The Management Challenges of Millennials and Gen Z.

The Management Challenges of Millennials and Gen Z.

Young people are often the most optimistic.  They are ambitious.  They are innovative, eager to learn the newest technologies and are risk takers.  To see Africa through their eyes is to see a continent brimming with potential and opportunity.  So, are they tough to manage or have we just not adapted our management practices to optimize their impact?

Yared Tesema’s article (in our July newsletter and on our website) showcases the unbridled optimism of this young generation.  Even in the face of some tough health and development challenges, he has a positive outlook about the future when he attended National Soil Week in Nairobi and how seriously he takes the responsibility of the youth on the continent to feed the nation.

Pay more attention to Africa’s youth.  Many believe that Africa has the youngest population in the world with 9/10 Africans aged under 30 years of age and by 2030, it is predicted that the number of youths will have increased by 42%.  All the world’s top 10 youngest countries by median age are in Africa, with Niger in first place with a median age of 15.1 years.

There is contention over what this demographic dividend could mean for African nations.  Some believe that, with effective governance, the economy could significantly benefit and develop, whilst others have argued that a large, mismanaged youth population may lead to greater instability.

Born in the early 1980’s through to the mid 1990’s, Millennials, Gen Y and ‘Generation Me’ are one and the same and understanding that they each have individual traits, there are commonalities observed of this group in the workplace:

  • If they can’t see the point in the work they are doing, they either won’t do it or will challenge it
  • They love finding creative ways to deal with problems
  • They like immediate feedback
  • They are unsatisfied with remaining for a long period of time in the same job and want dynamic and less predictable career paths
  • They want variety across the board and don’t want to sit still in one place for any length of time
  • They favour a work life balance and are very comfortable with the fact that they can and will change jobs frequently in the pursuit of these goals

Often Managers haven’t been trained to manage these idealistic attitudes, and this is where the problems start within a team which includes Millennials. It is a simple case of not understanding the drivers of your workforce.

So, how can organisations better understand and to retain their best Millennial talent?

The challenge runs deeper than simply line managers not knowing how to deal with their staff’s attitudes to work which differ so greatly to their own.  Organisations generally build leadership and career development based on hard, progress through tenure and merit basis, and this is direct clash with the Millennial.

Millennials Talent teams are often not structured for the 24-month promotion/rotation cycle that they expect.  So, one of the first things we need to be doing is looking at where we can use rotation schemes to keep Millennials engaged and feeling like their careers are being progressed.

Until now, managers have expected staff to be happy in roles for a set period while they build their knowledge and experience base, often with appraisals schemes running annually rather than more regularly.

HR and Leadership teams need to understand the social and behavioural attitudes of Millennials and devise programs to create an environment that clearly sets out what needs to be done to get to the next step on the career ladder, supported by regular, monthly reviews and short-term career targets.

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It is proven that Millennials seek out and thrive on feedback and information, so they consider setting up specific coaching opportunities with experienced managers.  Implement clear career development plans which can be ‘ticked off’ by more senior individuals so they can see immediate and clear progress towards a goal with input from multiple sources not just the direct line manager to introduce the elements of ‘cross training’.

Being technology native, they stream to a device, so you need to communicate in a way they will engage with.  Consider building in online learning in bitesize chapters rather than the traditional full or half day in the classroom.

Just when you thought it was getting clearer and you have developed and are implementing your plans… along comes Gen Z!  Born between 1995 and 2010, the oldest in this group are in their early twenties and are just coming into the workforce.

Gen Z are not Millennials. They are the children of the global recession and, unlike the Millennials, studies predict that Gen Z will be motivated by job security and money.  In many cases they have seen the financial hardships of their parents and have grown up in a financially unsecure environment.

So, is it back to the old mantra of job security and pay rises? No. The research also shows that Gen Z are much more competitive, and less team oriented to their Millennial counterparts.  However, we are still not back to previous Talent Management methods.  Be warned, this generation is even more easily distracted than Millennials because they have grown up in the tech age.

Gen Z are true technology natives and high adopters of cutting-edge technologies. They flip through multiple apps and use many devices and don’t understand waiting for anything.  Downloading 24 hrs a day wherever they are, they get panicked if they can’t find their phone in 20 sec.  Gen Z will blur the lines between work time and leisure time, and they are going to challenge the working from home model and flexible working hours more and more over the coming years.

Millennials are not a new phenomenon and have, in the majority, integrated into the workforce armed with high standards.  Gen Z will also shake up the workforce and bring a set of unusual skills and talents likely to drive leapfrogging innovations. So how can you best manage, engage and motivate Gen Z?

  1. Discard the “lazy” myth posed by other age groups of the population. This generation are prepared to work hard so give them the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Distinguish between arrogance and independence. Give options for self-assessment of capabilities and independent learning programmes.
  3. Build corporate cultures that value the individual. Be open to ideas from these innovators who will embrace technology to get something done quicker. They may have ideas which allow you to get ahead of the game or introduce genuine USPs for your clients.
  4. Get them involved in goal setting and agreeing clear timelines for tangible end products. Make these short-term not annual goals.  Define agreed objectives clearly and in writing and make sure you follow up and acknowledge short term achievements publicly.
  5. Provide them with as much information as you can. Involve them in decision making, ask for their ideas and input up front in every area possible including high level strategy.  This will gain a sense of ownership towards the overall team or corporate goals and purpose.
  6. Treat their questions as opportunities to mentor and coach. Don’t underestimate the value of giving them access to the leaders within your organisation and making them feel like they are listened to and their ideas are heard.
  7. Let them manage as much of their time as possible. Make them responsible and accountable for tasks but follow through and ensure there is a consequence to not delivering on what they have agreed to.
  8. Build constant feedback loops, ensuring this is frequent, accurate, specific or fact based and timely

Human Capital is the key to the success of any business and retaining the talent which will become the leaders of tomorrow within the organisation is paramount.  Despite the challenges of management of Millennials and Gen Z, Africa’s growing youth population comes with high energy, creativity and talents, which are “also the key to future prosperity” of the continent.

Are your HR team and Senior Management skilled to address this new challenge and to retain this high potential and more demanding talent?

Evolve immediately to prevent your business suffering from all or any of the following symptoms;

  • High turnover of staff
  • Staff absent due to sickness
  • Poor staff engagement and motivation
  • Low productivity
  • High level of grievances & disruption

These will cost your business money, so ensure that you are investing in talent that can help drive profitability.  Recruiting and retaining the right leaders, with evolve management practices, will help drive the business and maximise the potential of this new workforce for sustainable success.  Identify and support those adaptable, experienced leaders within your business with bright innovative thinking and who understand the key drivers of the Millennials and Gen Z team members to evolve existing practices.

Know that if you are looking to hire leaders like this, they are unlikely to be actively on the market and therefore inaccessible to your talent teams.  Our experience has shown that most of the candidates we identify, access, assess and shortlist, and who are then subsequently hired through Executive Search (up to 80%), would not respond to an advertised job – they expect to be headhunted.  This is where you may need to consider using an external specialist to find the leaders who will succeed in driving results from the workforce of tomorrow.

Many of our Team have worked in industry and have direct experience of managing Millennials.  Personally, I was until recently Global Head of Recruitment for PZ Cussons, with 50% of my workforce based on the African continent, and many falling into this age group.

This is a hot topic that all our clients are experiencing.  Knowledge sharing is key to staying ahead of the game, so if you would like to share your experiences, either positive or negative, with how you are managing a workforce of Millennials on the African continent, I am keen to hear from you.  Contact me, Steve Hasson, Executive Search Consultant, at

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