Today’s show is on Leading A Multi-Generational Workforce: Millennials/Gen Z. Listen to the show on iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.

Don [00:00:00] Yes, the workplace is more complex because of this multi-generational makeup. And, it does make it a little harder for leaders to create this multivariate environment where the needs of the different generations are being met when they’re at work. But, at the same time, leaders can be comfortable knowing that certain things cut across all the generations and that’s why we focus on neuroscience and the role of connection and attachment in the workplace.

Don [00:00:25] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”

Don [00:00:35] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued. Employees who feel safe are happier healthier and more productive.

Don [00:00:53] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.

Kelly [00:01:15] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.

Kelly [00:01:22] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.

Kelly [00:01:29] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.

Don [00:01:32] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.

Kelly [00:01:35] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week we’re focusing on our two-part series. This is part two on leading a multi-generational workforce. And, today we’re looking at millennials and Gen Z.

Kelly [00:01:45] millennials get a lot of stereotypes attached to them. If you just spend 10 seconds and google, “millennials are killing,” you will see all kinds of interesting things that millennials are killing. Wine, cheese, napkins, paper straws. No. Now we’re introducing paper straws because we’re killing plastic straws.

Kelly [00:02:06] There’s so many things that people have to say about millennials that’s culturally but in the workplace we hear all kinds of terms like millennials are lazy, millennials are entitled. There’s a lot of ways that people view millennials that I think are just flat out incorrect. And, there’s some reasons behind it.

Kelly [00:02:25] There’s some reasons that people in older generations are viewing millennials in this particular way. So we’re gonna get into what those reasons are. But, first I just want to clarify the context for who is a millennial in the workplace.

Kelly [00:02:37] They are now the largest generation of the workforce. They’re 35% of the people who show up to work every day. They are between the ages of 23 and 38 years old.

Kelly [00:02:48] So, as you think about the millennial generation, Don, why do millennials, which I am one of them, get such an interesting amount of stereotypes attached to who they are and how they function especially in the workplace?

Don [00:03:00] Some of its because what distinguishes all generations is just different and their experiences are different. All of these generational differences are the results of the different environments they grew up in.

Don [00:03:11] And, millennials grew up in a different type of environment than Gen X and boomers did and one of the most, I guess, personal examples for me is that when I grew up as, and I’m a Boomer, I knew all of my parents friends as “Mr. and Mrs.”

Don [00:03:27] And if there was a dinner party we were at a separate table, preferably in a different room. I think from the standpoint of the parents, when the parents did things together they did it on their own and the kids had to do something different.

Don [00:03:41] My daughter’s millennials in the environment they grew up in. They knew all of my friends on a first name basis and they can call them and talk to them and have conversations as much as I do. There’s much less of this a generational difference and distinction.

Don [00:03:54] So, one of the issues for millennials is that they view authority differently than previous generations did.

Don [00:03:59] They’re much less interested in a person’s title than they are what the person has done or they’re interested in. They’re more independent even than the Gen Xers who are much more independent than the boomers. So there’s more independence, there’s more variance in what they do and what they’re more focused on because they’ve grown up in one of the most prosperous economic times in our history.

Don [00:04:19] We’re now on our 102 month of continuous economic growth. They’ve grown up in an environment professionally that has been relatively prosperous. So they’re looking for higher order outcomes out of things. They’re much more interested in the role of emotion and connection in the workplace than previous generations are.

Don [00:04:35] And there have been these little shortcuts that people have used to stereotype them. I think we need to get past the stereotypes. The millennials as a generation is full of independent thinkers. We need to respect them for that and accept these changes. But it’s also simply the pace of change and how quickly things are changing. That scares I think some of the older generations.

Kelly [00:04:56] I think there’s a bit of a push and pull with the millennial generation. And, you’re right there is a lot of ways that they view work differently. They value finding meaning and purpose. They don’t do the work for the weekend concept. You talked about in our last episode. The work that we do on a daily basis needs to feel as fulfilling as the things that we get to do on the weekends.

Kelly [00:05:18] But at the same time millennials are the most saddled with student debt of any generation so they may not have experienced the same kind of economic depression boomers did. But there is a lot of pressure on millennials also to be able to pay back their debt, afford the kind of lifestyle they want to live which looks quite a bit different than the kind of lifestyle Gen Xers or baby boomers wanted to live.

Don [00:05:39] There are definitely some key differences and they do have some of them have just extraordinary levels of student loan debt but their world is still different.

Don [00:05:48] They want to do work that’s not just secure but they want to do work that has meaning. They wanted to work that is good, that’s helping to save the planet, improve the community. It’s a different outlook on what work needs to be.

Don [00:05:59] They’re more values based. They want to enjoy what they do. That’s an expectation, that they should be able to have fun at work. That it’s not just this place that needs to be onerous and negative where you just put your head down and march forward and this is the key thing again for leaders and that’s why we’re talking about these generations is understanding the different needs that they have.

Don [00:06:18] And, if you’re a leader in this multigenerational workforce, the things that you do that are going to resonate with Boomer are probably going to look different than what you do for someone who’s a millennial or Gen Z. But I also want to be really clear on this when you find that thing that resonates with that generation what happens neurochemically in the head is the same in the brain is the same for all of these generations.

Don [00:06:42] And, even though millennials, for example, have a higher expectation to find meaning and purpose in work or they have a higher expectation to receive validation and recognition for what they do at work than a Boomer did, when the boomer or the Gen X gets recognition and validation they get the same release of dopamine and oxytocin as the younger generations. That is, the response neurochemical is the same but the expectation of what I’m going to get at work has clearly shifted.

Don [00:07:08] And, this is why millennials, now the largest segment of the active U.S. labor force, they are going to change the future of work. And, what I would suggest to all of us is that we’re not now looking over the horizon for this future of work but it’s right now.

Don [00:07:23] And what has exacerbated or accelerated this shift to the future of work is now there’s a new component in the U.S. economy of labor scarcity and in an environment of labor scarcity. We have to be more attuned to these subtle differences and distinctions of generations about what draws them to work because we need to meet those needs. Because we can’t afford to lose these good people we have.

Don [00:07:45] We are at the lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen since the Vietnam War. We’re in a talent crisis in the United States and for the first time in managers lives, there are more unfilled jobs in America today—7.2 seven million—than there are unemployed people to fill them.

Don [00:08:01] In this environment, understanding the things that draw people to the workplace that create the conditions where they look forward to coming to work is absolutely essential. And this generational lens is a fantastic way to start that journey looking forward to coming to work.

Kelly [00:08:15] I think plays out in a couple of different ways. As millennials get into leadership roles they are helping move us already from a transactional to a relational culture, which we talk about all the time is critical for engagement, but they also look for other things more tangible things in the workplace.

Kelly [00:08:32] I think about my dad, who’s a boomer, when he went to work in his 30 years at an organization where he got his pension and his long term career path in one place.

Kelly [00:08:43] He put on a suit and a tie and carried a briefcase every single day when he went to work and he left it 8:30 and he came home at 6. That really doesn’t exist in the same way for millennials anymore. I don’t know anybody who goes to work in a suit. I don’t work in the banking industry and maybe that’s a place where you still see that but millennials look for quite a bit more flexibility, a little bit less structure than what we saw in previous generations.

Don [00:09:10] An interesting study came out, it was released earlier this year about millennials and what they’re looking for, what they’d like in terms of work, to help make work feel more compelling.

Don [00:09:21] First generation that values flexibility in their schedule more than getting a raise. So, this is exactly what you’re talking about. They’re saying I will forego getting more money. Please give me more flexibility in my schedule. And this is in part because our lives, the lives of millennials has become more complex. Expectations, what it is they need to do, there’s just a lot more going on.

Don [00:09:43] You know, it’s been called work-life balance I would prefer to call it work-life integration. We have to integrate more of our life into that Monday through Friday time zone, if you will, that is traditionally been pigeonholed as a place where you just work then.

Kelly [00:09:57] And maybe that’s part of where the stereotype of being lazy or entitled comes in. Where a millennial might call it flexibility and I can work where I work and I see productivity and success not being tied to a suit and a 9 to 5 in a cubicle environment with all my other colleagues. Millennials can see successful work and productive work happening day or night in whatever attire you’re putting on, in whatever environment that you can work best in.

Don [00:10:24] Yeah I don’t see any serious evidence that millennials are lazier than previous generations but they do question work in new ways.

Don [00:10:31] For example, why should I work a 60-hour workweek when we could develop a software program that could do a lot of what I do and automate it and I’m gonna be frustrated if I’m doing work that could be automated. Now I don’t see that as lazy. I see that is let’s apply the resources that are available in the best way they can be configured to get the job done. It’s just different. It’s more questioning, how can we do this more effectively, more efficiently. It’s not because they’re not willing or capable of working hard they want to work smarter more than they want to work harder.

Kelly [00:11:05] I think that’s such a great point but it also poses a challenge for leaders of millennials who are in a different generation. So, how does a leader of a millennial who has team members with that mindset or with that approach that might be pretty vocal about it, how do they lead well in that sense? Especially when we think about retaining millennials longer than the two and a half years or so that they typically stick around.

Don [00:11:29] Couple of things are things that we’ve talked about earlier podcasts, active listening, would be a really, really good way to make sure that they feel heard in those requests. And another would be to go to the why, to get to the, why do we do it this way, why is it important that it be done this way?

Don [00:11:45] Millennials and Gen Z are much less likely to respect the authoritarian request than they are the more robust answer about why and how does this make sense and what is the strategy behind this. Not only do they have more questions but they feel they have a right to ask them and to have those questions answered.

Kelly [00:12:05] That’s because they didn’t have to call their parents friends, “Mr. and Mrs.”

Don [00:12:08] Exactly.

Kelly [00:12:09] They had relationships with people and they built them maybe in a more authentic way.

Don [00:12:15] There’s something else that’s happened and this is one of the distinctions. I think for Gen Z one of the distinguishing characteristics of Gen Z is is how they consume media differently. They’re much more likely to get their news from a phone than a television set. They’re just growing up in this in this different kind of environment.

Don [00:12:32] But what they’ve also seen in their lifetime, as a result of just the ubiquity of social media, is they’ve seen the crash and burn of many authoritarian figures. Whether it’s a political figure or someone who’s in the entertainment industry. When these traditional authority figures in our society fall, they fall faster and with a louder crash than ever before.

Don [00:12:56] So there’s again this whole notion of authority and who it is and how we treat them—much more of a vulnerability there for authorities. So they’re going to ask more questions, be more inquisitive and leaders today need to create space for those questions to be asked. And one of the ways to answer them would be maybe not to feel that they have to answer it themselves but to answer it as a team. To create those answers in a more collaborative way.

Kelly [00:13:21] Since you brought up Gen Z, I’ll just interject today the characteristics of a Gen Z so our listeners have context for them.

Kelly [00:13:27] Gen Z is anybody who is born between 1997 and 2012. So they’re young. They’re between the ages of 7 and 22 years old, which means that they’re just now getting into the workforce. Right now they only make up 5 percent of our organizations in America, they’re exiting college or potentially taking a gap year or not going to college.

Kelly [00:13:47] They’re entering work with a different lens and maybe even differently than the millennials before them because they’re only 5 percent of our workforce. We still have no idea truly the impact the Gen Z is going to make on our day-to-day. But we can expect that it will be with as much fervor and change as millennials have brought in.

Don [00:14:05] Yeah, I worry about Gen Z in part because of the social media aspect in this regard. When they see their peers on social media, what they’re seeing typically is the 1/10th of one percent of the most successful people in their age group. So they’re seeing these images of their peers that are extraordinarily successful. They’re wealthy, they’re famous. And so this creates a condition, this is creating a gap in terms of how they view themselves. And their own sense of success is more driven by what they see online than what they learn inside an organization.

Don [00:14:47] It’s creating and is interesting in this era, where we’re seeing more and more work of other peers in our group that the result is however we’re feeling more and more isolated. They’re feeling more and more isolated in their age cohort than any previous generation.

Don [00:15:03] The number of Americans overall reporting feeling pervasively alone and isolated in their life has doubled over the last three decades is now 40 percent of the American population. And it’s especially high in Gen Z generation. Feeling more isolated and alone than they ever have than any previous generation in that age group has—that’s going to be a struggle.

Kelly [00:15:23] You bring up a really good point about isolation and in the shift in today’s workforce, where we have more artificial intelligence, where we have more remote workplaces, where we have more flexibility, where people aren’t always together.

Kelly [00:15:36] I think work is traditionally a place where building those relationships will help prevent isolation and loneliness. But, leaders are going to face challenges as we think about how work is shifting, especially for the youngest generations in terms of building those relationships. Eliminating isolation, eliminating loneliness and creating healthy employees.

Don [00:15:57] Yeah, I think this is not only an opportunity for leaders I see it as an obligation. We now have this youngest generation entering the workplace that may be the loneliest generation, the most isolated generation ever to enter work in our lifetimes.

Don [00:16:12] And so what is the role of work? And so, more so than ever before the healthiest, most robust and rewarding relationships that they have in their life are more likely to be the ones they develop at work. So what does this mean for leaders?

Don [00:16:25] Make sure you’re creating the conditions where people can connect and engage when they’re at work and the old canard about people wasting time around the water cooler now is no, no, no, let’s create social environments where employees can interact and be relational and that could be an enormous attractant.

Don [00:16:44] I mean we talk about emotional velcro, Kelly, what could be more compelling for someone than the most meaningful relationships they have in their life at that time are the ones that are at work? Of course, you want to go there. We’re hardwired to be validated and seen and noticed. And so we’re going to want to go to work because we’re not getting it in the environment we have at home.

Don [00:17:04] Social events, dinner parties, all of these things that have traditionally been a part of society where we connect, engage with our peer groups are way down. They’re plummeting. And so most of the time now, when people are engaging it’s going to be at work. I see this when I travel. As you know I travel all the time, even two or three years ago you could stand and look inside an airport restaurant with a bar and people are at the bar and they’re talking and they’re complaining about travel and all of a sudden there’s a lot of voices in a lot of conversation.

Don [00:17:34] And I was at an airport just yesterday and looking and seeing every single person sitting at the bar was looking at their phone head down, head down and they’re not conversing they’re not talking with others around them. And then the other thing when you walk behind them and just glance at what they’re looking at it’s junk they’re scrolling through. Not even what I would consider, as a former journalist, important news stories. They’re reading about celebrities.

Don [00:17:59] There’s a reason why our social connections in American society are imploding. But where are we going to spend most of our time with other adults where we can create these relationships? It’s going to be at work.

Kelly [00:18:11] And that’s incredibly important for leaders to understand. What is just one thing a leader should keep in mind when they are looking to engage millennials and Gen Z in the workplace to keep them where they are, to retain them, to help them thrive, to help them function well in the workplace?

Kelly [00:18:26] What’s one thing they need to keep in mind?

Don [00:18:29] Well one thing to keep in mind is don’t give as many individual assignments to people where they go off and work just on their own. Pair them up at least pair them up or try to design the work so more of the work is done by teams and not remote teams but teams where they can interact with people together in a room, eyeball to eyeball.

Don [00:18:45] And if they are teleworkers, if they are remote, encourage them to have more and more of those meetings over a technology that allows them to see the faces of the other, whether it’s you know, Zoom or Skype or Google Hangouts. I love what we use we use Slack, which is a product I really love because you can go visual anytime you want in a conversation. But to give them opportunities to see and interact with others and in that kind of a real relational way.

Don [00:19:12] One of the reasons I’m so happy we’ve done these two podcasts on the boomers, the Gen X, and this one millennials and Gen Z, is just a tacit understanding that we do have this multi-generational component of the workplace.

Don [00:19:27] It’s important for leaders to know that, to understand that complexity, to try to customize what they do as a leader to meet the expectations of each of these generations because they are different. But also to understand that the things that really work that are universal, that cut across every generation is this need for social connection. This need for to have a relational environment.

Don [00:19:51] And even though, for example, Gen Z may not feel like they need a one-on-one and direct connection the same way that a boomer does, when they get it, when it happens for them, what happens in terms of our neurochemistry and neurologically is the same.

Don [00:20:06] Yes, the workplace is more complex because of this multi-generational make-up. And, it does make it a little harder for leaders to create this multivariate environment where the needs of the different generations are being met when they’re at work.

Don [00:20:18] But at the same time, leaders can be comfortable knowing that certain things cut across all the generations and that’s why we focus on neuroscience and the role of connection and attachment in the workplace.

Don [00:20:28] Leaders that create a workplace environment where people can connect and engage with each other, those benefits are going to cut across all of the generations because the brain is going to respond affirmatively, positively to those conditions regardless of when it was born.

Kelly [00:20:44] That’s it for today. I’m your host Kelly Burns and thank you for listening. Tune in to next week’s episode. We’ll be talking about collaboration and team effectiveness.

Kelly [00:20:54] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 right now. Be sure to subscribe rate and review the show. Each rating and review helps other managers like you find this show and benefit from these episodes. Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty-free from

Kelly [00:21:27] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week.