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Generation Y

Rockstars@Work: How To Make Work Work For Gen Y

In an earlier blog, Dana Shapiro told the story of Brett Farmiloe and Zack Hubbell, who traveled the country on the Pursue the Passion tour to interview people about why they were passionate about their work.

In an earlier blog, Dana Shapiro told the story of Brett Farmiloe and Zack Hubbell, who traveled the country on the Pursue the Passion tour to interview people about why they were passionate about their work. 

In their keynote speech at the RockStars@ Work Conference, Brett and Zack concluded that everybody needs three things from the workplace: significance, trust and measurability. 


Significance is all about seeing how your job matters. How do your little, daily tasks impact others? How do you fit into the larger picture? How is this job connected to your company’s vision? The answers to these(and many more) questions provide a motivation for YOU to work at this particularjob. 

When Zack started his first job out of college, he had a hard time seeing the importance of his auditing work. He turned to his boss, who essentially said that the work doesn’t matter. It’s a deterrent at best. Soon after, Zack quit. 

Zack said that his boss could have responded any number of ways. “You’ll lose a lot of people that way,” he said. “The truth is, people got medical services because of the work we did. There were a lot of things we did that were vitally important.” 

On their tour Zack and Brett interviewed a shipping worker who said that the worst part about his job was that he had no idea how he was impacting his community. He didn’t know where he fit in. Never mind that his job was physically demanding, routine and not the best paying job in the country—he didn’t know his significance. 

These stories show the importance of knowing the significance of the work you do. 

It isn’t hard for seasoned employees to know their significance because they have the perspective to see it and have lived it. 

However, new employees don’t have that same breadth of vision. To help them understand the significance of their work, simply explain how they fit into the whole picture. That can give a person meaning, purpose and pride in even the dirtiest jobs. 


No one likes to be micro-managed. And no one performs quality work when they are micro-managed. That is why trust is important. Someone in human relations told Zack and Brett that you have to give your employees enough rope to either swing around or hang themselves. 

So, just like you trust your veteran employees, trust your newbies with projects. Will they mess up? Likely. But who doesn’t mess up once in a while? If they are quality employees, they will learn from their mistakes and become better for it. But trust allows them the freedom to be creative, and great things can come out of that.

 Brett and Zack talked to the owner of a pizza place that had been voted the best in Spokane, Wash., for 14 years. The owner actively trusts his young employees by giving them bylaws and minimum goals, but allowing them to be creative and use their own initiative for the rest.


The final value is measurability. On their journey Zack and Brett talked to a 25 year-old rocket scientist who said the best part of his job is the instant measurability. Either the rocket goes up or it doesn’t. “You can’t even qualify how valuable that is to an employee,” Brett said.

 One point that Brett and Zack raised is that recent college grads are on a different timeline than the seasoned businessman, making the need for “instant” measurability even greater. For the last four years the college student’s performance was measured on a weekly, bi-semester and semester basis. (A semester is 4-5 months) If by midterms you hadn’t made an A or B in class, you knew you would have to improve performance. There was a definitive result at the end of each semester. Brett and Zack said that this timeline mentality makes it difficult to adjust to the long-term timeline of the working world.

 While I agree that this might make the transition a little difficult, I do not think it is an excuse for lesser performance. Most college students have jobs or internships, and it isn’t too difficult to make the transition. That being said, I think frequent constructive criticism can help any new employee perform better.  

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Melissa Hackenmueller

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