Is Gen Z the most difficult generation to work with? Their bosses say yes

Three in four managers say they find it difficult to work with Gen Z , as pre- and post-COVID attitudes towards working clash.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Disparate attitudes towards work are creating conflict between younger workers and their older managers, according to a survey by

The findings show that of 1,344 managers and business leaders surveyed, 74% believe Gen Z is more difficult to work with than any other generation.

In some cases, relationships are souring to the point of being cut short. 65% of managers say they have fired more Gen Zers than employees of any other age.

Some may dismiss the criticisms as older people griping about ‘entitled, lazy young people’. But the overwhelming vote of no confidence in Gen Z staff members – who are predicted to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025 – is cause for concern amongst business owners.

Below, we’ll explore the generation gap in more detail, and explain how senior leaders might resolve the conflict.

Gen Z workers disagree with bosses on the ‘new world of work’

Organisational cultures have undergone a huge shake-up since COVID. With the idea of flexible working having firmly taken hold for UK businesses – the government has even made it a day one legal right through the Flexible Working Bill – the line between personal and professional behaviour is blurring for companies up and down the country.

From benefits packages to the office dress code, every workplace has been affected as bosses embrace a more relaxed approach to day-to-day duties.

Most of Gen Z has only ever worked in an environment where pyjamas on a work call wasn’t normal. For this group, the ‘old ways’ of the 9am start time are dead and buried.

Now, ResumeBuilder’s research suggests that managers are struggling to align their expectations with the performance styles of younger colleagues.

Workforce clashes over digital working

Each generation brings new challenges, perspectives, and beliefs with them to a workplace. But ResumeBuilder’s findings suggest the gap between pre and post-COVID workplace attitudes is too wide for teams to bridge, creating real management issues.

Overall, nearly three-quarters of managers and business leaders surveyed say they find Gen Z to be more difficult than other generations to work with. Of this group, 49% find it difficult to work with Gen Z employees all or most of the time.

According to the respondents, Gen Z slack off. Managers argue that younger employees lack effort (37%) and motivation (37%).

Akpan Ukeme, head of HR at SGK Global Shipping Services, admits he has butted heads with Gen Z colleagues on multiple occasions.

“They think they know everything about the digital world,” he protests. “They think they’re better, smarter, and more capable than you. They will tell you that to your face.”

Of the respondents who claim Gen Z is the most difficult generation to work with, 34% say they would prefer to work with Millennials, 30% with Gen X, and 4% with Baby Boomers.

Poor communication skills lead to Gen Z disconnect

We recently reported on the glossary of new office slang that Gen Z employees have brought to the workplace. Amongst the favourites, ‘work goals’, ‘vibe’, and ‘feeling it’.

Some would say it’s all harmless fun. Combined with the ResumeBuilder research, however, this influx of social media-inspired jargon represents a deeper issue. Workers from different generations are finding it increasingly difficult to understand each other.

Adam Garfield is marketing director at Hairbro. Garfield praises Gen Z workers for prioritising meaningful work. But he also says he believes younger colleagues fall down when it comes to communication.

“While they are proficient in using digital communication tools, they may lack some of the interpersonal skills required for face-to-face interactions,” he attests. “Gen Z could benefit from developing their communication skills to build stronger relationships with colleagues and clients.”

All roads lead back to the pandemic. Gen Z staff may have begun connecting with colleagues remotely during lockdowns, with no experience of making and taking traditional work phone calls. It is likely they now collaborate via a hybrid business model, presenting potential for confusion and ambiguity.

According to Lucid’s 2022 State of Collaboration report, 67% of employees prefer to meet in person because they feel virtual meetings aren’t collaborative.

Bad communication is guaranteed to spur team working. In our guide to the importance of teamwork, we highlight the seven key principles of communication – without which, a team can end up directionless and, ultimately, missing its objective.

Experts say training is key to generational conflict resolution

Of the managers who indicated they find Gen Z difficult to work with, 59% say they’ve fired a Gen Zer. This statistic points to the scale of disruption that the issue is causing.

Particularly when companies are finding it so difficult to find talent that they are actively searching abroad, trigger-happy managers handing out notices left and right has genuine ramifications for business growth.

Allowing discontent to fester into firings will also not help with wider employee engagement. Low staff morale – a surefire symptom of workplace conflict – is guaranteed to induce a higher turnover rate, as workers feel they are unable to progress.

Chief Career Advisor Stacie Haller blames COVID-19 for the Gen Z disconnect, arguing that younger colleagues who began their careers during the remote era of the pandemic have not been able to witness good office communication first-hand.

“We know that with remote work and education, communication skills do not develop as well and people tend to work more independently,” she stresses. Haller’s solution? “This generation may need more training when it comes to professional skills.”

How to bridge the generational gap

While flexible working has brought many positives to the workplace, government findings highlight plenty of negatives. Chief amongst them: challenges when monitoring staff performance.

Here are three ways to improve communication between line managers and their reports when working remotely:

1. Organise in-person team-building activities

Team building exercises help to build trust and respect between colleagues. Gen Z employees will learn more about the skills and talents of their managers. This will serve to mitigate conflict, encourage communication, and increase collaboration.

2. Audit your hybrid working policy

Now is a good time to re-examine your hybrid work policy (or design one if you haven’t already) to make sure it is supporting every member of staff.

Crucially, review your current mechanisms for performance evaluation, such as ensuring all line managers have regular catch up meetings with their reports.

3. Invest in management training

It’s easy to blame the new workers, but good communication skills are also an important trait for managers to own. Investing in a management training program will better equip leaders to handle development or performance issues amongst younger employees.

Still struggling to promote harmony in your workplace? Read our guide to conflict resolution for six more strategies you can use to reduce the impact of the generational gap.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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