Medicine exists for employers’ Gen Z headache

By Minh Trang, Ngoc Anh   August 17, 2023 | 08:20 pm PT
Workplace culture rifts between elder supervisors and Generation Z colleagues are now common, but a little understanding can go a long way to ensuring productivity on both sides, experts say.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh says irresponsibility is the most common trait among her Gen Z, defined as anyone born from 1997 onward, employees.

"If I don't check up on them frequently, their productivity will range around only 50% to 60%," said the 31-year-old manager who works among a company staff of more-than-two-thirds Gen Z-ers.

Many Generation Z employees maintain their productivity at around 50% to 60% only if not being frequently checked up on. Illustration photo by Pexels

Many Generation Z employees maintain their productivity at around 50% to 60% only if not being frequently checked up on. Illustration photo by Pexels

Another characteristic Anh notes is their commitment to working during business hours only.

"When I contact them after work, say 6 p.m., to discuss things related to work, some say they will revert shortly after but then they leave it until the following working day," she says.

"Others simply do not pick up my phone calls. They only reply to my messages the next morning."

For Anh, her younger colleagues and subordinates don’t seem as beholden to their employers as previous generations. They often believe that they are making money for the company, not the other way around, and thus don’t owe their employers much beyond the basics of their job descriptions.

She adds that she has seen many Gen Z-ers abandon their jobs without explanation or prior notice, despite behaving normally before quitting. The answer she most often gets why they quit is: "I have many reasons."

Doan Ngoc Thanh Thao, 27, a human resources executive, has had experiences similar to Anh, noting that Generation Z also appears more in tune with taking care of itself before taking care of the corporation they work for.

"I was shocked when a former employee in my company cited the need to ‘take care of [their] mental health’ as their reason to quit," she said.

"That was the first time I saw someone dropping out because of that reason. I thought stories like that only existed on the Internet."

However, more importantly, Thao adds that sometimes this attitude can lead to disengagement with the teamwork young employees are supposed to be engaging with.

Speaking from her experience, she says that young employees’ egos and unwillingness to listen to others’ opinions are often obstacles for them towards blending in with the corporate environment.

"Many Generation Z employees have the tendency to voice their opinions about what the company needs to change on their first day on board [without even having much knowledge and experience with the business]," she says.

A survey of more than 1,300 managers and business leaders conducted by career portal ResumeBuilder showed that around 74% of respondents find it "challenging" to work with Generation Z employees.

Some 65% of the participants said the number of Generation Z employees they had fired was higher than the figure for any other age group. 12% said they dismissed at least one Generation Z employee within a week of hiring, and almost a third reported that they did so within a month of the employee’s starting date.

Reasons for these dismissals were often the employees’ lack of motivation, lack of professional and interpersonal skills, and inability to control their emotions.

Nguyen Thanh Minh, CEO of the fintech startup OneSecond Vietnam, confirmed this. He said most of the employees he had dismissed belonged to Generation Z, and the "most popular reasons" behind their dismissals were their "irresponsibility and egos."

"They often speak without honorifics, even with their seniors," he explains. That’s a big no-no in traditional Vietnamese culture.

Minh adds that some of these employees always complain when being given more tasks, even when the tasks are supposed to help them better demonstrate their abilities.

"Their performances are better said than done," he concludes. "They prefer enjoying [their lives to working]."

It would be unfair to say Gen Z-ers do not have any justifications for these comments nor things they are uncomfortable with at the workplace.

Pham Duc Thang, 23, started working in his freshman year of university. Of the six jobs he has been through since graduation, none lasted for over a year. He says he feels "stuck" when caught in the 9-to-5 office lifestyle.

"Young people like me prioritize productivity over whether or not I’m present at my office desk at exactly 8 a.m.," he claims.

Thang also says the looming presence of the generation gap in his workplaces, like an unmentioned elephant in the room, made him feel uncomfortable discussing things with older coworkers.

Nguyen Phuong Anh, 23, of Hanoi, says she has problems communicating with others at her workplace as well. She feels her opinions and emotions are often not valued.

"My coworkers do not care about my emotions," she says. "Every time I perform poorly or miss my due dates, they look at me and talk about me behind my back."

In fact, there have been studies about challenges that Generation Z employees have to deal with at their workplaces. Dr. Katherine Chia, lead research scientist at the talent hiring solutions Cangrade, led a research team that asked over 600 people from various age groups: "Do you feel happy at your workplace?"

The survey’s results showed that the Generation Z demographic group feels the least happy with their jobs. They are even willing to quit their jobs if they feel unhappy at their workplaces.

Another study done by the Mental Health Million Project has also pointed out that Generation Z employees have alarmingly high rates of mental health issues.

Thao says Generation Z employees are in the beginning phase of their career paths and have not had much experience. Because of that, they lack insight into the realities of the labor market as a whole, and easily drop out when they encounter something that does not match their previous expectations.

However, on a bright note, Thao also believes this group possesses the ability to rapidly adjust to new trends, a skill that she says their older counterparts seem to lack. This insight seems to get with what was famously once said by Adam Garfield, marketing director at haircare products brand Hairbro: "[The youth] are highly innovative and adaptable," as well as "not afraid to challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to the table."

Because of these positive attributes, Thao suggests that businesses should do better to create environments conducive to Gen Z-ers particular modes of productivity. By doing so, employees belonging to this age group could become more committed and loyal to their employers for longer periods of time, according to Thao.

Minh agrees with the idea.

He says he has figured out a way to "nurture" this type of employee: give them the chance to pursue work that matches their values.

"I found out that Gen Z-ers often need an ideal to pursue in their career," he explains. "If they can have a job that brings them practical values to their lives, they can focus on doing it without thinking too much about their income."

In the end, even Thao believes that new working relationships between the generations can work out. She advises Gen Z employees to improve their people skills as well and become more willing to listen to others, be more open minded to feedback and constructive criticism, and "better control their egos."

She concludes: "I suggest that Gen Z employees should let their job performance speak for itself instead of showing off verbally."

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