Ushering in Gen-Z and Preventing Age Discrimination in the Process

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

Recently, employers have welcomed a new generation of employees into the workforce: Generation Z. Every generation brings unique workplace habits, communication styles, and preferences that are largely shaped by their experiences as young adults.

The introduction of Gen-Z brings a fourth generation to the current workforce.[1] Generational gaps can lead to age discrimination in the workplace. “Ageism” refers to discrimination based on someone’s age (both perceived and actual) and affects both young and old people. For example, ageism manifests in stereotypes about individuals based on their generation alone (e.g., Gen-Z is “woke,” Boomers are stubborn—“O.K. Boomer,” etc.).

Why should employers be concerned about preventing ageism in the workplace? The most obvious answer is because the government says so. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals over the age of 40 from age-based discrimination in employment.

While Gen-Zers are not covered under the ADEA yet, they are protected from age discrimination under the Maryland state equivalent. While refusing to hire someone under 40 because of their age may not be illegal under federal law, it is still prohibited under Maryland law.

But there are more reasons to combat ageism other than a government mandate. Age is an often forgotten (but nevertheless important) aspect of workplace diversity. Each generation has unique skills and knowledge that contribute to successful business. Furthermore, preventing discrimination based on age has an overall health benefit for workers of all ages.[2]

But, a recent poll found 40% of hiring managers were biased against Gen-Z. One half of hiring managers harbor concerns about Gen-Z’s reliability and work ethic. Additionally, 58% expressed concerns about Gen-Z’s unprofessional attitude, and 63% were concerned with their tendency to job hop.

Like every generation, Gen-Z has developed tastes and preferences that affect their career choices and satisfaction. It is important for employers to become familiar with each generation’s preferences and communication style to effectively manage and lead multigenerational workforces.

For businesses new to hiring members of Gen-Z, below are some general insights and suggestions for adapting to the newest generation in the workforce:[3]

  1. Work-life Balance: Gen-Z places a high priority on a healthy balance between work and personal life. They may completely unplug after 5:00 P.M. and on weekends. These habits likely extend from an all-virtual schooling experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 If these habits are incompatible with your business, make sure to set clear expectations regarding off-hour communications up front.

  1. Flexibility: In pursuit of a healthy work-life balance, many Gen-Z employees value flexibility in their work schedules and modality. Autonomy over time off and work patterns generally leads to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 Consider offering as much flexibility as reasonability possible for your business. For some employers, employees may be able to completely choose their own schedules and work modality. For others, they may only be able to offer virtual attendance once or twice a week. Still, others may not have any flexibility options at all. Regardless, express attendance expectations clearly upon hire and in a written policy distributed to all employees.

  1. Mental Health: Because Gen-Z grew up during a nation-wide push to destigmatize mental health, they value employers who recognize its importance.

Offering mental health days, cost-free counseling/therapy sessions, and resources to maintain physical fitness demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being that will benefit more than members of Gen-Z. Businesses should be sure to make sure to take mental health accommodation requests seriously and uphold their obligations under the ADA.

  1. Feedback: Contrary to many harmful generalizations, most Gen-Zers care about their jobs and want to improve. Gen-Z is the first generation in the workforce that grew up with the internet—the answers to all questions were always at their fingertips. This dynamic explains Gen-Z’s preference for constant, nearly instantaneous feedback.

 Dedicate time to providing personalized feedback. Consider holding frequent check-in meetings to discuss feedback. Offer recognition for employees that go above and beyond.

 Tech Savvy: Perhaps one of the biggest benefits Gen-Z offers to the workforce is their ability to quickly learn and adapt to knew technologies. Gen-Z can be more productive when offered the opportunity to integrate new technology to manage their workflow. Because of their comfortability with technology, Gen-Z employees may exhibit a strong preference for virtual communication. This preference may not be reciprocated by their older coworkers.

 All generations have something beneficial to offer to the workplace. Find ways to ensure younger and older employees are learning how to work together. Consider cross-generational pairing through an optional mentorship program. Young employees can offer guidance with new technology, while more experienced employees can offer wisdom on job-specific issues.

Multigenerational workplaces present the opportunity for age discrimination. Employers should ensure that discussions about age discrimination are included as part of any anti-discrimination training. It is important for employers to contribute to an environment of respect and inclusivity among employees.

The more generations are expected to work together, the better they will become at adapting to different commination styles and expectations. While Gen-Z may be different from past generations in the workplace, there is no reason to be hesitant to welcome them into your business.

Written by Christina Charikofsky. Christina is a summer associate at Kollman & Saucier and a rising third-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

[1] Baby Boomers, born between 1947 and 1964, are typically the oldest generation in the workforce today. Generation X, or the “Forgotten Generation,” represents those born between 1965 and 1980. Millennials are individuals born from 1981 to roughly 1996. Generation Z, the newest workforce members, were born between 1997 and 2012.

[2] The World Health Organization writes, “[a]geism can change how we view ourselves, can erode solidarity between generations, can devalue or limit our ability to benefit from what younger and older populations can contribute, and can impact our health, longevity and well-being while also having far-reaching economic consequences.”

[3] This is a general list of workplace habits and priorities of Gen-Z. Individual members of Gen-Z may not conform to the characteristics outlined.

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