3 in 4 managers say Gen Z employees are difficult to work with

Generation Z takes heat from older generations for many things, and often it is a perception that they aren’t hardworking or driven, and don’t have any personal communications skills.

Managers say those perceptions are often justified.

In a recent Resume Builder survey of managers, 74% said Gen Z is the most difficult age group to work with. Half said they are difficult all or most of the time. Only 4% said they almost never find it difficult to work with Gen Z employees.

The top reasons managers cited were lack of technical skills, lack of motivation, being easily distracted and being easily offended.

While it’s possible those traits are more prevalent in Gen Z workers, it is not entirely a “Gen Z” thing. It is just a young worker thing, says Stacie Haller, chief career adviser at Resume Builder.

“I remember when millennials entered the marketplace during the Great Recession, and everybody was horrified, feeling they were all entitled and they didn’t work very hard,” said Haller. “Today, they are the most desired group. So it does have something to do with a generation entering the workforce.”

Gen Z does have unique baggage. Many missed out on opportunities to develop interpersonal skills with new people or unfamiliar places, having been isolated during the pandemic, attending college classes remotely and hobbled by the pandemic in general.

Haller said survey after survey also finds Gen Z to be the most stressed-out generation.

“Because they know they don’t have the workplace etiquette. They know they don’t have those kind of interpersonal skills. And I think both sides need to understand that it is a little different for them, and be more understanding about the world they are entering and where they are coming from,” Haller said.

But understanding should not mean coddling. The survey found 12% of managers have fired a Gen Zer less than one week after their start date. One of the top reasons is being too easily offended.

“I’ve butted heads more than once with a Gen Z employee, because since our company is online-based, they think they know everything about the digital world and they can teach me,” said Akpan Ukeme, head of HR at SGK Global Shipping Services, who was among the managers taking part in the Resume Builder survey.

“They think they’re better than you, smarter than you, more capable than you, and they will tell you to your face,” he said.

Gen Z may shoulder the responsibility for working to understand what professional skills they need to succeed, but Haller said there is responsibility elsewhere as well.

“Educational institutions need to properly prepare students and managers and business leaders need to learn to work with Gen Z,” she said. “Bias against younger workers is unacceptable and no different than ageism that we typically see against Baby Boomers.”

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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