From The Straits Times    |

Getty

After graduating from university, 25-year-old Daisy Anne Mitchell worked for two different companies before deciding to go freelance in January this year. Now, the performing arts and musical theatre graduate, who lives in Singapore, works for herself, as a content creator and freelance actor.

Having been a full-time employee for just over three years – as a speech and drama teacher for two years, and a performer at a local theme park for 14 months – Daisy has a clearer idea of what she needs to thrive if she were to work for a company again.

“For starters, employers should respect that their employees have a personal life, and not overwork them or make them work longer than what’s considered legal,” she explains.

“Companies also need to do away with that ‘kampung spirit’ and ‘we are a family’ mentality. We are not family; I am here to work for money, not for free.

“Finally, there shouldn’t be a limit as to how much medical leave employees can take, and companies shouldn’t dictate when employees can go on annual leave.”

Credit: Getty

Daisy adds that employers should also value their staff’s mental health, pay them fairly for the amount of work they do, and offer them a flexible work schedule.

“If these requirements weren’t being met, I’d definitely say something, and if the management still didn’t attempt to change or improve the situation, I would leave,” she says.

While these statements make Daisy seem demanding, difficult or entitled, they are not unusual for people born between 1995 and 2012, otherwise known as Generation Z.

In their book, Working with Gen Z: A Handbook to Recruit, Retain, and Reimagine the Future Workforce After Covid-19, authors Santor Nishizaki and James DellaNeve note that people tend to be critical of Zoomers, with common complaints ranging from their emotional fragility and need to be coddled, to their intolerance for meetings.

Credit: Getty

The authors also point out that Gen Zs have had their lives and relationships with work shaped by instability – first as a result of the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, and again by the global pandemic in 2020. As a result, their job expectations, work habits and personal behaviours differ vastly from those of older generations.

Baby Boomer and Gen X bosses have complained about their Millennial employees in the past, so now that Millennials themselves are leading Gen Z teams, are they more tolerant in their roles?

Gen Z’s impact on the workplace

Joel Lim, 30, is managing director at digital media company Zyrup Media. He currently employs six Gen Zers, and he says that this group prioritises work flexibility, work-life balance, well-being, and purpose-driven work.

Credit: Getty

He’s also observed that they’re outspoken about what they want: “The media industry is a high-pressure one, but we also have periods of downtime in between deadlines. To balance the demands of the job with my employees’ expectations of work-life balance, I’ve found that what helps is to convey these work fluctuations to the team, set clear job goals from the start, and maintain ongoing communication.”

Because of changes in workplace cultures over the years, many of these “demands” are not unreasonable. Millennials pretty much paved the way for Gen Zs with their own rules when they entered the workforce; and in our post-pandemic world, most of us don’t view working life the way we used to.

For one, more companies will champion ED&I (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) initiatives, says Allie Teh, manager for Sales & Marketing, Consumer & Healthcare at recruitment agency Robert Walters Singapore.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a trend in employees reassessing their career goals and motivations, and seeking opportunities that are purpose-led and provide a work-life balance,” she explains. “Employers are therefore starting to offer improved benefits relating to mental wellness and volunteer work as an additional avenue to attract and retain talent.”

Gen Z’s desire for more flexible work schedules also means that remote or hybrid work arrangements will continue to be prevalent.

Joel says that Zyrup Media even has a menstrual health policy so that female staffers can take leave or work flexible hours when they’re on their period. This policy came about as a result of conversations between Zyrup Media management and their Millennial and Zoomer employees.

“Gen Zs have no qualms discussing menstrual health in the workplace. To them, menstrual health is a workplace concern because it’s connected to work productivity and well-being,” Joel adds.

Helping Gen Z’ers find their place at work

Credit: Getty

There are a lot of good things to be said about Gen Z workers, and employers should definitely help bring out and leverage on these positive qualities, says Allie.

“Zoomers are known for their entrepreneurial spirit and desire for autonomy – they’re often self- starters who are willing to take initiative and bring new ideas to the table. This can lead to increased innovation, efficiency, and a proactive approach to problem-solving.

“They also value diversity and inclusivity, so they’re more likely to appreciate and embrace diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Employing Gen Z individuals can therefore contribute to a more inclusive work environment where diversity is celebrated, and ideas from all employees are valued.”

As Gen Z individuals possess strong digital skills and are quick to adapt to new tools and platforms, Allie adds that employers can look into how these employees can contribute to innovation and help their organisations keep abreast of emerging tech trends.

“Finally, Gen Z places a strong emphasis on meaningful, purposeful work and making a positive impact, so by employing them, organisations can tap into this motivation and create a sense of purpose within the workplace, leading to increased employee engagement and satisfaction,” says Allie.

Adapting to the changing workforce

Credit: Getty

Gen Z workers value flexibility and trust, and require high engagement. They’re vocal, expressive, and value being heard. As such, Allie says that a “top-down” working approach would probably not be very effective when it comes to managing this group of employees.

“Due to their exposure to fast-paced digital content, Gen Z individuals also have shorter attention spans – this means that employers must find more effective ways to motivate and engage with them, such as providing varied and interactive work tasks, or implementing regular feedback sessions,” says Allie.

Credit: Getty

As Gen Z workers may be less patient when it comes to moving up the career ladder, employers will need to communicate realistic paths for career progression, and provide clear growth opportunities to retain their Gen Z talent. They should also clearly communicate performance expectations, goals, and objectives to them. Allie says that this helps set the standards for their work, and ensures that they understand what’s required of them.

“Regular discussions about career development can help align their aspirations with organisational goals,” she adds.

Gen Zers appreciate frequent feedback and recognition for their work, too, so Allie notes that employers should adapt their feedback processes to be more immediate and ongoing, so they can provide performance evaluations regularly.

Twenty-six-year-old Evelyn Wong*, who works in the education sector, agrees, saying that she wouldn’t stay at a company that didn’t check most of these boxes.

“If I’m being paid to work, I want to be told how I’m doing and where I can improve. If I’m doing well, I’d like to be acknowledged for it. My current supervisor gives me feedback every month.

“Knowing how my bosses see me progressing within the company is also important. I don’t just want to go with the flow and see where the job takes me. I want to be recognised for my hard work, and I want to be able to discuss my career path with my supervisor so I know what I’m working towards. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Allie adds that employers can also help Gen Z employees achieve a work-life balance by setting clear expectations around working hours, flexible schedules, and time-off policies. She points out that it’s also crucial to establish boundaries to prevent burnout and maintain productivity, while also providing flexibility to accommodate personal needs.

“We don’t glorify hustle culture; we want to be content with our working life. We just don’t see a need to keep traditional – and sometimes harmful – work practices and policies in place when they don’t serve us anymore.” – Daisy Ann Mitchell

The key to understanding and engaging with Zoomers

Credit: Getty

Most Asian employers place a strong emphasis on respect for authority and hierarchy. So, what’s the best way to deal with outspoken Gen Z employees?

“Their frankness is a breath of fresh air, but to some employers it may come across as disrespectful,” says Anita Rajendran-See, principal coach and CEO of Anspired, a company that specialises in executive and organisational coaching with extensive experience in human capital management.

“It’s therefore important to create a culture that values open communication, while delineating the boundaries of respect.

“When this line is crossed, employers should have a constructive conversation with the employee, highlighting the impact of their words and actions. It’s not about pointing fingers, but guiding young professionals towards empathetic and culturally-aware communication, thereby creating a harmonious environment that brings out the best in everyone.”

Joel is aware of the negative stereotypes about Gen Z. However, he says that his experiences with Zoomers have mostly been positive, and that any challenges he’s had with this group likely stem from individual differences rather than generational ones.

“Every team has people who lack interpersonal skills or who don’t know how to conduct themselves professionally; it doesn’t matter which generation they’re from,” he shares.

Nonetheless, Joel says that bosses should prioritise open communication and inclusion with their Gen Z staff.

There are a few ways to approach this, he advises – one is to conduct regular check-ins with their employees and give them a “safe space” in which to voice their opinions and concerns.

Credit: Getty

Another is to involve them in the policymaking process by asking for their input, and empowering them to contribute to the organisation’s growth and evolution. “I can only speak for myself, but I believe that work is something to be enjoyed,” Joel continues. “Every employee should be able to share their opinions constructively, so they can help employers understand how to make work more enjoyable for them.”

Daisy agrees, saying that one’s job shouldn’t bring them anxiety and stress, and that employers need to accept this.

“My generation views work very differently. We don’t glorify hustle culture; we want to be content with our working life.

“We just don’t see a need to keep traditional – and sometimes harmful – work practices and policies in place when they don’t serve us anymore. And we want employers to respect our personal time and treat us with respect.”

A pretty young focused professional asian woman writing down notes or making a draft. Office worker, businesswoman or freelancer at a coffee shop.

How to respond when Gen Z’s say…

Anita Rajendran-See, principal coach and CEO of Anspired, offers her suggestions for handling these common statements.

“I know it’s in my contract, but this is a lot of work and I don’t want to do it.”

Your Zoomer staffer may be feeling overwhelmed by their workload, so have an open discussion with them about the requirements in their contract, their KPIs, and the demands of their role.

At the same time, try to understand their concerns by asking them how they’re coping with their job.

See how you can address these concerns: For instance, Gen Zers are tech-savvy and innovative, so can these strengths be channelled towards their job responsibilities to help them manage their workload better? Can AI and other tech tools ease their workload pressures?

“I would rather not have 9am meetings, why must our catch-ups be so early?”

Recognising this worker’s preference for a flexible schedule – and responding with understanding – demonstrates your commitment to their well-being.

First, frame the discussion around diverse schedules and mutual respect. This opens the door to accommodating different needs without sacrificing professionalism.

Your next challenge is to harmonise individual preferences with collective objectives. Flexible meeting schedules and considerate planning can help bridge the gap, ensuring that all voices are heard and fostering a workplace that’s as dynamic as it is empathetic.

“I found out that I’m getting paid less than my colleague. Can you pay me more?”

Transparency and fairness are pivotal here, so have an honest discussion about their salary to show that you take their concerns seriously. An open dialogue also affirms their value within the organisation.

If an unwarranted pay discrepancy is uncovered, address it swiftly. Conversely, when pay variations are justified by factors such as experience or role-specific duties, try to clarify these nuances respectfully.

Such engagements also prompt employers to periodically revisit their compensation structures, ensuring that they reflect their organisational commitment to equality – a value that Gen Z holds in high regard.