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When Millennials Manage Gen Z

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

I mentor several younger women who work in a variety of fields, including management consulting, communications, software development, and real estate, among others. The other night, I was on the phone with one of them when she said to me, “You NEED to write a blog about Millennials managing Gen Z.”

It sounded like a great topic. “I would love to write that! Tell me about it, since I am a Gen Xer and I don’t know what it’s like to be a Millennial managing a Gen Zer.”

“Well, let me tell you, it’s ridiculous,” she said with a tinge of self-righteous indignation. “They’re entitled. They all want to go home at 6 o’clock. They expect to go offline when they’re not at work. They go to these Liberal Arts schools to learn to be a leader and they don’t realize you’re supposed to go into your first job and get beat up. That’s what helps you grow and become a good worker. They think they know everything when they come out of college and they don’t, because learning on the job is about practical experience!”

And there is was—a Millennial with the same complaint that Boomers had about Gen X and that Gen X had about Millennials.

Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Every younger generation thinks they know more than the one before and every older generation complains about the newcomers. It is a rite of passage that goes back to the advent of business, because it is a result of human nature and our defensive reactions to change. Today, we have a term for it—it’s called generation shaming—and we all do it in some form or another.

As we continued talking about the workstyle of her Generation Z employees, my friend commented that she and her husband, who works in finance, have both noticed that their respective HR departments have told them that cannot be so hard on younger employees. “What is up with us not being allowed to criticize them? How else are they going to learn?” she asked.

She and her husband are not alone in observing that Gen Z and younger Millennials (I am talking about workers who are 30 and younger) demand a more feelings-based management style. I call it being “woke at work.” My generation, and the ones before us, were told to check our feelings at the door, because there was no place for feelings in the office. Today, these younger workers demand that their feelings be taken into consideration.

I think it’s brilliant. It is about time that we recognize we are still human beings, even between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday. But, like many changes, we could be heading into “overcorrection territory,” to borrow a phrase from finance.

The toxic corporate cultures of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s spawned innumerable TV series and films Think: “9-to-5,” “Swimming with Sharks” and “Mad Men.” That type of workplace dysfunction will not fly with today’s younger adults, who were encouraged to talk about their feelings as children, whether it was in school or in individual therapy.

As we wrapped up our conversation, my friend made a key observation about the difference in how Millennials manage employees versus how Boomers or Gen Xers do it and, not surprisingly, it has to do with feelings.

She said, “My boss is a Gen Xer and she is direct and straightforward. If I’ve written something that she doesn’t like, she tells me to go back and do it again. And, while I’m at it, look up the rules for comma usage on the internet. When I have that same conversation with the people who report directly to me, I say to them, ‘You’re doing great. Let’s work on your grammar together, but you’ve got this.’”

Yep, you’ve got this, Millennials! You will train the younger generations, and you will learn from them, as well… just like we all do.

“Wax on, wax off” (which feel like an apropos close, since this post is dripping in nostalgia for classic films from the late 1900s).

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