Advice for leaders to bridge generational gap & get the best out of their younger employees [W&S 76]

Managing the Millennial and Gen Z Workforce

The rise of millennials and Gen Zers in the workforce has led to a seismic cultural shift, leaving many managers grappling with how to effectively lead and retain this new wave of employees. We dive deep into this struggle with the help of special guest Vivek, an author, speaker, trainer, and coach specialising in cross-generational leadership.

“I noticed that there was a gap that was happening in a lot of social situations where I would hear the same topic keep come up over and over again,” Vivek explained. “People are either saying, ‘Oh, it’s very hard to work with them. I don’t like them. They are very entitled,’ – all the different stereotypes.”

As a millennial himself, Vivek felt it was important to give voice to the strengths and contributions of younger generations, rather than just focusing on the perceived challenges. He also noticed a lack of Asia-focused research on the topic, compared to the wealth of US-based studies.

The Generational Divide

The conversation kicks off by acknowledging the recurring generational clash – every new group of graduates is labeled by their predecessors as lazy, entitled, or disruptive to tradition. However, Vivek argues this modern divide is exacerbated by rapid technological changes.

“In Gen Z especially, we have what we call ‘blue tick anxiety,'” Vivek explains. The inability to receive an instant response from managers can trigger self-doubt and anxiety in Gen Z employees accustomed to lightning-fast digital communication.

Vivek also points to “ghosting” – abruptly cutting off communication to avoid difficult conversations – as a trait more prevalent in younger generations. “If it’s too difficult to handle, I might as well just ghost because that’s the easiest thing to do,” he says of their mindset.

Key Differences Across Generations

While technology has amplified generational differences, Vivek notes distinctions even within groups:

Elder Millennials (born in the 80s) had one foot in the analog world, playing outside as kids before video games took over.
Younger Millennials and Gen Z are digital natives who grew up with constant connectivity from mobile devices and gaming consoles.
“A lot of them become a lot more self-aware, savvier with the technology, but at the same time, they also lose out on the human skills,” says Vivek, referring to younger employees’ struggles with emotional intelligence and face-to-face interaction.

Key Behavioral Differences Observed

Through his research and experience, some of the core differences they’ve observed between generations. “Gen Zs especially deal with ‘blue tick anxiety’,” revealed Vivek. This refers to anxiously second-guessing themselves if a manager doesn’t respond on a messaging platform within 30 seconds of reading their message. Ghosting difficult conversations was another trait Vivek associates more with younger workers. As he noted, “If it’s too difficult to handle, I might as well just ghost because that’s the easiest thing to do.” While all generations struggle with these things to some degree, technology and expectations have exacerbated anxiety for newer entrants to the workforce.

Vivek identified several key behavioural differences that distinguish millennials and Gen Z from previous generations:

  1. “Blue Tick Anxiety”: The expectation of instant responses to messages, leading to anxiety and second-guessing when a reply is delayed.

  2. Difficulty with Difficult Conversations: A tendency to “ghost” rather than engage in tough conversations, a behavior often carried over from personal relationships.

  3. Comparison and Contrast: A propensity to benchmark their workplace experiences against those of their peers, leading to heightened expectations.

Vivek emphasised that while these behaviours may be more pronounced in the younger generations, they are not entirely new. “These are things that the previous generations have also struggled with,” he noted. “It’s just that the expectations have become a lot faster due to technology.”

Vivek suggested leaders “get into their world, understand the lingo they use” to forge rapport. He also stressed the importance of coaching over directive management: “It’s not about feeding answers but empowering people to find their own answers.”

What can younger workers do to work well with managers?

Vivek’s response: understand their motivations by asking “What drives you? What do you want to create for yourself?” This helps align individual goals with the organisation.

Managing the Modern Employee

For managers looking to successfully lead their millennial and Gen Z workers, Vivek offers this advice:

  • Immerse yourself in their world by learning the lingo and understanding what motivates them. Observe how they behave under stress.
  • Ditch the lecturer approach. Instead, ask thought-provoking questions to empower employees to find their own solutions and discover their “why.”
  • Prioritise rapport-building early on by increasing similarities and making genuine efforts to relate. Poor rapport makes coaching near impossible.
  • Set clear expectations and provide psychological safety. Don’t demand perfection – give room for growth through continuous feedback and milestones.

The Double-Edged Sword of Job-Hopping

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the embrace of “quit tok” and rampant job-hopping among Gen Z and millennial workers.

“It’s like every other thing – water tok, witch tok…now quit also has a ‘tok,'” Reggie laments, referring to trending videos where people broadcast quitting their jobs.

Vivek confirms “they will showcase live that you are quitting the job and then the journey forward from there.”

While investing resources into engaged, long-term employees is ideal, managers must accept higher turnover is the new normal. The key is creating an environment where employees feel valued and developed, even if for a relatively short tenure.

As industries continue evolving alongside generations, managers brave enough to adapt and bridge cultural gaps will be poised to build productive, engaged teams fueled by multi-generational strengths. The struggle is indeed perennial, but innovative leadership can turn clashing into collaboration.

Staying Interviews, Not Just Exit Interviews

Vivek recommends “stay interviews instead of just exit interviews.” In an exit interview after resigning, employees won’t fully disclose dissatisfiers due to entrenched negative feelings. But regular stay interviews probing what’s keeping them invested can surface issues to address proactively.

Managing Multigenerational Remote Teams

With hybrid work models growing in popularity, the guests discussed challenges for remote multigenerational management. Technology amplifies differences in communication preferences that were less visible in shared offices. Leaders must understand various stress signatures to empathize across generational divides when working apart. Setting clear remote guidelines and frequent check-ins are also important to foster psychosocial safety for all.

Overall, the discussion emphasised empathising with lived experiences outside one’s own. With open communication and a willingness to understand various perspectives, work challenges between generations become opportunities for growth. Managers who make that connection will be rewarded with high-performing, low-turnover teams.

You can check their full interview on Wise & Shine, Episode 76 on Spotify, YouTube, Apple podcast for a researched-back sharing on being a multi-generational manager and understanding younger professionals better.

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