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The Workplace Isn’t Designed for Gen Z. Here’s What Needs to Change

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Like the generations that have come before them, Gen Z (born 1997-2012) has become a fixture of media attention and opinion. They’ve been labeled “the loneliest generation.” They’ve been hailed “the most creative generation.” And they’ve been dubbed “the most individualistic generation.” 

It’s tempting to apply these high-flown labels to Gen Z. But be wary. Many experts argue that these overly general classifications–including the Gen Z classification itself– are not meaningful distinctions and should not inform workplace decisions. Indeed, research consistently shows that classifications are created as a matter of practicality and utility and that they may actually do more harm than good (if you haven’t read Sorting Things Out, I highly recommend it). 

But there is one label that is appropriate for Gen Z and that is: “the future of your workplace.” As a leader, you need to design your workplace to enable this generation to succeed–not because of some overly simplistic generational lettering system, but because of their unique experiences. Gen Z grew up alongside the rise of social media and they entered the workplace during a global pandemic. This has shaped a generation that is fighting back against the traditional workplace–a workplace that, quite simply, hasn’t been designed for them. That ought to be a wake-up call. 

Gen Z craves more structured hybrid work. 

While many workplaces are doubling down on remote work, Gen Z is gravitating toward hybrid work–a fusion of in-office and remote work. Recent research by my company, Asana, found that 68 percent of Gen Z want hybrid work. But, importantly, Gen Zs don’t want unbridled hybrid work–they want structured hybrid work. They want to work at companies that set specific days for employees to be in the office. And they also want their organizations to set specific hours for synchronous work (working together at the same time, whether in person or remotely).

These preferences make a lot of sense. Having entered the workplace during the pandemic, Gen Zs haven’t developed time-tested workplace habits, routines, and relationships. They want more of a level playing field in terms of how work happens. My own research has found that there’s often FOMO lurking in unstructured hybrid environments because workers can’t reliably predict who will be in the office and who won’t be. Gen Z wants to avoid this. And they need your support in creating more structured hybrid environments. 

Gen Z wants to switch off.  

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up during a time when social media was mainstream. Because of their intimate connection with social media, they tend to have more immersive and embedded relationships with technology in general. 

But this doesn’t mean that they are swiping right on their relationships with technology. Quite the opposite, Gen Z is particularly sensitive to the toxic impacts of workplace technology. Asana’s research found that Gen Z feels the digital “tax” of context switching between different apps more acutely than other generations–and this can wreak havoc on their ability to succeed in the modern workplace. 

Feeling the negative blows of technology, Gen Zs are taking a stand and voting with their feet. The research also found that they are most likely of any generation to work at organizations that help employees switch off outside of standard work hours. As a leader, if you don’t equip your workers with a toolkit to combat technology overload, other organizations will. 

Gen Z yearns for mental health support. 

Gen Z’s embedded relationship with technology has also taken a toll on their mental health–and this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Unlike their predecessors, Gen Zs haven’t been conditioned to accept a lack of support for burnout and mental health from their companies. And–good for them–they’re fighting back. 

Gen Zs are demanding that their workplaces prioritize mental health and proactively help them reduce burnout. According to Asana’s research, Gen Zs say that they are most motivated and inspired to do their best work when they know that their workplaces are serious about tackling burnout. 

Unfortunately, many workplaces are missing the mark. Nearly half (47 percent) of Gen Zs don’t believe their companies care about their wellbeing. As a leader, prioritizing your employees’ mental health and wellbeing needs to be part of your top-down strategy, especially in our current uncertain and challenging times. 

Design for Gen Z.

As a leader, it can be dangerous to make decisions based on arbitrary classification systems like generational classifications, intriguing as they may be. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that Gen Z is a unique group because of the historical landscape that shrouded them growing up, and as they entered the workplace.

Gen Zs are the undeniable future of your workplace. So, the onus is on you to redesign your workplace for them. Fail to do so and this so-called “loneliest generation” will find their company elsewhere. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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