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Reverting to old-fashioned leadership won’t get you through the next recession. Here’s why every company should listen to Gen Z employees

January 17, 2023, 12:59 PM UTC
Gen Zers entered a workplace in flux after the pandemic hit.
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While the threat of a recession has softened quitting rates, 3 in 10 workers are still looking to leave their current jobs. Typically, quitting and firing sprees tend to trigger remaining colleagues to consider leaving their roles. Leaders cannot afford to be complacent.

This potential domino effect finds momentum among younger generations in particular, with Gen Z workers 2.5 times more likely to respond to the resignation of their peers by following suit themselves.  

Last year, Gen Z was also changing jobs at a rate 134% higher than before the pandemic, while Baby Boomers were switching 4% less than in 2019. This tracks with data that shows Gen Z is more burnt out at work than older generations and highlights the need to bridge generational gaps between leaders and the employees who are newly entering the workforce.

Though the demands of Gen Z workers have been made clear, even the most experienced leaders find themselves poorly equipped to battle longstanding stereotypes in order to authentically connect with their teams, especially as they look to more uncertainty ahead.

As the leading provider of executive coaching services, we understand the unique challenges executives are currently facing. In 2023, leaders should focus on making themselves more directly accessible to their youngest employees.

While pre-pandemic work environments may have once called for leadership to remain largely out of sight, our knowledge of what younger employees crave from leadership contends that uncertain times call for certain changes and that being visible, accessible, and connected to the newest members of the workforce is key to successfully bracing for future unknowns.

Gen Z workers, who will make up a third of the global workforce by 2030, don’t just want visible leaders. Young workers want personal relationships with senior managers and to be privy to their thinking and decision-making processes. Like their Millennial counterparts, Gen Zers want to see their own values reflected in their leaders.

We know employee satisfaction is driven by a sense of belonging to the organization and leadership. However, the pandemic-induced shift to remote and hybrid work has driven a wedge in human connection. Some 73% of Gen Z workers still report feeling lonely at work, and 90% of workers say they would not inform their supervisor of work-related challenges, further highlighting a gap in connectivity that needs to be addressed.

Leaders are often quick to view the ambitious nature of this generation as a symptom of entitlement and apathy toward hard work. But if we stop and consider why Gen Zers are challenging convention, it’s clear that they yearn to be invited into existing structures–and to improve them.

Having started their careers in fractured work environments with hybrid or fully remote offices being the only office structure they’ve ever known, freshman workers not only crave human interaction, but they’re also wildly curious and eager to learn.

Beyond a desire for upward mobility, they want to understand how to be an employee in the most basic sense. Some 67% of Gen Z workers want to work at companies where they can learn skills to advance their careers. Two-thirds also think an understanding of corporate office culture is essential–but with 55% of Gen Z workers feeling deprived of an important part of adulthood due to the pandemic’s effect on office culture, they’re left in limbo. It’s not surprising that they seek guidance at a personal level that far exceeds what previous generations required or ever thought to ask for.

With that in mind, simple gestures like setting up informal coffees with team members, participating in new staff orientations, sitting in on team meetings, or making it a point to drop in on casual social events, can go a long way to welcoming Gen Z staff into your company and the broader world of work. By identifying low-pressure situations to interact with entry-level staff, leaders can establish the direct, authentic connections today’s workforce craves.

Despite deep-seated traditions, leaders can also use their proximity to everyday staff to reflect and validate the values of their Gen Z employees without being performative or insincere. Since the pandemic, top CEOs have felt a unique pressure to appear more human in the workplace–but they often don’t know how to do so in a way that is meaningful enough to resonate with their youngest employees.

From something as small as making personal time for a walk or meditation visible on your calendar to going out of your way to acknowledge a shared interest, or even opening up about personal experiences navigating work-life balance or mental health, letting your employees know that you share common ground creates a true “we’re in this together” mentality.

Leaders will need to be intentional about making room in their busy schedules to connect with their youngest employees. By making their presence and thoughts directly known, leaders can inspire and motivate Gen Z workers to stay the course no matter what lies ahead.

Gaëlle de la Fosse is the president of LHH. Nick Goldberg is the CEO and founder of EZRA.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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