A Guide to Gen Z in the Workplace, Part 2: Communication

So, you’ve successfully recruited and hired the perfect candidate for your job. They’re smart, capable and a fantastic fit for the company culture.

They’re also 22, fresh out of undergrad and at least a decade younger than most people on the team. How in the world are you going to communicate with them?

What to Know About Gen Z at Work

Your new hire is a member of the workforce’s youngest generation, Generation Z. By 2020, this generation will make up roughly 20% of workers.

But who are they? Born between 1995 and 2015, Gen Zers grew up surrounded by technology and probably can’t remember the stone age of dial-up connections (much less having no internet at all). With friends, they might use slang like “slay” and “extra,” and they probably chronicle their lives on social media.

Despite all that, their communication style — at least at work — might surprise you. With a natural desire to put aside differences and engage with others person to person, Gen Zers have been called “communaholics” and “dialoguers.” On the whole, they value communication and connect more with employers who speak in their terms.

While Gen Z employees may look like their millennial coworkers, they’re certainly not the same. Leaders who spot the difference and adjust their communication strategy accordingly will see more success attracting (and retaining) these fresh faces.

Decoding Gen Z Communication Styles

Communicating with Gen Z workers is somewhat of a paradox: They’re interested in the latest technology, but not at the expense of human interaction. This means that they prefer to communicate face to face rather than via chat or text: Some 72% of them prefer in-person interactions at work, followed by text (11%) and email (9%). Surprisingly, online collaboration tools like Slack trailed behind at a meager 1%.

On the other hand, technology plays an important role in connecting — and, in particular, training — younger workers. About 43% of Gen Zers say they prefer to learn new skills autonomously at their own pace, such as through online learning platforms.

For employers, meeting those needs requires a careful balance between human connections and smart investments in technology. A good way to think about that balance could be from a macro-micro perspective.

  • Macro communications, like those involved in big-picture strategy, may be better off done face to face.
  • Micro communications, like those involved in more tactical tasks, may lend themselves better to digital collaboration tools.

Managing Gen Z at Work

If they could pick, Gen Zers would likely choose millennials as their managers, and not just because of the closeness in age. They saw their predecessors buck stereotypes to make professional inroads on their terms, and that’s a trait this label-rejecting cohort overwhelmingly appreciates.

But all supervisors — especially millennials — should understand that Gen Z workers want a more active communication loop. About 66% of Gen Zers say they’re likely to leave a job if they don’t get feedback at a minimum of every few weeks (compared to less than half of millennials).

Keep in mind, too, that feedback doesn’t have to take the form of a formal performance review. An impromptu check-in will do just fine: Just make sure it’s in real time and to the point. Depending on the circumstances, a thumbs-up emoji or “Great job!” scrawled on a sticky note might be all they need to remain happy, engaged and focused on the task at hand.

For more insights, read the previous and future installments of this series as it explores how to find the right balance for Generation Z in the workplace, from communication to health benefits.

COVID-19 Resources: Managing Your Business During a Crisis