Connection issues as Gen Z named the most difficult workers

Differences in technological preferences and career trajectory expectations are putting a wedge between generations.

Differences in technological preferences and career trajectory expectations are putting a wedge between generations. Photo: Getty

Bosses are labelling Gen Z the most difficult generation to work with, but experts say there has always been friction between experienced and new employees – and technology has added to the divide.

A survey of managers and business leaders conducted by found 74 per cent believe Gen Z (a demographic born between 1997 and 2012) is more difficult to work with than other generations.

Jonathan Tabah, director in research and advisory, at consulting firm Gartner, said the findings are a case of history repeating itself, with each generation having trouble connecting with the next one.

“There are always certain differences in terms of different generations  … sometimes [they have] new expectations that we have to adapt to,” he said.

“But to be totally frank, we sort of go through this every 10 years, where a new generation comes into the workforce and the older generation says, ‘Well, they’re harder to work with than the previous generations’.

“While dealing with each generation requires nuance and minor … differences based on their different experiences, and therefore different expectations, I don’t think it’s fair to say one generation is more difficult to manage.”

Impersonal systems a roadblock

The bosses surveyed said they felt Gen Zers lack technological skills, as well as other traits such as effort, motivation and communication skills.

The sentiment around the technological skills of the younger generation may seem surprising given they were among the first to grow up with technology at their fingertips.

But Mr Tabah said the perception by bosses could come down to the fact that younger people are used to more personalised digital experiences than their workplaces typically offer them.

“The expectation of personalisation, coming from the consumer space, has bled into the workplace,” he said.

“For [Gen Z] … their entire lives, those platforms [such as Facebook and Netflix] have been personalised to the individual user, and they’re used to things being optimised around them and their personal needs and engagement practices.

“Whereas the older generations, their systems weren’t sophisticated and individually adaptable and personalised. So older generations had to learn how to deal with the systems the way that they were, and set up … systems to work for [them].”

Fast-tracked career expectations

The different expectations in terms of levels of personalisation don’t stop at technology; Gen Z is also after a more personalised career pathway.

Nicole Gorton, director at specialised recruitment consultancy Robert Half, said Gen Z is more attuned with its mental health, less tolerant of authoritarian work environments, and put a higher value on working with organisations that align with its values.

Gen Z also values frequent, coaching-style feedback and expects to move up the corporate ladder quicker than previous generations, she said.

“[Gen Z] may expect more frequent promotions and opportunities, and to take on new responsibilities,” she said.

“Managers from an … older generation will have come from a background often where promotions are more gradual and based on seniority, not necessarily ability.”

Ms Gorton found management also tends to think Gen Z is less collaborative than older workers, but the blame could lie in different communication preferences and experiences in the workforce.

Younger workers tend to prefer communicating in texts, online workplace messaging channels and soundbites rather than phone calls or face-to-face interactions, Ms Gorton said.

Gen Z, especially those who have entered the workforce over the past three years in a post-pandemic world, are also used to working remotely, lending to a more individual working style.

But if they’re looking for more opportunities to advance their careers and upskill, Ms Gorton said Gen Zers will benefit most from being physically present in workplaces and collaborating more with colleagues.

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