As I raise my children, as I watch Generation Z grow and start joining the workforce, I can’t help myself and wonder if we are ready to lead them. The first "social generation" to grow up with access to the Internet and portable digital technology from a young age is starting to join the workforce. For these young people, the boundaries between work life, personal life and public life don’t exist. Life is one and the same and I firmly believe we will need to change the way we lead in order to lead them in our large organisations.
But what do I mean by things are changing? An easy example can be AOC (the democrat congresswoman in the US) who published a tweet last year announcing how she made it to level Silver III in League of Legends (see here). Before the rise of social media, leaders, politicians, celebrities mentioned their hobbies (such as gaming) in magazine or television interviews. Their answers were polished and they didn't have the possibility to stream, day by day, what they do. Now, people like AOC use Social Media to bring forward political debate, challenge other politicians and also casually share their gaming accomplishments. The boundaries between their work life, personal life and public life have been reduced to a level never achieved before. This is the world our kids live in and as the younger generation joins the workforce, they expect work to be part of their life, part of their playground and they expect to be able to be themselves at work, at home and all-around.
I live in Denmark and I wonder if large European organisations are ready for Generation Z to join the workforce. Is the organisational culture and managerial style ready to cater to these younger employees. Will we expect them to continue to wear the part (mostly dressed in suits), will we expect them to focus on performance and deliverables and will we expect them to leave their personal life out of the office? Are we ready to lead a generation of clever minds who learn new things off YouTube and who are digitally savvy from the get-go? Are we training our managers to be able to meet this generation’s needs and demands? Will these young employees fit the large organisations and strive in the “old” school leadership environment?
We need to think about this and start preparing for the future. In large corporations, we need to be ready to lead and manage a generation who will replace the suit with hoodies (greatly inspired by the startup world) and who will post on their Social Media work related content, hobby related content as well as political opinions. We might believe that managers are ready to discuss which book they just read, which TV show they just binged, but it doesn’t come easily to everyone to be personal at work. This is still a great struggle for many and this won’t resonate with a generation who will strive on finding purpose and belonging at work. And if being personal is so hard for some managers, it makes me wonder if managers, especially in large companies, are ready to discuss cultural diversity, the end of gender norms and why pronouns matter?
Already now, there are other managers like me, working in large corporations, coming to work wearing a Star Wars t-shirt and sharing their pronouns (She/They in my case). And soon, we will have many younger employees doing the same. I love being a people manager and I care about each of my employees. Watching the last Millennials enter the workforce and Generation Z follow suit, I want to continue to manage people, but I also want to do more. I want to help organisations get ready for the transition and the required leadership changes. Therefore, I ask myself and all of you, how do we support this transition?
Looking forward to discussing this further. Please comment here on on my original LinkedIn post here: Open letter to my fellow managers