While the buzz about what millennials want and expect in the workplace may finally be cooling down, it’s just starting to heat up about the next generation. Get ready, because here comes Gen Z.
The youngest generation now arriving on the scene in the workplace, the Pew Research Center qualifies Gen Z as people born in 1997 or later. The articles about this generation have begun in earnest, including this one about five myths to know about Gen Z with regard to managing and training them.
Here are a few key phrases that people use to characterize Gen Z:
- Digital natives
- Diverse and global
- Prefer face-to-face communication
A Robert Half study reported that the top characteristic members of Gen Z most value in a leader or boss is honesty/integrity (38%), followed by mentoring ability (21%). This generation wants learning opportunities, career advancement opportunities and mentoring.
That sounds familiar. The same thing could have been said about millennials 15 years ago. Gen X (born 1965-1980) has often been described as pushing for work/life balance, and today, the same can be said for millennials (born 1981-1996) as they have children and grow older. The cyclical nature of trends makes it clear that what’s old is always new again.
While different generations may have unique life experiences that help shape them (e.g., the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, 9/11, the war on terror, the Great Recession), we all have more in common than we realize. It’s safe to say that most of us would appreciate having a mentor who could help us at work, who could be a guide and a sounding board during our professional journey. It’s also safe to say that mentoring is a natural activity that we all take part in without realizing it. Whether we want to be mentored so that we can learn a new skill, earn a promotion or understand a new perspective, the drive is to better ourselves.
It’s natural to group people, things or ideas to help us make sense of larger wholes, but it can create stereotypes and labels that are forced onto people because they fall into a designated group. Millennials can share how frustrating this reality is, as they struggle to fight back against generational labels such as being lazy, entitled and self-consumed.
Instead of looking at different generations and deciding on a mentoring approach based on stereotypes, here are some universal ideas on how to make mentoring more approachable and accessible to everyone in your workforce.
1. Use Mentoring Software
Consider using mentoring software to make the process of mentoring easier for employees. They can use the software to find a mentor or mentee who can help them address their learning or development goals, removing any assumptions about age or generational preferences from the equation. It’s a great way to make impartial mentoring matches. Employees can also use the software to establish goals for their relationship and track their progress against them.
2. Offer Multiple Types of Mentoring
Mentoring can take the form of traditional one-to-one pairs, reverse mentoring, group mentoring and more. Don’t limit your mentoring options based on what you think different generations want. (“Well, millennials like collaborative learning, so we will offer them group mentoring, and Gen Z wants to show they are valuable to the company, so we will offer them reverse mentoring.”) Instead of limiting their options, provide a multitude of choices for people so that they can decide for themselves what form of mentoring they want to use.
3. Let People Decide How They Meet and Communicate
Some people like to meet in person, while others prefer email. Still others want to text, use video chatting or discuss things over the phone. If you went by generational stereotypes, you may think that Gen X wants to use email rather than video chatting. But as technology becomes more commonplace, it’s unsafe to make assumptions. Instead, let people make their own choices about how they communicate with their mentees/mentors. Give them ownership over all aspects of the relationship.
4. Provide Training and Support
To help make mentoring more approachable and accessible to everyone, think about how training and support can fit into the picture. Provide your employees with tips and tricks to use that can make their relationships a success, regardless of their generation. Demystifying the mentoring process and going beyond generational stereotypes can help them see each another as unique human beings rather than caricatures.
It might seem fun to engage in tribalism and figure out where people fit based on arbitrary factors like generation, but it can do more harm than good. It’s time we stop lumping people into categories and, instead, start seeing them as individuals who bring value to our work and our lives.
Here’s to breaking down one more barrier and stereotype.