It might seem crazy, but millennials are no longer the new kids on the workplace block. In fact, this generation of workers is now, in many companies, in the corner office, directing and managing teams, and setting the agenda for what comes next. Their more collaborative, less hierarchical approach is well-known and well-documented already — and it’s long been transforming workplaces across virtually every industry.
But now there’s a new innovator in the workplace mix. Enter my generation — Generation Z — with our rugged individualism that is a plus when it comes to entrepreneurship, but may not always go over as well in a corporate space.
That said, generational divides aren’t impossible to bridge — far from it. But it does take acknowledging unique differences and, from there, determining how millennials and Gen Z can play well together in the corporate sandbox.
For Gen Z, entering the workplace is the start of the adulting process — developing a new set of soft skills needed for workplace survival. Here are a few skills that, if attempted, will not only enable us to hit the ground running, but also to quickly thrive in today’s workplace.
Grasp the concept of time
Gen Z has long been known for its emphasis on personal dreams and ambitions. Now in the workplace, this generation is seeking out the freedom and flexibility to pursue them — and this can create a preference for an individual-centric workspace.
Many of the other gaps come from Gen Z’s digital native status. Millennials’ formative years were defined by technology — Gen Z came face-to-face with massive amounts of information and technology from day one. They want a diversity of ideas to be respected in the workplace, but taking the time to explore every perspective can slow down decision-making processes.
Another difference: Gen Z’s desire to engage in storytelling and explore big ideas about what the world should and shouldn’t look like. This makes them an emotionally intelligent generation, but it doesn’t always work in a business context, and millennial managers may become frustrated if Gen Z can’t stay grounded.
Learn how to work in a team
Given this diverse environment, again, it’s essential Gen Z take a step back and first work to first improve their soft skills, specifically when it comes to teamwork. In a corporate space, collaboration is key.
Millennials, on the other hand, have had to learn collaboration in order to balance emerging technology and individualism on the one hand with classic office culture and in-person communication on the other.
And that very idea — the notion of a manager getting frustrated or even of having a manager — is foreign to Gen Z. This emerging generation is more comfortable with horizontal management structures.
Gen Z would also do well to develop conflict resolution skills. This will help Gen Z better engage and work side-by-side with millennial managers while, at the same time, preparing us to lead the most diverse workforce in history.
While these structures are becoming more common in the workplace, traditional vertical structures still persist not just in practice but in the psyche of older generations. Millennials learned to adapt to this structure, but Gen Z is often put off by it, and that can result in clashes between the two generations.
That said, millennials and Gen Z aren’t the only two generations in the workforce — and that means they aren’t the only two generations that need to navigate the corporate landscape. Generation X workers, for example, have long perfected their soft skills in communication, time management, and conflict resolution — skills they acquired and perfected to work with and for baby boomers. These baby boomers have long been focused on classic business skills like management, negotiation, and deal-making in a formal, structured environment.
Adopt some professional etiquette
Gen Z also needs to up its communication skills — skills like how to talk to someone on the phone, how to write an email or letter, and, even, how to shake hands. Workplaces are becoming more informal, but as long as diverse generations are still mixing and mingling in corporate settings, business etiquette still makes a difference.
Another strategy: networking. It’s is an ideal way to build communication and interpersonal skills while, at the same time, building relationships and creating personal and professional opportunities. Likewise, Gen Z workers should seek out people in their industry who they can pepper with questions as their jobs and careers evolve — people they can bring anything and everything to, including those “stupid” questions. Behind those questions are important industry learnings — but, often, we’re too afraid to ask.
Bridging the gap — and driving our future of work
These may sound like no-brainers to millennials and Gen X in particular, but keep in mind the digital natives of Gen Z have long developed their own vastly different subculture around new technology and information. By being aware of these gaps, Gen Z workers can start to bridge them.
Together, this approach will help Gen Z not just thrive in the workplace but also adapt to the future of work to accommodate our unique skills and expectations. Very simply, the more we adapt, the more business will adapt to us.
We’re seeing this every single day. Companies are already becoming more inclusive and flexible to attract young talent, and leadership is coming to be defined more as what someone contributes to innovation and creativity rather than a job title or role. In an idea-driven world, information and thought leadership are as important as management skills, and management structures are flattening to allow people at earlier points in their careers to have more say in how companies are run.
Granted, it’s anyone’s guess what soft skills the generation after Gen Z will need to adapt to the work being created now — but I have no doubt we can pivot and adapt to that, too.
Lydia Laramore is a sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. Majoring in International Studies and minoring in French, Lydia loves to study language’s capacity to bridge the gap between different groups of people. Because she loves to read and write, she helps people improve their arguments and writing in her role as a peer tutor in her campus writing center. As a 2018 United Nations associated Millennium Fellow, she worked to advance SDG #5, gender equality, by helping young African American women enter the tech industry. As a leader in the WeRGenZ think tank, she’s had the opportunity to write articles, contribute to podcasts, and present at Adobe Document Cloud’s thought leadership events including the Gen Z & The Future of Work Think Tank. Lydia spent last summer working at Spelman as a program assistant for Spelman’s summer programs for high achieving high school students and interning with Coca Cola Company and Coca Cola United. This summer, she will be interning in DC and taking class at George Washington University as a Leadership Scholar in The Fund for American Studies Summer 2019 Academic Internship Program.
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