Best Workplace Practices for Communicating With Gen Z

Best Workplace Practices for Communicating With Gen Z

Every generation has a different worldview and is influenced by the events they lived through, popular culture, and technology. This affects both their work habits and their communication, from slang to style and general preferences.

Your workforce is likely made up of four different generations: Baby Boomers (1946-1964) Gen X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1996), and Gen Z (1997-2012). Being able to effectively communicate with each of them is an important business practice.

Gen Z as a group is heavily influenced by technology, having grown up with smartphones and social media. They’re entering the workforce at a time when remote work has become mainstream and freelancing an accepted career option.

In 2023, a staggering 52% of all Gen Z professionals and 44% of all Millennial professionals performed freelance work, according to The Upwork Research Institute.

This article will dive deep into how to communicate with Gen Z in the workplace (including a helpful glossary of popular slang) and explore what makes this generation special.

Who is Gen Z?

Anyone born between 1997 and 2012 is considered Gen Z, and this group is rapidly entering the economy and is the fastest growing generation of workers. The group’s age spans from 12 to 27 years old. The generation born before 1997 is termed Millennial, and after 2012 is Generation Alpha. In the workplace, Gen Z may have a few years of experience under their belt, or could be working their first job out of school.

Gen Zers are tech-savvy and quick to adopt new technologies, which is often an advantage in the modern workplace. They're the first digitally native generation. Even if they don't work a "tech" job, they're likely familiar with using computers, smartphones, and social media.

Below we discuss some of the major influences on Gen Z.

Digital technology

Gen Z were raised in the digital age and people in this demographic likely can’t remember a time before smartphones. They've always had answers to any question just a few clicks away. This generation is accustomed to knowledge access and processing large amounts of information quickly.

Technology is seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives, including in the workplace. Gen Z is used to instant messaging, streaming content, video chats, and learning new software. They're often early adopters of new tech.

Gen Z are global citizens, not bound by the communication restraints of previous generations. They've always been able to play video games or text someone on the other side of the world. They've been collaborating online with friends for years, which has made them effective communicators especially over digital media.

Social media

Gen Z is a mobile-first generation that connects with people all over the globe through social media. While Millennials were bloggers using text-heavy socials like Facebook and Twitter, Gen Z had access to visual platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. This generation is about vlogging and consuming short videos.

Gen Z's use of social media has made them natural content creators. Even if they don't work in a traditionally creative field, they're likely familiar with making social media posts and lightly editing videos.

Along with many Millennials, Gen Z understands the power of social media. They use it to create online identities which they often monetize through influencer marketing.

27% of Gen Z freelancers say their work involves creating influencer-style content.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Many Gen Zers were in middle school, high school, or college during the COVID-19 pandemic. They likely had to transition to virtual classes and online learning. By the time Gen Z entered the workforce, many companies had incorporated remote or hybrid working policies.

Some Gen Zers have never had to work in an office setting before. They are used to working from home. Slack, Zoom, and similar tools make it easy for them to collaborate with virtual teams from around the world.

Instead of applying to a traditional 9-to-5 job after college or school, many Gen Zers decide to work as self-employed independent professionals. Freelancing started becoming more popular during the pandemic layoffs, and post-pandemic, it became an accepted career path and an important talent-sourcing strategy for companies.

In the office, Gen Z is more likely than other generations to hire freelance talent.

61% of Gen Zers believe that using freelancers is a very effective lever for building talent pipelines. This is compared to 47% of Millennials, 35% of Gen Xers, and 37% of Baby Boomers.

Gen Z workplace values

Gen Zers share their life on social media, which has led to transparency about mental health, burnout, and pay equality. They're less afraid to talk about previously "taboo" topics like how much they're making or having imposter syndrome at work.

From the dot-com bubble in 2000 to the pandemic of 2020, Gen Z has grown up through multiple recessions and economic downturns. They’re very aware that their spending power is only 86% of what Baby Boomers enjoyed at a similar age, and that the costs of housing, college, and essential goods have risen dramatically.

Nevertheless, compared to previous generations, Gen Z wants their work to be meaningful. This empathetic generation is heavily involved in social justice issues and wants the companies they work for to reflect their personal values.

When evaluating companies and clients, Gen Z wants to see commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), sustainability, and pay transparency and equality. Gen Zers are used to working from home and value work-life balance. They understand the importance of mental health and wellness.

Gen Zers are independent and unafraid to challenge the status quo, whether that's fact-checking (they grew up with search engines) or finding a tech solution like generative artificial intelligence (gen AI) to speed up a process.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Zers say they work for a company that uses freelancers; this compares to 67% of millennials, 58% of Gen Xers, and 53% of Baby Boomers.

Below we discuss some tips for effectively communicating with Gen Z in the workplace.

1. Assign meaningful KPIs

Gen Zers want to feel autonomy and that their employers trust them to do their work. Gen Z doesn't want productivity to be measured by hours logged at a desk. They appreciate output-oriented goals and flexibility on when and where they work whenever possible, as long as they're meeting their deadlines.

Many Gen Zers choose to freelance because it gives them a better work-life balance. They can work from home and set their own schedules. Some Gen Zers are even digital nomads, working remotely while traveling around the world.

2. Choose the right channels

Gen Zers are used to digital communication. They're likely experts at it. Gen Z grew up with texting and Facetime, which is a natural transition to Slack and Zoom. Compared to other generations, they tend to use email and phone calls less.

Communication tools like Slack let Gen Z use emojis and voice notes and send GIFs, which is how they communicate with their friends and family, so it feels more natural. Gen Zers tend to be more informal and direct communicators. They like to express themselves visually, which is where memes, GIFs, and emojis are helpful.

At the same time, Gen Z values face-to-face meetings and remote check-ins. Schedule a Zoom or in-person meeting when you need to have a conversation. If you need to assign a task or ask a quick question, opt for an instant message like Upwork Messages or Slack rather than a call or email.

3. Break it up

Gen Zers excel at rapidly consuming bite-sized information. They can quickly process information but tend to prefer summaries and bullets over long paragraphs of text and lengthy explanations. Gen Z gets straight to the point and likes concise and direct information.

When communicating with a Gen Zer, try starting with the "need to know" and then give them the option to dig deeper and learn more later. Instead of one long meeting, try dividing it into smaller check-ins.

Gen Z is accustomed to video—which can be beneficial for onboarding and training. They'd likely prefer learning through video modules over employee handbooks and training manuals.

4. Be honest

This generation values authentic communication and connections. Experiencing the aftermath of the Great Recession, pandemic layoffs, and growing up with social media has taught many Gen Zers to be natural skeptics. They know that what they see online isn't the whole story. They're aware of misinformation and may not feel as secure in their jobs as older generations.

Their parents and grandparents may have stayed at companies for decades until retirement, but that is not as common in today's world. When communicating with Gen Z, be honest and give them access to as much information as possible. They respect transparency and straightforwardness from clients and employers.

5. Show their impact

Gen Z wants to feel seen and heard, and this flows into their professional lives. They want to make a difference and see the impact of their work. Show your Gen Z the bigger picture and the role they played in it. This is especially important when working with freelance talent.

Showing the results of their work can help freelancers feel included and fulfilled. Making a habit of not only giving positive feedback but also going the extra step to share the results and impact can help build long-lasting relationships.

Gen Z glossary

Every generation has words they've claimed as part of their social identity—slang. This jargon is heavily influenced by pop culture and, for Gen Z specifically, social media. Many of the latest Gen Z slang words start on TikTok.

Using slang can help groups feel connected to one another, creating a sense of community and togetherness. You may not even realize some of the words that you use in your everyday conversations are actually slang from your generation.

This Gen Z glossary is a cheat sheet to help understand this generational-specific slang that may come up in the workplace. While you don't have to incorporate these words into your own personal vocabulary, knowing what they mean can be helpful and save time. Keep in mind that context matters, and a word's meaning may change depending on how it’s used.

Ate. Praising someone for doing something really well.

Bet. Confirmation or agreement, like saying, "I'm down."

Bussin. If something was "bussin," it was excellent.

Drip. Trendiness or stylishness, often refers to clothes.

Drag. Criticize or make fun of, especially online. Similar to roasting.

Facts. Confirming something is true.

Fam. Short for family, but often used as an affectionate term for friends.

Fire. If something was "fire," it was really good.

Fit. Short for outfit.

Flex. Gloating or showing off.

Ghosted. When someone suddenly stops responding to your texts, emails, or phone calls. Usually in a romantic setting, but could happen in business as well.

Glow-up. If someone or something had a glow-up, they improved something about themselves, often appearances.

GOAT. Abbreviation of greatest of all time. If something or someone is the GOAT, they're the best.

Green, red, or beige flag. Green flags are positive characteristics about someone or something, while red are warning signs, and beige are neutral (neither good nor bad).

High-key. Adds emphasis and enthusiasm; it's the opposite of low-key.

Hot take. Someone's unpopular or controversial opinion.

Ick. Sudden feeling of disgust.

L. Abbreviation for lose.

Lit. Awesome or cool.

Low-key. Downplaying something that you actually care about to appear nonchalant.

Mid. Short for mediocre. If something is mid, it was average.

On point. Perfect or stylish, usually referring to fashion or appearances.

Receipts. Proof or evidence.

Rizz. Short for charisma, usually used when talking about dating.

Salty. To be upset or angry.

Ship. Short for “relationship,” but often used as a verb. When you ship a couple (often fictional), you want them to get together.

Sus. Short for suspicious.

Tea. Gossip.

W. Abbreviation for win.

Build your all-star team on Upwork

Gen Z is the next generation of talent, and you can find them on Upwork. This mobile-first group grew up with smartphones and social media. They're hyperconnected and rapid consumers of information. Being tech-savvy and plugged into current events and pop culture gives these workers a distinct advantage in the labor market. They're fast learners, especially for new technologies, and process information quickly.

Gen Zers are effective at online communication; it's second nature to them. They’re quick to embrace new ways of working with remote jobs and freelancing. Gen Z thinks of productivity in terms of output—what they can accomplish during their work hours as opposed to how much time they spend working—which makes them both goal-oriented and driven to meet expectations. Start working with Gen Z talent today!


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Author Spotlight

Best Workplace Practices for Communicating With Gen Z
Cassie Moorhead
Content Writer

Cassie is a storyteller and content creator with over eight years of experience helping brands communicate to their customers through different channels. She enjoys finding new coffee shops to work from and spending time in nature with her dog, Sweeney.

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