I’ve been complaining. A lot. About the Gen Zs I work with.
And you may be, too.
Gen Zs are known for many things. Idealistic, passionate, purposeful.
But a solid work ethic, doesn’t seem to be one of the qualities they are known for.
Let me tell you my experience.
Then we met our first intern
I hired a 20-year-old intern in June 2022 to do marketing for us. His job scope in the first month was posting on Instagram.
After the first month, he asked for a 20% pay rise. Granted, we were only paying him $500 a month, but posting 8 posts per month for $500, was a lot of money (for us as a business).
And I didn’t see the kind of engagement that warranted a sudden increase in pay.
In the second month, when I asked him to do something extra, he asked if he would be paid for it.
In my mind I was thinking…
What do you mean? Am I not already paying you monthly?
We started giving him more responsibilities. We asked him to write an article for our site and post it on WordPress. He missed the deadline, and then when I asked him where it was, he said he needed more time to be familiar with it.
Then we asked him to do a podcast. Again, when we asked him where it was, he said he was not familiar and needed to shadow us to learn how to do so.
We then upgraded him from a part-time to fulltime role. We raised his pay from the part time $500 per month, to $1200 per month. When we did so, the first thing he did was to tell me,
I saw that other places are paying $1500 for similar roles.
Can you pay higher?
By now, I could see some worrying patterns. He was missing deadlines, and asking for extensions, after the deadline, and after I found out that he had yet to do the work.
And he was constantly asking for more money.
Then came a Saturday afternoon
One Saturday afternoon, we met as a team. We asked him to publish the Facebook ads by the end of the day.
To our surprise, on Monday, when I asked him where the ads were, he told me,
It seems like I’m expected to work Saturdays too.
Sure, you may not be, but why didn’t you tell us on Saturday that you couldn’t do it?
The final straw
One Thursday, we assigned him some client work. I asked him when he could finish the edits to the site. He told us that he could do it by Friday.
We told the client that we could finish it by Sunday based on what he told us.
And on Friday, I checked in with him to ask if he had problems.
On Saturday, when I checked the site, you can imagine now.
There was no work.
And when I asked him, he told me that he needed till Monday to do it.
I gave up.
This isn’t my only working experience with Gen Zs.
I may be wrong, but here are three patterns I noticed.
This is based on my experience working with Gen Zs, and also published papers about what others have noticed about Gen Zs.
There’s no intention here to broad brush Gen Zs as ‘bad’. But from multiple conversations I’ve had with others who have managed Gen Zs, it seems to be a recurring theme.
Courage to ask for money
The Gen Z grows up in an attention economy. Where they can find out anything and everything at the tap of their fingers. That also means it’s dangerous for the employer, because they may start demanding things of you.
And from the 3 Gen Zs I’ve worked with, I’ve noticed that they have the courage to ask. They will ask for more pay, to be paid on time, whereas the older people on my teams have had a different mentality.
For the older people, they work on a basis of:
results, for money.
But for the Gen Zs I’ve worked with, it almost seems like their attitude is,
money, for (more) results.
They would take you to task for what you’ve said.
One of the most worrying things I saw was when my intern went through a month of WhatsApp chat history to refer me to the exact message to tell me that I had told him only to do X.
And anything out of that work scope needed more money.
Another graphic designer I worked with did the same. I had asked her for illustrations for a book cover. But when the publisher rejected the book cover, stating that it was not something they dared to publish, I asked for a redraw.
She once again referred me to the contract, and told me that only minor amendments could be made.
Sure. She was protected by the contract.
But she had not delivered the output I’d desired.
A publishable cover page.
It frustrated me to see this again and again, where Gen Zs would ask for their money, but deliver a fraction of the output desired.
And as the Rainmaker survey above found, Gen Zs do care about their compensation.
You, as their boss, is there to make that happen.
A strong sense of ego
It could be said for everyone who’s been young before, that there’s a strong sense of ego. That one is good (or possibly great).
From my experience, it’s come out stronger in Gen Zs because they grew up in an age of social media, where life has become a theatre to show off their world to a willing audience.
And when you can ‘unfollow’ the people you don’t like, and follow the people you like, the worry is that this will create ‘echo chambers’, as the documentary The Social Dilemma pointed out.
It was initially hard for me to understand why my intern asked for pay rises so many times, when it was clear that the work hadn’t necessarily generated much engagement.
Then I realised he had grown up in a world where there were reward mechanisms just for posting and sharing content, whether or not it achieved a business objective.
Think about it.
If you post today, you will get likes and comments. If you were in school, you would receive a certificate of participation just for attending an event.
Faced with this, how do you manage Gen Zs?
First who, then what
Is grit a factor that can be selected for?
I think so.
After these experiences, I’ve begun selecting for grittiness, rather than the usual things you see on a CV – academic qualifications, background, and past work experiences.
Instead, I’ve begun to look out for people with an unconventional background.
People who grow up in difficult circumstances, and are willing to fight.
How do you choose that? Key interview questions have been:
- You’ve done quite a bit over the past few years. Tell me more about your growing up experience.
- What was the most formative experience in your growing up years?
You might call me biased, but one of our favourite mechanisms for selecting a candidate is a history of hardship. If they have been in difficult financial situations, I’ve come to see that they are more willing to fight.
As business guru Jim Collins once shared, first choose the person, before telling the person what to do.
But too often, we find out what we need to do, before finding the right person.
How might this work out?
In our business, I’ve found that it’s vital to have a business priority – say, to increase revenues to 100k per year, but then to be looser about how we will get there.
That allowed us to bring in some exceptional candidates who made their mark on how we would get to our goal.
Be clear who’s boss
As the boss, you need to be clear about what’s okay, and what’s not.
Stamping your authority on the team, and making sure that your Gen Z is clear who’s top dog, is vital. I’m not saying this to boost your ego and to go around like an evil dictator.
But I’m saying this because clarity will help your Gen Z, especially when he may be working in a fulltime role for the very first time.
To them, basic things like
- Starting work on time, at 9
- Being on time for meetings
- Being on time with deadlines, and asking for extensions if it was not doable
May not actually be that basic.
One of the key things that I tried to do to introduce greater clarity, was:
- Have weekly 1-1 meetings (face to face ideally), where we would talk about what he was doing, what he was struggling with, and where he needed help in
- Tell him immediately when he went wrong
- Ask him to write out his reflections at 1, 3 and 6 month intervals about what was going well and what could improve
Are Gen Zs worth the trouble?
Bruce Tulgan, found in his survey that supportive leadership and positive relationships at work mattered to Gen Zs.
But only you can answer for yourself whether they are worth the trouble.
For now, I know that I can’t deal with them as of yet.
If you have any ideas, please share them below.