z each encompass around 15-20 years so there is bound to be variation within each group.

The generations are also more similar than they may first appear. Everyone is – to a greater or lesser degree – motivated by money, opportunities and job satisfaction, and everyone is more likely to leave a job if they are unhappy or their expectations are not being met.


How is Generation Z different?

Gen Z appear to value workplace culture, career development and work-life balance more than previous generations. They appear less likely to ‘soldier on’ like their predecessors, and more likely to disengage or leave if they are dissatisfied

Older generations can sometimes view Gen Z employees as less hardworking and even entitled or hyper-sensitive. However, there cannot be much of a surprise that younger employees do not view their work the way their predecessors do.

There are three external factors which arguably accentuate the difference in worldview between Gen Z and other generations.

First is the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to a significant increase in remote working. Earlier generations have been moulded by years of going to the office five days a week, and spending more time there than at home. In office they learned how to do their job – more often passively by osmosis rather than in structured training. It’s there that they forged friendships (and sometimes romantic relationships). Being in the office also meant socialising with colleagues after work much more frequently. Gen Z have less experience of that life and less attachment to it as a concept, which older employees can find hard to understand.

Second is rising rents. The well-trodden path of house-sharing in inner London with young professional friends at the beginning of one’s career is less available. Younger employees are increasingly living further away from the office or living with their parents for longer. This is another factor which makes work and the office less central to the day-to-day lives of Gen Z.

Third is the efforts of earlier generations to improve conditions at work. After years of pushing for better work-life balance, increased corporate social responsibility and a greater understanding of the importance of mental health, we are now seeing a generation who arguably have a much healthier attitude towards work.


How can employers manage those differences?

Generation Z already makes up a significant proportion of the workforce, and the number will continue to increase. It will be futile to expect them to have the same attitudes to work as their predecessors.

However, there is enormous diversity within each generational cohort and each employee is an individual. Employers should take steps to research and understand what motivates their staff across the organisation.

They should also ensure that line managers are adequately trained on supervising and managing their junior employees. Line managers can sometimes be under the false impression that delivering a tough message to a sensitive junior employee will backfire. But with proper training and clear policies, these risks should be significantly reduced.



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