The sign in an ‘alternative’ funeral parlour showed images of all sorts of creative coffins. (Actually that’s not a bad company name right there.) The company’s strapline was: “Think Outside The Box”. That’s GenZ’s mantra.
That’s smart, inspirational. And it applies in spades to GenerationZ. Of course, all managers like to pride themselves on being original thinkers, but it’s surprising how easy it is, particularly over a lengthy timeline, for that free-thinking to be contained within narrower and narrower limits.
“Because that’s how we do it here.” “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.” “It’s always been done that way.” You’ve heard those phrases, although hopefully not from your own lips. They’re the limits, and they’re often self-imposed. Don’t expect GenZ to feel the same.
Covid-19 looks like it’s going to be a disruptor going forward, and you could think of GenZers as being like benign versions of that. That dull weekly meeting where everyone crowds into the room, there aren’t quite enough chairs, you forgot your coffee, someone’s eating something noxious, someone else won’t shut up – Covid and GenZ are going to change those. Hurrah.
You get there at 9am and you leave at 5pm. Or you indulge in an arm’s race and get in at 8am to try to beat everyone else, and ostentatiously say goodbye to them as you slog on as they’re clocking off. All you’re doing is putting hours in at the chair-face. That doesn’t mean you’re achieving anything, or nothing that couldn’t be done in literally half the time if you didn’t spend time clicking on that TikTok link your friend pinged over, getting just one more coffee or trying to sort out a supermarket delivery slot for your elderly mother.
GenZ will do the work – will want to do the work – but they won’t see the point of the rush hour. Remember, these are people who see themselves as citizens of the world – not in an obnoxious way either – so to them location such as country is less important than location online. To them the work, the purpose, the passion are the key drivers, and they’ll power into that work for long periods. But that period may not exactly match the old 9-5. Don’t interrupt them when working.
Above all this is about trust, not control. Old practices clearly have at heart the nasty suspicion that if the staff aren’t carefully watched they’ll backslide. And where better to watch them than if they’re all in one droplet-laden office? But the data is already showing that those working from home are frequently far more productive than the office drone.
So trust the new arrivals, they’re eager to show that trust will be rewarded. And the old methods of control are being broken up anyway.
In his short book Let Go, entrepreneur Pat Flynn recounts how a baby elephant can be restrained by a short chain and a spike in the ground. The young elephant can’t break free despite its best efforts. But as the elephant gets older it accepts the situation and doesn’t try again. Even though it now has the strength to break free.
A young GenZ elephant is going to spend ages online and on social media exploring how to get rid of the chain and the spike. It’ll work on the problem, looking at innovative and enterprising initiatives. Every day, for ever.