How to Turn Frustration into Fascination as You Lead Young People
By Tim Elmore
Jason couldn’t believe what he heard from the young job candidate. She became irritated twenty minutes into the interview and exclaimed in a loud voice that the interview was taking too long. Ted, another hiring manager, told me a job candidate walked over and touched his chest to find a heartbeat so they could connect “heart to heart.” In another job interview, a chief human resources officer said one candidate wanted to differentiate herself from the others, so she sang her responses to the questions.
Stories like these make the typical Gen Z interview seem tame.
Over the last sixty years, youth generations have all entered the workforce a little differently than their predecessors. Young people have always been at the forefront of change, but something’s in the air today that makes Generation Z (the newest population entering the workforce) unlike the Millennials. Thanks to social media, trends travel faster and catch on more quickly. A shift in narrative among the young takes hold so fast it produces a headwind in our culture.
So, what’s this shift managers and educators see in young people?
- Millennials often graduated confident, yet unready for a career. They felt special.
- Generation Z often graduates informed and with shocking audacity. They feel savvy.
So, what’s in the air today? A growing number of employers relay accounts of job candidates who’ve recently graduated from college with no work experience but ask for a higher salary, additional paid time off, and seek more flexibility to work outside of the office. In short, they’re asking for more from an employer. This happens so often today, it’s become cliché.
Turning Our Frustration into Fascination
Our typical response as educators, employers, and parents is frustration. We love these young adults, but it seems “they just don’t get it.” We want to tell them how it was back in the day when we took our first job and how hard we had to work just to make it. Yet, when we become frustrated “historians,” our lectures usually don’t go over well.
So, how can we turn frustration into fascination?
Social scientists have been studying generations for centuries, mostly among families. More recently, however, we recognized how new generations impact cultural thought and worldviews. Thinkers like Auguste Comte have debated that generational change is the engine behind social change. To be clear, each generation (as they become adults) represents the pulse that creates the history of a society, for better or worse.
- Do you recall when divorce rates and single parents were normalized?
- Do you recall when casual dress codes at work became normalized?
- Do you recall when portable devices and phone addiction were normalized?
- Do you recall when tattoos and piercings were normalized?
- Do you recall when mental health issues like anxiety were normalized?
Social change is led by the newest generations who arrive on the scene. In nearly every case, older generations balk at their audacity, but this new wave of young professionals embodies paradigms that eventually become acceptable. Not in every case, of course, for there are timeless disciplines and values that don’t go away as society changes. Typically, however, older generations buck the change, assuming this new fad is just that—only a fad. It can’t catch on.
Until it does.
Learning from the New Generations
Over the decades, social science has taught us something. Whether we like it or not, younger generations come of age and bring with them two helpful traits:
- An intuition on where our culture is heading.
- A foretaste of what the future will look like.
And with each new generation comes change. At first, it’s weird. Over time, those changes become the norm. We not only get used to them, but we learn to leverage them for the organization. I remember in late 2007 after the iPhone was released, a young team member looked at my first set of Habitudes® books and said to me, “You know these will be on a phone one day, don’t you?” Sure enough, we have them on an app today. If you examine the data, today’s digital natives (Gen Zers) led the way in:
- Monetizing TikTok for personal income. (Think social media influencers.)
- The “great resignation” from typical jobs. (Think “I won’t work for minimum wage.”)
- The “sharing economy” where they don’t own; they rent. (Think Uber, Airbnb, WeWork.)
- The four-day workweek. (Think intensifying work so you can expand free time.)
Further, young people want a “voice” the moment they join a team. While they’ll need to learn humility, listening skills, patience, and self-awareness, they’re here to help us. And we must let them help us. Let me suggest some ways they can help you get ahead of the curve.
- Meet for coffee, ask questions about productivity, and listen to their intuitive responses.
- Observe their habits, language, and mannerisms as predictors for tomorrow’s workplace.
- Note what’s increasingly common and discuss how it can be leveraged and monetized.
- Invite them to decision-making meetings and ask what they predict for the future.
The bottom line? I’m challenging you to become both a teacher and a learner; a listener and a leader. I am practicing reverse mentoring on a weekly basis with my young teammates. At times, they don’t even know they’re coaching me. And I’m more ready for the future because of it.