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Gen Zers in the Workplace Seek Productive Feedback Rather Than Just Criticism

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Apr 12, 2024

As members of Generation Z becomes a larger part of the workforce—more than 32 percent by 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—they are changing many workplace norms, one of them being how they receive criticism, The Washington Post reported.

This generation, born between 1997 and 2012, wants its feedback to be timely, collaborative, empathetic and balanced. Otherwise, they just might leave and “find a workplace that connects with them better,” according to the Post.

“Rather than just saying, ‘Hey, you did this wrong,’ say, ‘I’d like to have a conversation on where your thought process was and where you went wrong,’” said Yatri Patel, a 24-year-old software engineer at the Tennessee Valley Authority, in an interview with the Post. “Help me understand.”

Because they are used to having instant access to information, this cohort goes online to seek out information when they don’t know how to do or understand something, experts told the Post.

“Through Google, Siri and Alexa, they got answers to anything they wanted to ask,” said Megan Gerhardt, a professor at Miami University and author of Gentelligence: A Revolutionary Approach to Leading an Intergenerational Workforce. “In the workplace, they’re moving into situations where free information about why things are done a certain way is elusive or muddled.”

Gen Zers interviewed by the Post said they view work differently than do members of other generations who sacrificed their time, well-being and family lives for jobs that often didn’t value them as people. They want to be themselves at work and feel that their voice matters, and that their managers are empathetic and will invest in relationships with them, they said. They also value context on why things should be done certain ways.

“Every single interaction does matter,” said Sarah Warren, 26, who is a Los Angeles-based executive director and co-founder of a mental health nonprofit for health-care workers. “You’re dealing with human beings. You can help stop burnout through vulnerability and compassion.”

Shad Brown, a security coordinator at 3M, said if he sees unexpected meetings pop up on his calendar or short vague messages from supervisors, he gets nervous.

“Whenever I receive an instant message that says, ‘I need to talk to you,’ I immediately think, ‘Oh no, is this bad?’” he said. “It does cause anxiety and gets the blood pressure going.” He also said receiving harsh feedback at the end of the day on Friday would be a nightmare because he would probably stew over it all weekend and have trouble sleeping.

Angel Davis, a 22-year-old social media assistant for the educational tech company Quizlet, told the Post that one of the worst things a manager can do is tell her she did something wrong and then fix it without any conversation.

“It would be confusing and demotivate me,” she said. “If you’re going to redo my work, why did I do it? And if you can’t explain things to me, I’m never going to fully understand.”

When young workers get to know their manager’s personality and perspective and feel like their manager cares about them personally, that helps frame any feedback Gen Zers told the Post. They want to be asked how they are feeling and other non work-related questions to help build that relationship.

Millennial Hannah Tooker, senior vice president of marketing agency LaneTerralever, said that, unlike managing other generations, she has to balance emotional and business needs and her young workers have not been afraid to ask for changes.

“I have to understand how they communicate and what they want to talk about,” she said in an interview. “They keep me on my toes.”