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Gen Z Managers Emphasize Empathy in the Workplace

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 15, 2024

Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, entered the job market during turbulent times, primarily marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as they enter management ranks, they are emphasizing empathy and mental health, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Many members of this cohort had their views of the workplace shaped by the pandemic, with the social turmoil that it entailed. Some did not have offices to go when they were starting out in the workforce. Others learned about the workplace by watching their parents working from home, and they were unhappy with what they saw; they perceived a lack of work-life balance, managers who didn't seem to care about their employees' mental health, and organizations that didn't allow for much employee expression. Gen Z accounts for only 16.8 percent of the total workforce now, according to data analyzed by ADP Research Institute, but these workers have been promoted into management 1.2 times faster in 2023 than in 2019. 

The challenges of working with this generation have been well-documented, the Journal reported. A survey of 1,344 managers by found that 74 percent believe Gen Z is more difficult to work with than other generations, due in part to a lack of skills as well as motivation. In another ResumeBuilder survey that interviewed hiring managers who assessed Gen Z candidates, 58 percent said that Gen Zers didn’t dress appropriately, 57 percent said they struggled with eye contact and 47 percent said they asked for unreasonable compensation.

“It’s not that they don’t want to work,"said executive coach Scott De Long, 64, who consults with workplace leaders on how to manage increasingly younger teams, in an interview with the Journal. "They don’t want to work for people who treat them the way that we were treated when we grew up.” 

To rectify this perceived unfair treatment, Gen Z managers have acknowledged issues of mental health and the personal touch in the workplace.

The eight employees of startup called August share their therapy appointments on their common work calendar. They mix their personal and work lives by wearing sneakers and workout clothes in the office and by cursing freely and openly. “The idea of your authentic self and your professional self as two separate things is three or four generations off,” said Erin Burk, the company’s vice president of business development, who describes herself as a 30s millennial, in an interview with the Journal. 

Taylor Fulton-Girgis, a 25-year old marketing manager for Othership, a chain of bathhouses based out of Toronto, told the Journal that managing a team of eight people, including videographers and graphic designers, prompted her to attend an “emotional wisdom retreat” recently to learn more about her strengths and weaknesses as a manager.

She said she learned that managing different individuals means understanding their unique work styles and ways of communicating. As a result, she is trying to meet them where they are, she said, rather than making them follow her own standard.

Connor Trombley, a 29-year-old senior vice president at speaker training and development company Impact Eleven rethought his management style after discussing his team’s inability to meet deadlines with his own boss. He discovered that his frustration was not due to the team members’ lack of ability. “I realized that the expectations you set for yourself cannot be the same expectations that you set for your team,” he said in an interview with the Journal.

By listening to and working with his employees, he said, “in the end, it ended up being a better client experience.”

He has also learned to give his employees the space they need to do the best work they can. “I now try to think about the human I’m talking to,” he said.