Communicating with Gen Z in the workplace: what not to do (or say)

Date: 07 Jul 2020

Generation Z are well and truly here, and they make up a large proportion of today’s workforce. But if you think that you know how to communicate with them in the workplace just because you’ve mastered talking to Millennials, then think again. Your assumptions may be costing you their loyalty as well as your profits.

Children of mid-1990s through to the mid-2000s (although the exact years differ depending on whose research you are reading), Gen Zers are very much their own people. While they are exceptionally tech-savvy, that doesn’t define their communication preferences.

Based on 15 years of HR & Payroll experience with over 800 customers, here’s our list of the most common but incorrect assumptions people have about how to reach out to Gen Zers in the workforce.

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1. Use Slack, SMS, email, or messaging apps as your first option to reach out

Wrong. In a huge about-turn, Gen Zers actually prefer face-to-face communications.

Why? Well, many are aware that they have poor written skills. After spending their formative years using acronyms and emojis, some of their soft skills lag behind previous generations, and they know it. Equally, they have a strong desire to be taken seriously and treated as professionals in the workplace. This study by Robert Half established that 45% of Gen Zers expect that it will be challenging to work with baby boomers, and anticipate they’ll be treated like children by their more senior (yes, older) colleagues. Rather than relying on their written skills (both composition and comprehension), they opt for face-to-face to minimise misinterpretation.

An important side note: Now a preference for one-to-one conversations doesn’t mean that Gen Zers eschew technology (except perhaps email which is only preferred by <20% of Gen Zers). They are, after all, digital natives, so are more adept at using mobile communications (text in particular) than any other generation before them. 

So, it’s essential to take advantage of mobile-friendly communication platforms to provide feedback on performance, sharing information about employee benefits, recognising achievements, tracking hours, leave requests and feedback.

It’s important to note, though, that when you offer digital channels, Gen Zers expect immediate responses. No pressure!


2. Be gentle with them; they are fragile

Wrong again. Gen Zers place high importance on the values of transparency, honesty, and integrity. And they don’t want window dressing, just the plain unvarnished truth.

They’re not snowflakes, a little candour won’t melt their egos, and will, in fact, reassure them that they can trust their manager to tell them the truth.

To be noted: They are equally happy to be candid right back at you!

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3. Take the time to simplify discussions, remember they are inexperienced

No. No. And no. Gen Zers are in the job to make a difference, and they don’t like the idea that their age will be held against them. They expect to be treated as equals, regardless of experience or tenure. They’ve seen others their age having a massive impact on the world of business, social media, and technology, and are confident that they too will add value. Age and inexperience don’t count – just ideas! And they expect their voices to be heard and judged on their merits, not how long they’ve been in the workforce.


4. They work best when left alone

Buzzz! Wrong again. While Gen Zers appreciate autonomy and freedom in their work (and who doesn’t?), including the opportunity to manage projects their way, they still want feedback, praise, and validation from their managers to make sure they’re on course.

A little praise goes a long way with most people, and even more so with Gen Zers fresh from an education system which rewards, awards and values every achievement.


Supporting an omnichannel workforce

Given the wide-ranging communication preferences from generation to generation, it’s short-sighted to choose one channel and stick to it.

Understanding personal preferences, and seamlessly integrating and applying personalised communications preferences to individuals will build a stronger, more loyal and engaged workforce. And by automating tasks such as reviews, appraisals, and mentoring sessions, you’ll live up to your end of the bargain to be an attentive, honest, ethical, and transparent employer. 

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