It's Sunday evening, and I'd just logged into LinkedIn to see a trending story, "Gen-Z embraces 'quiet quitting.'" As a member of the Gen-Z community, or better told as a Cusper (born 1998), I am well aware that there's always a conflict between the generation of workplace executives (Gen X and Boomers) vs. Gen-Z Employees.
These tensions drive the press hits dissing Gen Z and the Tik Tok trends challenging the "we've always done it this way" of the past.
This LinkedIn trend presented a flurry of opinions and perspectives in response to a Wall Street Journal story titled, "If Your Co-Workers Are 'Quiet Quitting,' Here's What That Means." To show the tone of this story, I'll share the first line as it currently reads, "Not taking your job too seriously has a new name: quiet quitting."
As you read, it goes on to explain that it's not about "not taking your job too seriously," but it's really about not turning your 40-hour a work week job into 60-70 hours of work, always-on, and no boundaries between work and your personal life. So this article is not about Gen-Z employees not doing their job; it's about not going above and beyond the job description that both parties have agreed to.
Beyond being Gen-Z, in my role at Flare Partners, I have the pleasure of often being the lead consultant on our workforce culture and employee experience engagements. So from our experiences in these conversations, I can share a few areas of critical discussion that leaders should have following this WSJ story.
The "Issues" Are a 2-Way Conversation
More importantly, the relationship between an employee and an employer is a contract. This contract establishes a set of responsibilities, duties, and tasks in exchange for a fee, whether in the form of an annual salary or an hourly rate. For example, when we purchase a house and sign a purchase agreement, we agree on two things, a) the land & its improvements (the house) and b) the price. Then, on the closing date, after the money has been released to the seller, the buyer doesn't walk into the house and gets upset that the dining room table wasn't still there unless there was an agreement for that piece of furniture to be sold and included.
I don't think that needs her explanation.
When there are "issues with Gen-Z" on the table, it's mission-critical that employers pull up a seat with their hands open to hear about the "issues with the workplace" and understand their part in improving it. If this is a conversation that executives aren't sure they know how to do or do it in a "safe space," they should engage a consulting firm such as Flare Partners to facilitate and provide practical recommendations.
After-Hour Conversations Are the Exception, Not the Norm
I've experienced both extremes of this perspective. On the one hand, you have the team member who calls at 8 PM every day of the week in addition to a random 2 PM call on a Saturday and a noon12 PM on Sunday while I'm at church. But, on the other hand, that other team member logs out precisely at 5 PM and won't answer a 5:15 PM call if Olympus has fallen.
When we're kicking off a new engagement here at Flare Partners, we establish communication guidelines with our clients, which might be described as communication expectations and boundaries. Recently, I introduced a team member as a leader of a new team. Before we ended the call, two of this leader's direct reports asked clarifying questions to establish the boundaries and expectations. This moment made me proud to see them pick up the need to agree mutually on communication conventions.
Some of the questions you should be asking:
- How should we communicate with you? Is that Slack, Text, a Phone Call?
- What merits an IM versus an email versus an impromptu call vs. a scheduled meeting?
- During what hours can I message you and expect to hear back from you?
- If I text you, what response time could you commit to? (2 hours?)
- If I email you, what response time could you commit to? (24 hours?)
- If I need to flag something after hours, how should I get in touch with you?
Dynamic Mission, Vision, and Values Are Not Enough
The employer pays an employee for services to emphasize the earlier point. So, no matter the creativeness and emotion-evoking Mission, Vision, and Values statement, the employees know that their work is contributing towards driving revenue and profit for a business to ultimately benefit six or seven-figure executive salaries and profit distributions for its' owners & shareholders.
As an owner and leader, I must be hyper-focused on understanding the goals of each of my team members and how both myself and the organization can support them in achieving that. For example, when I purchased my airplane and was pursuing my Private Pilot's license, it was vital for me personally to be sure that while I was posting about flying at 9, 10, or 11 AM while my team was working that they couldn't look at the stories and think "I'm just working to pay for his plane."
When a team member had the goal of being an entrepreneur, I spent time with them to discuss their ideas and help them establish a path to get there. When someone on my team had a specific role that they wanted that was outside of their current pathway, we would create a new career pathway that they could use internally or in a different organization, offer them mentorship with an appropriate leader in that ideal role, and pay for them to take classes to grow in that direction.
Recognizing the employee's goals & dreams and how their time at your company supports them is valuable to increasing employee engagement.
Intergenerational relationships in the workplace require a multitude of conversations to understand and empathize to create a healthy & inclusive environment. As much energy as organizations invest in the dialogues around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion based on race or gender must equally invest in the conversations on Millennials and Gen-Z belonging.