As millennials grew into the largest generation in the workforce over the past few years, we’ve been treated to a deluge of breathless media coverage about how uniquely difficult they were to deal with and how they were ruining everything. From chain restaurants to jewelry, along with job loyalty and the 9-to-5 workday, the list of American institutions millennials are charged with killing is nearly endless. Meanwhile, business leaders have wrestled with the seemingly vast complexities their entry to the workforce has created. Most of the work-related challenges have proven to be more myth than truth, as our research at CEB (now Gartner) has found, along with other investigations by the Economist and the Pew Research Center, but the conventional wisdom endures that millennials are entitled, need constant hand-holding, and are therefore unusually hard to manage.
It appears the newest generation entering the workforce, Generation Z, is being similarly prejudged, according a recent survey of managers profiled by SHRM’s Dana Wilkie. In it, 36 percent of managers said they believed that Generation Z would be more difficult to manage than previous generations, while 29 percent believe it will be more difficult to train employees from Generation Z, 26 percent say it will be more difficult to communicate with the newest generation, and even 20 percent of millennial managers believe Generation Z represents a threat to company culture.
“There is a tendency and expectation of instantaneous gratification,” said Jeff Corbin, CEO of APPrise Mobile, the employee communications company which conducted the study. “They want the answers now. They are all about tweets and short responses. As a result, many Gen Zers are going to be too quick to respond rather than deliberate and thoughtful. … [T]he concept of professionalism, formality and quality in communications may be a foreign one to many in Gen Z, which could be problematic to older generations.”
Much more likely than Generation Z burning down the business world, however, is that they will get along just fine. Employers expressed these same exact concerns about millennials a decade ago, and every generation of young people for at least a century has been described by their elders as lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed. In fact, as English literature professor Eric Weiskott pointed out at the Conversation this summer, blaming the younger generation for the social problems of the day dates at least as far back as medieval times.
“Older generations are inherently going to be skeptical of the newer and younger ones,” Corbin told Wilkie at SHRM. “I think the expectation that Gen Z will negatively impact company cultures is the result of the fear of the unknown.” Donna L. Haeger, a professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, offered Wilkie the most grounded response to managers’ fears of Generation Z:
“My research into [Baby Boomers] and Millennials has [revealed] a lot of assumptions that are baseless,” said Haeger, who has conducted considerable research on intergenerational exchanges in the workplace. “Asking people what they think will happen is not the same as finding out what is making them think this way. Ultimately, as managers, how we understand employees indicates how we affect policy and interactions. I do not think any cohort will be difficult as managers or employees as long as we strive for a shared understanding. All have strong contributions to make as long as we cultivate one another’s strengths.”