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Five generations mingle in today’s workplace, but the increasingly important ones are the two most recent, Millennials and Generation Z. Even if power still often resides in the generations that preceded them, notably baby boomers and Generation X, the Millennials, born between 1980 and 1994, are taking over and will continue to do so while Gen Z, born 1995 to 2012, are flooding in.

There have, of course, been complaints against both generations’ commitment to work. McGill University management professor Karl Moore says to keep them engaged and indeed even to be willing to be employed by your company, you need to understand how their formative years shaped them, their values and alter traditional practices, including mentoring.

They grew up, he says, at a time when societal notions were being questioned about the nature of truth and who interprets knowledge and truth; the importance of emotions was stressed; hierarchy was declining in importance; and wellness was being rethought. “It is crucial that modern managers clearly define their values to accommodate and reflect these newly established social values,” he writes in Generation Why.

There is no longer one universal Truth. Opinions and feelings are often given prominence over facts. Authorities no longer are seen as the only arbiters of knowledge and truth – be they leaders of government, company executives or a physician competing with so-called Dr. Google. Younger generations believe in emotional openness: They want to express their feelings. Older people are no longer addressed by their titles and the degrees of separation between young employees and the executive suite is diminishing. They expect to be heard, their ideas valued.

Prof. Moore recommends these five steps to adapt:

  • Listen more, talk less: Millennials and Gen Zers find and absorb information faster than older generations. They analyze situations with a combination of current knowledge and acquired information, as opposed to just career experience. They consider themselves to be rare, more so than any other generation. They were practically born with the belief that heterogeneity and a diversity of perspectives lead to innovation and grew up in a world of rich diversity. Teaching them at McGill University, Prof. Moore believes they are mature, appreciate the time given them by others and understand some of their ideas may be a little “out there.” But they expect to be heard. And you must listen.
  • Acknowledge authenticity: Millennials and Gen Zers are idealistic. They don’t want to hide their true feelings at work; they want the chance to be authentic. They believe they are the centre of the universe and have many ambitions for themselves and the organization. “When it comes to their leaders, Millennials/Zers want to uncover their true identity and get to know the real person. They want someone who demonstrates a similar level of intensity and a passion to theirs, but they do not want this passion to be inauthentic or simulated,” Prof. Moore writes.
  • Provide a sense of purpose: As boomers near retirement, they realize a new life awaits them and are excited at the opportunity to work toward higher goals. Prof. Moore notes that desire for meaning and purpose unites them with Millennials and Gen Zers, but those younger folk expect it now, at work. “Without the ability to derive meaning and purpose from what they do, Millennials/Zers are unlikely to accept a position or to perform well in that position,” he warns.
  • Reboot mentoring: Millennials and Gen Zers crave attention and are highly receptive to positive coaching, but unlike previous generations don’t see it as coming from one person. You need to help them get multiple mentors, including traditional older managers and peers. They also expect it to be a two-way street, with them offering advice to their mentors. Legendary General Electric chief executive officer Jack Welch embraced reverse mentoring nearly three decades ago, for technology, and you should consider its value for hearing their voice on diversity, social media, retention and other issues. Prof. Moore also mentions speed-mentoring, in which aspiring mentees meet for short bursts of advice and an exchange of business cards with many prospective mentors.
  • Understand the need for feedback: Millennials and Gen Zers require a consistent, steady stream of feedback on how they are doing and will ask for it. You must be prepared to give them words of affirmation and quality time. Let them know what they should stop doing, keep doing and start doing. “As far as Millennials/Zers are concerned, feedback is not a luxury – they depend on it,” he writes.

Not everyone in a generation adheres to the generalized descriptions offered of their cohort. Many Millennials are already managers, overseeing people from different generations. But it outlines the general foundation for the beliefs of many younger people in our organizations and how managers can adapt to that terrain.


  • What follows Generation Z? Consultant Braden Kelly labels them Generation AI. They are the first group of people to grow up not knowing a world without easy access to generative artificial intelligence.
  • A survey on workplace jargon found Millennials are most likely to admit using it while Gen Z are most bothered by it. Duolingo, an educational technology company, says the most confusing jargon in the U.S. was: Boiling the ocean, herding cats, ducks in a row, move the needle and run it up the flagpole.
  • Executive coach Scott Eblin offers these five buzzwords to banish: Escalate, disrupt, socialize, ideate and disintermediate.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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