Four Workplace Rules Gen Z Team Members Should Learn

This past month, I found myself speaking at events to business managers, university executives and athletic directors about “generational diversity.” Today, we not only experience ethnic diversity and gender diversity in the workplace, but a diversity of generations attempting to work together, including Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and now Gen Z.

And with these two newer generations come new terms of engagement.

Terms of Engagement

Recently, a department head spoke to me about the number of young team members who expected immediate freedom on the terms and times of their labor. She said, “Millennials and Gen Z employees often expect to set their own hours, establish their own boundaries and even dictate the tasks they’ll take on.”

Another vice president told me he had three employees approach him questioning him about their “career path.” Have you heard this term? It’s a term describing the course each person will take to be promoted and receive pay raises, ultimately resulting in the arrival of an ideal position in the organization. The VP frowned and said, “I would have never brought that up to a supervisor when I was young. I would have felt I was being selfish, focusing on my own growth rather than the company’s.”

I had to agree with him. As my career began, I focused on executing my job with excellence, and I counted on my superiors to move me up.

Today, times have changed.

Because so many supervisors don’t keep their team members best interests in mind, (only the organization’s), many team members feel they must look out for themselves, and they require conversations about how work works. In fact, both supervisors and team members benefit from such conversations.

Four Rules That Govern Our Workplace

In our office at Growing Leaders, we are finding ourselves talking to young leaders about their potential career path, and the steps they can take toward promotion and greater leadership and influence. About half of our team is under 30 years old. It dawned on me that I had not taken the time to explain to our team how work works. By this I mean, there are natural laws that govern the way freedom, influence and even pay raises tend to operate. While there are exceptions to these rules, the following are four that usually make sense on the job.

1. Autonomy Increases with Productivity

Recently, we’ve had a growing number of team members who’ve requested days each week to work from home. It’s actually quite normal in our culture today. Over the last decade, we’ve allowed several team members to do this. But I always have based my decision on a simple principle: autonomy increases with productivity. In short, we all earn our right to work on our own terms. Those who demonstrate they are producers and need little or no supervision to meet and exceed expectations get to enjoy greater levels of freedom. Each director must evaluate the production of employees and make that judgment. Freedom isn’t free—it’s earned.

2. Promotions Always Follow Testing

When team members inquire about promotions and pay raises, our C.O.O. and I are not put off by that conversation, but we always try to clarify: testing always precedes promotion. By this we mean, tenure alone doesn’t earn the right to be promoted or given bonuses. Academic degrees alone don’t automatically translate into pay raises either. Just like a product in a store is never used until it is tested, so it is with team members. The deeper the testing and the more team members display they can pass those tests with flying colors, the more likely they are to be invited into greater levels of responsibility and are rewarded with greater remuneration. Simply doing a job doesn’t equal progress. Promotion follows performance at a higher level.

3. Rules Decrease as Results Increase

Sometimes it’s hard for a young, inexperienced team member to see a supervisor experiencing high levels of independence and authority. Similar to “autonomy increases with productivity,” this second cousin explains that the more results a person produces in their work, the fewer rules are needed to legislate their activity on the job. Working under Dr. John C. Maxwell for twenty years, I learned this rule quickly. John was loud and clear about the fact that results were his “love language.” My reaching outcomes and work ethic were all he needed to allow me great independence, even in my twenties. He never asked me to clock in; he only asked me to put out. I was happy to do so. This is how work usually works.

4. Influence Rises by Providing the Scarcest Resource

This one occurs naturally, but few people notice it. Our influence (and ultimately our leadership role) rises when we provide a rare resource. Consider a simple example. If you’re with a group of people in a car, traveling in an unfamiliar city, and only one person has a GPS—he or she is the one with the most influence. Similarly, if I bring a skill, a talent or an ability that is scarce to my team, I tend to gain more influence. It’s just how the marketplace works: supply and demand. If what you have is in short supply and great demand, you’re in good shape. In fact, the more scarce your ability, the more remuneration and the more influence should come your way.

One disclaimer. I don’t mean to sound utilitarian in these remarks. Supervisors should love and believe in each of their team members, regardless of their role. But freedom and advancement are privileges we all earn through our service.

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Four Workplace Rules Gen Z Team Members Should Learn