The Youngest Generation in the Office: How Gen Z Is Moving Us Towards a Healthier Corporate Culture

5 Jun ‘23
4 min
Work performance
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Paul Hessels
generatie-z-werk
Generation Z is a generation that likes to shatter existing labels. They question rules and normative behaviour. Stereotypes? They’d rather not conform to them. That’s why an article on stereotypes about Gen Z would be a waste of time. But despite this, we’re bringing up this generation in order to explain something. Because Gen Z’s needs and the way this generation views life are moving us towards a healthier corporate culture. 

 

But obviously, that’s only if you’re willing to listen. Psychologist Paul Hessels explains how Gen Z’s wants and needs are an opportunity for organisations to improve their company culture.

 

Generations help us to understand the world

 

Generations are something humans have invented. They help us to understand the zeitgeist and, according to Pew’s director of social-trends research, Kim Parker: “[They] can be a useful tool for understanding demographic trends and shifting public attitudes.”

 

They explain how we were shaped by influences from the time we grew up in. This means different generations display different behaviours, beliefs, characteristics, preferences and challenges. And, according to the American Pew Research Center, this is caused by various factors, such as demographic details, events and the dominant pop culture. 

 

What distinguishes Gen Z as a generation?

 

According to research by McKinsey, there’s a key common denominator amongst this group : it’s a generation that’s looking for the truth. A generation that values fair treatment, for themselves, the people around them and the world we live in. 

 

Breaking down supposed stereotypes

 

How do we know this? Psychologist Paul Hessels: “Amongst other reasons, because Gen Z’ers resist existing labels and stereotypes. They question rules and normative behaviours.”

 

But Gen Z is also a generation of contradictions. “At the same time, they’re looking for clear guidance and connection, the same as anybody else. Their search is just more paradoxical than what we’re used to: they want individuality, but they also want to spend their time with like-minded people. It’s even more extreme than we’re accustomed to as millennials.” 

 

Idealistic generation

 

In addition, this generation cares about creating a better future. “It’s a generation of activists who are showing up for people and the environment,” explains Paul. 

 

“Gen Z’ers prefer to work for companies where they can get involved in environmental and social projects.” They want to earn money while making a difference.

 

Short attention span

 

“But there’s a caveat to this,” explains Paul. “Due to having short attention spans and a lack of perseverance, they find it difficult to convert their ideals into concrete actions.”

 

This short attention span is linked to having grown up with the internet and mobile phones. “For this generation, everything is fast and right at their fingertips. This has an effect on their ability to hold their attention and interest in anything for an extended period of time. In addition, we can’t forget that your brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. Part of this could simply be the product of youth.”

 

Social pressure and mental challenges

 

Mobile phones are a source of constant distraction and social pressure for this generation. 

“This pressure, combined with the tensions of financial uncertainty, war and the climate crisis creates its own set of mental health challenges.” 

 

The number of issues and challenges relating to mental health amongst young people is increasing. “This means it’s also more normal for Gen Z to talk about these things. This generation is more open about their feelings than previous generations,” explains Paul. 

 

“At the same time, I feel that there’s a crisis of meaning amongst many young people. Breaking down existing norms is liberating, but a lack of structure and doubts about the future make it difficult to follow a fixed path without questioning what you’re doing it for.”

 

Transparency and openness

 

Gen Z’ers also value transparency and honesty at companies. That applies when they’re buying something from a company, but also when they’re working for a company – both in terms of how the organisation operates, and also its mission.

 

Personal development

 

Finally, growth and personal development is an important sphere in the lives of Gens Z’ers. This generation spends a lot of time examining and developing their talents and they also value that in an employer: they want to work for an organisation that appreciates and supports them in their development.

 

This has been becoming increasingly important since the emergence of our performance society two generations back, but what’s distinct about younger generations is that they want to grow fast – sometimes a little too fast. Paul adds, “Even though Gen Z’ers process information quickly and get the hang of things fast, it’s important to clearly communicate opportunities and advancement possibilities to these young employees.” 

 

And don’t forget to take advantage of this ability to quickly process information. Gen Z’ers learn quickly and easily. Give them space to develop.

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What this means for organisations

 

“We like being able to apply meaning to something or to explain things,” explains  Paul Hessels. “That’s why we like pairing certain behaviours or needs with certain generations. ‘You do X because you are Y’.” 

 

But these generalisations are just a small part of the puzzle (and the differences amongst members of the same generation are just as extensive as those between generations). 

 

Paul: “What’s more important is that you as an organisation are doing things that are good for your employees. And these things are the same across the generations, but whether it’s a coincidence or not, they generally align with the needs and wants that Generation Z is openly expressing.”

 

 

  • Being transparent: as humans, we thrive on open communication, especially in uncertain times. You remove that uncertainty by communicating openly and honestly, across the organisation and at a team level, about plans, choices and operations – whether the news is good or bad. This open communication creates a sense of control and reduces tension. 

 

  • Giving feedback: feedback is an indispensable tool for growth, and we’re naturally all fixated on growth. Everyone needs constructive feedback, both between tasks and during frequent development conversations. It’s important to give it and to receive it. Read more about feedback here.

 

  • Clarity about development: to delve even further into development, people want to know what’s expected of them and how they can develop further in their roles. By being clear and transparent about this, employees will know where they stand. Evaluate this together during development conversations. Presenting a clear plan for growth and salaries in advance helps to manage expectations and avoid disappointment.

 

  • Bonds between colleagues: our relationships make us happy – that includes the relationships we form at work. But due to the pandemic, remote and hybrid jobs have become the norm, meaning the bonds we have with our colleagues have most likely changed. Having a say over where they work gives employees a sense of autonomy (and that’s important!), but encourages bonding and creates a sense of team spirit by getting together regularly offline.

 

 

A healthy culture is important for every generation

 

“Transparency, an open culture, clarity about development, and growth opportunities are important for everyone, regardless of their generation,” summarises Paul. 

 

Let Generation Z’s needs encourage you to change and improve where necessary so that all generations can reap the rewards.

Give employees the space to develop, release stress, and build mental resilience. With OpenUp, you’re making sure they have all the guidance they deserve at their fingertips.

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