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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a millennial manager who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her career. Insider has verified her identity and employment.
Looking back, I realize there were a lot of things about the workplace that I learned just by mirroring other people around me.
No one had to tell me what to wear to see a client (not jeans) or how to act in a meeting (look interested and take notes). I followed my boss’s lead.
For many Gen Zers, a new crop of workers born from about 1996 to 2012, that’s not possible. Lots of them started their careers working remotely during the pandemic and are now part of the hybrid workforce. It’s harder to pick up on cues.
That’s why as a millennial manager who runs a PR team that includes several Gen Zers, I’m finding that there are some things they need to be told. First and foremost: Don’t go to your boss to complain at the first sign of trouble. Your manager exists to help you work through problems, but only after you’ve tried a couple of things on your own.
The biggest management challenge for me is that Gen Zers have a lot of feelings about work. They’re unsure of how to cope with everyday challenges — competing deadlines, interpersonal issues, and receiving feedback — and they want to express that.
I also have to say, though, that Gen Z has taught me, too. I’m a new mom, and the way Gen Z sets boundaries around work is inspiring and empowering.
Solving problems versus venting
One of my reports used to come to me with her problems all the time. She’d be stressed out, and I wanted to be supportive, and so I’d tell her: “We will work through this. What are your proposed solutions?”
Even when she’d come to me with a potential solution, I could tell she was spinning. She was so anxious, and I felt bad. I finally had to say: “We do PR! No one is going to die if we don’t get this right.”
I have another Gen Zer on my team who also comes to me with his issues a lot. On the one hand, I applaud his willingness to share how he feels, and I marvel at how comfortable he is in saying what he thinks. But on the other hand, as a boss, it’s not my job to help him work through all his feelings — only the ones related to work.
He requires a different approach — one I learned from my therapist. Instead of reacting by asking, “What can we do to solve this?” I pause and say: “Do you want to talk about solutions? Or do you just need to vent?” Sometimes I just need to validate him and say, “Oh, that sounds frustrating.”
Delivering feedback more sensitively is another thing I’ve learned. The Gen Zers on my team don’t want to be told what to do — I get that. But there’s a big difference between checking in and micromanaging.
For instance, if one of my reports is working on a strategic plan and memo, I give them advice on the structure and what they need to be thinking about as they’re writing. And I give them edits and suggestions when they’re done.
But my feedback is often perceived as criticism. I remember feeling similarly as a junior staff person. After my boss told me that she didn’t expect perfection and that she simply had more experience than me, I felt much better. I want my reports to understand this, too.
Leading Gen Zers has also helped me prioritize my personal life. At first, I was shocked at their outspokenness about their work-life balance. I heard, “No, I’m not going to take a super-early-morning call,” and “This is when I sign off at night.”
I’d have felt guilty doing that when I was their age. I was mirroring other people — if my boss and colleagues stayed late, so did I.
Today, though, I embrace work-life balance. I have a toddler. I don’t want to miss time with my child. So at the end of the workday, I log off.
I’m mirroring Gen Z now.