What I Learned Managing Gen Z Peers at a Student-run Agency

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Being a leader at any student run organization can be tricky. Often, you have to confront people with whom you might be friends. I have had to quickly learn several tips and tricks to manage my Generation Z peers successfully. I maintained a positive attitude, but I struggled to be approachable yet authoritative when going into this leadership position. I have realized that Gen Z has a different attitude toward work than Millennials, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y, and I needed to adapt to this. You may be wondering who falls in the Gen Z age range; it’s those born between 1996 to 2010. They come with a whole set of characteristics and lifestyles different from all previous generations. It is essential to understand what Gen Z values before managing them. Because this generation will be the next wave of the workforce.

Older generations have often seen younger people as less motivated and not as hardworking as they are; I believe the opposite is true. Gen Zers are some of the best multitaskers and self-starters I have ever seen. If you give them a project, they will complete it the same day because of their eagerness to work. I have never had issues with people not doing their jobs. Many times, they ask for more work and go above and beyond expectations. What drives them? Ambition. Initially, I did not understand this. But since then, I have created weekly tasks throughout the semester and more ways to get them involved.

When I oversee my Gen Z peers, I have to give them freedom. When working with Generation Z on projects, I have observed that they have such drive that it would end up a disaster if one tried to limit them. Each person has creative talent and curiosity that one should not limit or control. They must feel like they can do their job independently and then receive feedback when done. Managers should be comfortable with providing regular feedback and guidance. Acknowledging their work comes next: praise them and shout them out individually in front of their peers.

What is Gen Z known for? Being digital natives. Connectivity is a huge part of managing Gen Zers; they are always online. You should know that they will contact you and connect with you on multiple platforms throughout the day, and that is okay. It is because they are lifelong internet adopters; their lives revolve around technology and social media. We grew up with an abundant amount of information at our fingertips and sat back and watched the internet develop more and more into our lives. Never limit the possibilities and ways to get things done with technology. We have a range of platforms available with the touch of a button and plenty of tools at our disposal. Managers should develop effective communication skills on multiple platforms. The internet is more of a canvas where people express themselves. You might as well call us the information generation.

Gen Zers are fearless, which is why you must create a safe space for all ideas to be heard. Almost everyone is brave and speaks up with boldness and confidence. But shutting down ideas does not end well. There are no bad ideas. Sometimes even the craziest and strangest ideas emerge on top as a more effective innovative strategy.

Adapting is something Gen Zers can do easily, so changing processes and directing them in different directions comes easily. Everyone responds well to change, whether or not they agree with it. When doing this, you must say that “if this does not work or you have a problem with it, bring it up personally with me.” And when they do bring it up with you, acknowledge their opinion and hear them out, find ways that will help them adapt quickly and provide solutions.

Transparency is one of the biggest lessons I learned. No one likes to be excluded from the process. Talking about what you are doing as a leader will interest them because they are so curious. Show them that you are working hard for the group; this will make them want to work more because they are so motivated and aspirational. Be brave and as open as you can about financials, goals, ethics, and even aspects of your personal life. This will help them accept you as their leader, show them that you are one of them, and make you relatable. Do not do this all initially; do this subtly over time. Gen Z speaks from their experiences openly, so try to do the same. Maintain the sense that everyone is working toward the same goal; this will promote togetherness and create relationships within the company that may not have happened otherwise.

Having more one-on-one conversations is one of the most successful strategies you can implement. This makes them feel appreciated and celebrated as individuals. Gen Z wants to feel heard. In a group setting, many factors like peer pressure and influence can come up and stifle discussion. The self-aware Gen Zer does not like to keep things bottled up; they want to express opinions freely. They care about their mental health and will attempt to get things out in the open. You have to be understanding.

Having a strong social presence is essential. Your company should be posting things that they can be so proud of that they reshare it on their accounts. This is not just about the aesthetic; it’s about how others perceive your company. Being unique and well-spoken is a part of this. Do not be scared to push boundaries and break the norms. Take suggestions from them on how to be more inclusive and diverse. Always stay up to date on Gen Z trends. I send memes and provide interactive content to please the masses and encourage comments. Never be too basic or fake; if you do not keep up with trends, you will be dismissed and declared irrelevant.

Create a company culture that is engaging and will make people want to stay. This means more experiences. They care more about experiences than possessions. So have activities and outings together to build camaraderie and allow them to work better on their teams. If you follow these tips, I am confident that you can avoid the harshest Gen Z criticism of older managers, which sounds something like: “Okay, Boomer.”

Madison McQuary is a Strategic Communication major with a Graphic Design minor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She also spends her time leading the student-run agency Roxo. As president, she manages 30 Gen Z peers.

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