Young people, including Gen Z employees, are breaking the workforce. And leaders — even the millennials who once rebelled against the same systems — seem particularly unsure about how to fix it.
This isn’t an exaggeration. A recent Financial Times article explains the connection between the growing “anti-work” movement and the Great Resignation. Quits rates have been at or near record highs for nine months, with over 4 million quits in December, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Some individuals cite disillusionment as the reason people are leaving traditional careers. However, what if the cause has more to do with mediocre management?
Reframing your management style for Gen Z
I’m not suggesting that all managers are mediocre. Rather, I’m arguing that leadership is a deciding factor in whether employees stay or go.
According to McKinsey & Co., employee-manager relationships are the top factor affecting employees’ job satisfaction. Workers will stay at a so-so position if their managers are great. But people won’t stick around for mediocre managers — even if the job is otherwise fantastic.
If you’re a middle manager, you’re one of the intangible benefits of working at your company. You need to learn how to attract, interview and supervise up-and-coming workers.
Remember: You may not be able to do much about health care plans, hybrid work schedules, sign-on bonuses or other tangible benefits. But you can change how you lead the people around you and still positively affect retention.
Of course, figuring out how to connect with young workers and help them find their purpose might sound difficult. Many managers feel the same way right now. They’re confused by current workplace trends and don’t get why young workers push back against corporate traditions like the eight-hour workday.
But it’s easier to relate to emerging employees than you think. Just apply these two strategies:
1. Be the manager that past you would have appreciated
Think back to when you were fresh out of high school or college. You were ready to take on the world. You wanted to do something important. You may have made a boss or two mad.
Today, you’re settled and have some perspective. Just don’t become the grumpy old man who yells, “Get off my lawn!” You have to be patient and flexible with new workers. They’re tethered by their family, their character and their training.
While you can’t influence the first two things, you can do something about the last one by becoming their favorite teacher.
Spend time advising and training your team. Be positive, patient and practical. People are most receptive to kindness and positive reinforcement. When my wife wants me to do the dishes on Tuesday, she says, “I love it when I come home from the co-op and the dishes are done!”
Guess what happens on Tuesdays? Those dishes sparkle. What gets recognized gets repeated.
You can do this in the workplace, too. During those pivotal early onboarding days, provide gentle instruction and recognition to reinforce the right behaviors. “When you do ABC, it really helps me XYZ. Thank you.”
Communicate clearly and set firm expectations. When workers do something well, show your appreciation.
2. Check your narcissism at the door
You’ve seen the ego-ridden middle manager before. It’s the person who thinks: “I emerged from the assembly line. Now I’m the boss. I’m in charge.” There’s no place for that type of leader in a modern workforce.
When you start to feel like you’re all that, kindly remind yourself that you’re not irreplaceable. You’re not so important that people have to put up with whatever you dish out. You might get away with it for a little while, but your time will come.
Young people aren’t afraid to call out bad bosses. Look at what happened to Away CEO Steph Korey. She was flagged for contributing to a toxic work environment. To her credit, she said she was sorry after stories of her mismanagement went viral, but the damage to her reputation was done.
So treat everybody like you’re going to be in a long-term relationship. View yourself as the face of the company, and aim to help employees experience something they couldn’t get anywhere else.
If you’re doing it right, you’ll never have to say, “We’re like a family here!” The team will say it on your behalf.
I doubt anyone really knows what the next normal will look like when it comes to work. However, I am confident that there will always be middle managers like you and me. It matters how we treat our teams.
You don’t have to understand exactly what’s going on in the minds of Gen Z employees. You just need to meet them where they are and change up your management style.
Mike Monroe is a Christian, husband, dad, marketer and wannabe athlete. He started working at Vector Marketing in 2000 as a student at Boston College. He wanted to stand out and develop himself professionally. Two decades later, that goal hasn’t changed. Learn more about The Vector Impact.