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Generation Gap 2023

By John Gronski

Lately, in leadership workshops I have been conducting around the country I have been getting more and more questions from front-line leaders about how to work with and motivate our younger generation of employees entering the workforce known as millennials and Generation Z.

Some seasoned leaders I have worked with seem to have an attitude that the challenges of leading and working with our current “younger generation” are different than when they first entered the workforce, and they were labeled the younger generation. As I think back to when I was 22 years old, my leaders and bosses who were twenty to thirty years older than I was probably thought that I and my cohort did not possess the same work ethic they did and that we had unusual needs.

I think it is a universal law that there will always be generational differences, thus the term “generation gap” was coined in the 1960s. During that time, the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were growing apart from their parents in their beliefs and opinions. The same generational divide holds true now and will continue to hold true for generations to come.

I always advise leaders that they should not expect our younger generation to adapt to their way of thinking. Leaders must plan on adapting to the younger generation to lead them successfully and build effective teams. This does not mean lowering standards, as some might think. Rather it is about adapting the way leaders must communicate and placing a focus on creating a culture of meaning and belonging.

The reality is that there is a gap between seasoned leaders and the young people now entering the workforce. I will offer some tips for engaging our younger workers and followers that I believe will be helpful.

A Sense of Purpose

Create a sense of genuine belonging and purpose. Help people feel like they really belong to the team, and that they are working for something greater than themselves. Help them to see the purpose and meaning in their work. Explain how their role not only contributes to the organization’s mission but also how it positively impacts others. Those now entering the workforce want to feel their time and effort matter not only to the organization they work for but to other stakeholders too.

I recently spoke to a 28-year-old with an engineering degree. I asked him why he made the decision to work for the solar panel company he was with. He answered with the word “purpose”. He said he felt he had a great purpose as he was helping people lower their energy bills and he was helping with cleaning up our environment.  

Personal Development

Millennials and GEN Zs have a growth mindset and they want to learn and grow. Leaders must provide those opportunities in a variety of ways and here are some ideas.

Offer developmental opportunities. Offer access to training, mentors, and shadowing experiences to help them continuously develop skills. Be sincerely interested in their career and support their career growth. 

Encourage collaboration. These generations enjoy teamwork and want to connect with colleagues. Foster collaboration through group projects, brainstorming sessions, and team-building activities. Ask for their opinion.

Provide ongoing feedback. Don’t just do annual reviews. Offer regular check-ins and provide coaching so they can continually improve. They want to hear from their leaders when they are doing well, and they relish feedback on how they can improve. Be open to feedback from them as well.

Seek to Understand

Understand that millennials and Gen Zs do not necessarily follow someone based on positional authority but place more value in following someone that they believe truly has their best interest in mind. As the old saying goes, “They do not care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Offer flexibility. Both generational groups value flexibility in when and where they work. Offer options like remote work, flexible schedules, or job sharing.

Use technology effectively. Leverage tech tools they are comfortable with for communication and collaboration. Provide access to devices, software, and apps that can help them work efficiently.

Allow millennials and Gen Zs to experience work-life balancing. Respect their time off and ability to set boundaries. Earlier in my career I used to send out emails on weekends to the people who worked for me. Then one day a mentor of mine explained that when the boss sends out emails the people who work for the boss drop what they are doing and begin working on the request or tasker in the email. That was not my intention, so I stopped sending out emails on the weekend. I realized I had to help the people who worked for me guard their personal time and the time they spent with their families. That was a good lesson for me, and I began to be more focused on respecting other people’s boundaries. This is especially important when working with younger people.

Recognize achievements. Both generations want frequent recognition and praise for their contributions. Find creative ways to recognize their wins, big and small. If you are the kind of leader who thinks people should not be recognized for simply doing the job they are paid to do, you probably will have a hard time retaining millennial and Gen Z employees.

The key to working with, retaining, and building effective teams of millennials and Gen Z is understanding their values and preferences. Like Stephen Covey once said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

About John Gronski

Major General John L. Gronski (U.S. Army Retired) is the founder and CEO of Leader Grove LLC, a leadership consulting firm. John is the author of two books, “Iron-Sharpened Leadership” and “The Ride of Our Lives” and he is an international and Fortune 500 speaker. Learn more about John Gronski at https://johngronski.com/

Continue To Learn

John created a great online leadership development program. You can take online leadership development courses including Cultivating Trust, Introduction to Emotional Intelligence, and Conflict Management. Introduction to Change Leadership will be available soon and more courses will follow. Once you complete a course, take a short quiz, attain an 80% score, and download a certificate of completion. Find out more and enroll at Store.LeaderGrove.com

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