The Gen Z Takeover — How to Empower the Next Generation of Leaders

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The kids are here to stay. And they don’t want to play by our rules (ours, being anyone millennial and up). As more and more Gen Z workers enter the workforce, there has been so much said about this new bunch of worker bees — except they aren’t like the bees we’re used to. Despite the stereotypes and assumptions many of us old-heads might have, Gen Z is a force to be reckoned with. Why? Well, they have the right to, just like we did.

My company employs a handful of Gen Z worker bees, and I’d be lying if I said it was an easy adjustment. Back in my day — yes, my day was a lot different — I came up in a work environment where the big guys in big suits told us what to do, and even if we were scared sick, we were even more scared to take a sick day. That is until the world took a collective sick day during the pandemic. The impressionable, frightened and inconveniently inexperienced Gen Z had to jump into a workforce that none of us were prepared for.

It seemed like rules and expectations were changing regularly and, mostly for the better, these changes opened many workers’ eyes to the possibility of what the hive could be. Things that we craved like flexibility and safety were not only expected but demanded. And the kids — I mean Gen Z — came in never knowing what work-life was truly like before 2020.

Related: 7 Things to Know Before You Manage a Gen Z Team

Gen Z worker bees were thrust into the workforce lacking the experience of the generations before them. Yes, they’re great at social media and technology, but with that comes stunted skills in interpersonal communication, confidence using phones (back-in-the-day phones with voices on the other end) and the ability to keep attention for longer than a TikTok reel.

Some of these issues we older generations observe within Gen Z can be extremely frustrating. We want them to work exactly the way we did, but it is impossible to expect certain behaviors to appear out of nowhere. And studies are showing a rapid increase in mental health issues with Gen Z (but really, I believe we all are affected by increased use of social media and instant gratification) that further puts them at a slight disadvantage, being more afraid to speak up for themselves, having low self-esteem and energy, etc.

Here’s the reality: Gen Z is the future. The future of now. At Bear Icebox, our goal is to empower our Gen Z worker bees to rise above and become true leaders — in their own way. These are some of the ways we’re empowering our team:

Expression in a safe place

Gen Z is not afraid of self-expression. We see this displayed through their dress and social media platforms. But where that fearlessness ends is when it comes to receiving feedback or speaking up for themselves in unfamiliar situations. We do our best to encourage our team to speak up and speak out, especially in these uncomfortable situations. Why? The ones who are comfortable being uncomfortable will rule.

In my experience, I’ve always been vocal. In fact, at the last few jobs I had prior to Bear Icebox, I actively participated in revising and updating outdated policies. Speaking up was risky, but I learned that having a risk-taking mindset is what set me apart. It is my job now to encourage this new generation of leaders to do the same.

Related: I’m a Millennial Who Manages Gen Z Workers. The Hardest Thing About It Is Dealing With All Their ‘Feelings About Work.’

Engaging collaboration

It is my observation that Gen Z has a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to feel like they’re making a difference or an impact on the world. When it comes to the workplace, Gen Z workers aren’t just chasing money like previous generations — they want their voices heard. So give them a space to be truly collaborative.

At Bear Icebox, we encourage open dialogue and collaboration, not only on client projects but also on internal policies and practices. The old-school way of managing looked more like a dictatorship (okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I like a little dramatic flair), but the new generations are going to expect to be just as much a part of decision-making as their superiors. The ever-changing rules of the workplace since the pandemic have opened the door to this type of collaboration between managers and employees. And I don’t see things stopping any time soon.

Embracing the realness

Gen Z is very honest. Very, very honest. Though their lives have been curated since labor and delivery, there’s a sweet innocence in their unfiltered vulnerability. In my experience working with Gen Z, they’ve told me things I would have never thought to tell my supervisor — even my mom for that matter. But this openness and authenticity is quite refreshing. Our agency has a full-transparency mission (it’s why we started Bear Icebox to begin with) to always be honest, clear and receptive. The truth is, when everyone feels that they can be real and authentic in the workplace, that builds trust and confidence for the future leaders.

Related: Gen Z Brings a Whole New Dynamic to the Workforce

Expecting an open mind

People change on a day-to-day basis. That’s just the way life is. And if you aren’t able to keep an open mind about it, things can get tough. To me, an open mind isn’t just about accepting someone else’s ideas or way of life, rather, it’s about staying open to that person when things change. Gen Z is likely going to go through many changes — as they should. They are young, and whether we have the patience for it or not, they’re still learning. In fact, we’re all still learning. But the learning part is easier when we do it together. Expect an open mind, expect change and discomfort. It will keep you less rigid and hopefully less frustrated.

As leaders prepping the new leaders of the world, we have to show our strength by being a foundation for the younger generation. With all of our experience and wisdom of behaviors that worked and didn’t work, we actually have the power to make everything better. We do nothing when we complain. Magic happens when we act.

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