Unlocking the Gen Z code: Bridging the leadership gap in turbulent times

Gen X leaders must step out of their comfort zone to try new ways to engage and motivate their Gen Z team members.

Gen Z is a constant topic of discussion in the talent management world – especially the evolution of this workforce and its impact on the global workforce distribution and work culture. However, the volatile economic conditions today and the constant threat of recession can be challenging for organizations. To thrive in this environment, organizations are prioritizing various execution strategies to adapt to the evolving marketplace, which may impact the different groups of the workforce. It is critical to understand this impact on the organization and employees. 

Organizational focus 

There are several key hurdles that organizations encounter in today’s volatile environment. One challenge is the uncertainty and unpredictability of the market, making it difficult to plan and make strategic decisions. Moreover, organizations may struggle with maintaining a skilled workforce due to layoffs or budget constraints. Additionally, access to capital and financing becomes trickier, making investing in growth or overcoming financial difficulties harder. 

To plan for a viable future, organizations prioritize careful analysis to assess their current capacity and identify potential bottlenecks or constraints. To swiftly adapt to changing circumstances, they monitor and analyze customer feedback, market data and macroeconomic indicators to provide insights into emerging opportunities and risks. 

Gen Z focus 

Deloitte’s Global 2022 Gen Z Survey reviewed the last three years’ impact on this workforce group to understand focus areas of concern and opportunities to build a suitable future workforce model. The survey reported poor pay, detrimental mental health and burnout were the top three reasons cited by Gen Zs to leave their job. Additionally, Gen Zs indicated that good work-life balance, learning and development opportunities and high salary/financial benefits were their top three reasons for selecting their new position. 

These reasons indicate that the Gen Z workforce values organizations that empower them to provide purposeful work, flexible work arrangements and opportunities for growth and development. These values are in direct conflict with what the organization can provide in these challenging times. 

Today’s leadership challenge 

Talent leaders are in the unenviable position of facilitating conversations between the organization and the Gen Z workforce and they are often stuck as they try to drive motivation and engagement with few resources.

DDI’s 2018 Global Leadership Forecast reported that 51 percent of leadership roles globally are held by Gen X and will continue playing a significant leadership role for the next eight to 25 years. Often dubbed as the middle child, this generation of leaders has been at the cusp of all evolving digital and technology trends. 

Gen X’s leadership development was influenced by the social and economic trends of the 90s to early 2000s, defined by the emergence of digital technology, global workforce, the conscious introduction of diversity programs, STEM initiatives, multiple recessions and global collaboration. The Gen X leadership style is defined by their commitment to the organization through resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and strong presence during critical moments and transitions. 

While Gen X leaders prioritize efficiency and resilience to manage these challenging times for organizational viability, Gen Z employees are looking for financial stability and development opportunities as must-haves to manage the chaos in this market condition. 

As Gen X leaders value autonomy and adaptability, they are likely drawn to similar traits in others. They coach team members to perform independently by giving them room to make decisions and solve problems. However, to succeed with the Gen Z population, they must gain new leadership muscles and constantly define and redefine processes and expectations to engage their Gen X team members. 

Renewing leadership styles

Gen X leaders can flex their leadership strengths by acknowledging that the Gen Z population might only sometimes have the depth or breadth of the required expertise to process the current economic situation or the rationale for the organization’s strategic decision-making. Gen X leaders must consider the unique preferences and perspectives of their Gen Z team and avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach. While this shift might not be intuitive in the beginning, Gen X’s resilience (and the tips and tricks below) will accelerate their efforts to lead the new incoming workforce exponentially. 

  1. Communication

Gen X leaders can embrace Gen Z’s preferred communication methods to be more tech-savvy and shift towards instant messaging and social media platforms. At work, efforts to use informal platforms (Messages, WhatsApp, etc.) to facilitate open channels for communication will work much better than email or meeting invites. Leverage infographics, videos, interactive presentations and emojis to effectively express emotions and convey messages. Given Gen Z’s concerns regarding financial stability, transparent and open communication channels related to compensation can also empower them and provide the opportunity for more candid conversations. 

  1. Collaboration

Gen Z values learning and flexibility options. Leaders can promote collaboration in the following ways: 

  • Utilize collaboration tools and platforms like Slack, Teams, etc., that align with Gen Z’s digital fluency to enable idea sharing. 
  • Practice active listening to create a safe, inclusive environment where all ideas are valued. 
  • Pair with experienced mentors who can guide and support professional development. This enables cross-generational collaboration and knowledge sharing and respects Gen Z’s need for continuous learning. 
  • Celebrate teamwork and create opportunities for cross-functional collaboration by encouraging Gen Z employees to work together on projects that align with their interests and expertise. 
  • Offer opportunities for remote work and flexible schedules, enabling collaboration beyond traditional office hours. 
  1. Connection

Almost half (46 percent) of the Gen Z workforce is experiencing stress and anxiety at work all or most of the time. Unhealthy team culture, harassment and long-term financial future all drive this anxiety at work. Some options to enhance employee connections include: 

  • Team-building activities or in-person and virtual social events can be a fantastic way to build connections among Gen Z employees. 
  • Volunteer opportunity workshops can create a sense of camaraderie and drive meaning and purpose among employees. 
  • Consistent brainstorming sessions, casual group lunches and virtual celebrations can foster and scale connections across small and large groups.