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Agencies need to adapt to effectively manage Gen Z employees

Gen Z employees tend to have a different (not worse!) approach to their jobs than the older generations do. Which means that as an owner, you need to evolve the way you communicate with and manage them.

In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss those differences and the importance of effective communication and feedback in managing and leading. They highlight the need for two-way feedback and setting clear expectations, which will in turn foster a culture of trust and creativity in the workplace.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “Because the nature of work has changed, it has changed the relationship between employers and particularly those newer to the workforce employees.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Gen Z are making demands in their professional lives that are annoying for us. Because it’s not the way that we did things, nor the way that we do things now. But I think it’s really smart and really healthy.”
  • Chip Griffin: “I don’t have to be tethered to a physical desk. Our generation views that as a freedom, but if you never grew up in that fashion, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a tether that doesn’t ever allow you to fully disconnect.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Feedback is probably the number one thing. Once you do that, you start to prioritize the soft skills, you start to unbox creativity, and you start to create a level of trust that I think a lot of organizations don’t have.”



The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And Gini, I think we’re going to talk about one of our favorite subjects today, Gen Z.

Yay! Because who doesn’t? I mean, you know, part of it is, you know, the old, we get older and so it’s all get off my lawn.

And, you know, we, when we were young, we had to walk uphill to school both ways, but I think there are indeed some differences with Gen Z that are worth discussing. And in part, this is based on our experiences, but in part, it’s also based off of an article that we’re linked to in the the show notes. it’s titled “Creating space for Gen Z to ask everything will strengthen your team and here’s how.” And so basically, what we’re going to focus on today is Gen Z and how you communicate with them effectively, how you can provide useful and meaningful feedback because They are, they are a little bit different than previous generations in how they approach work.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, I think with our generation and even a little bit younger, you know, as long as we put our head down, we came to work, we got our work done, we put our head down, we did really a really good job. And we didn’t get any feedback. We were good, right? The feedback we got was negative or maybe constructive criticism.

But if we weren’t getting any feedback, it was sort of like the no news is good news kind of thing with the doctor, like you were good. Well, that’s not the case anymore. You have to give feedback. And, there’s a lot, I think, that goes on with, with Gen Z, you know, they’re very conscientious about, Personal life and professional lives and not having them intersect, where I think our generation, we tend to see that sort of ebb and flow together a little bit.

They’re very diligent about their mental health, where I think we were just like, tough it out and, you know, get it done and whatever it takes. And so, and, and they want feedback. And so I think we have to keep those three things in mind as we, as we manage and lead them, because. It’s very different from the way that we have grown up through ranks.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I think some of it is that, that we remember things the way we want to. So I think there is some element of the, we walked up to school both ways, which of course was, was not true unless, I mean, it could be if there was a hill in the middle, I suppose, but, but I think there is indeed more to it.

And I do think that we need to think about these things. And part of it is the nature of work has changed. When we were, we were up and coming when we left work, we left work.

Gini Dietrich: That’s fair. That’s fair.

Chip Griffin: We didn’t even have a, I mean, when I first started out in agency, I didn’t have a cell phone. I didn’t have a pager.

You know, those fun little things. I saw a TV show where someone was talking about a pager the other day and I’m like, my kids have no idea what a pager is.

Gini Dietrich: No idea. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: And, and so it was different because you couldn’t be doing anything out of work. I mean, it meant someone typically had to leave a message on your answering machine that had an actual tape cassette in it, which again, Gen Z would have no concept of what that even is.

And so, because the nature of work has changed. It has changed the relationship between employers and particularly those newer to the workforce employees.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, it’s definitely, that’s a really good point. It definitely has changed. and it’s a lot harder to say, okay, well, I’m leaving work now. And I’m done.

I mean, there was just a conversation in the Spin Sucks community the other day about how you sort of manage it, especially if you’re a remote or hybrid employee, you know, how do you sort of create those boundaries in those walls? And one person said, well, when I close my laptop, I’m done. But then you have your phone and you have email on your phone and you have Slack on your phone and you have text messaging and all that.

So are you really done? Do you close your laptop and you put your phone away? That’s usually not the case, but I think with Gen Z and that we could all probably learn something from this is really good about saying, yeah, actually, I am done. It’s five o’clock. I’m done. And I think the rest of us tend to ebb and flow a little bit through it.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And because we’ve seen the evolution, you know, me and I’ve talked about this on the show before I, I personally view that always on as actually a benefit because it allows me to do things I might not otherwise have done. When I, you know, for example, worked on Capitol Hill or in crisis communications prior to having a cell phone, a pager, a laptop, all these kinds of things, I would feel like if something big was going on, I had to be in the office.

Sure. Yeah.

Because something might come up and it might need to be dealt with and it was the only place I could do that. Yep. And so. So for, for folks like me who have been there and done that, we say, okay, well, it’s great that I have a cell phone. I, I can now, you know, go off to a game or whatever, and I’ve got my phone.

So if something comes up during that window, I’m fine. I don’t have to be tethered to a physical desk just in case that reporter calls or just in case that vote happens or whatever. And so I, I think that, that we view it as a freedom, but if you never grew up in that fashion, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a tether that…

it doesn’t ever allow you to fully disconnect.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s interesting. I’m actually reading, I’m almost finished with it, The Anxious Generation, which, for anybody who has kids at home, it’s in my opinion, a must read. But it talks about exactly that, where, you know, you, these kids have gone, they, they did, they didn’t have the non digital, non social media, non internet life that we did, you know, like you and I don’t have, embarrassing photos from college that you can get on social media. Just doesn’t exist.

There are embarrassing photos from college, but not they don’t exist on social media. Right. And I think that’s different. And you know, that we didn’t grow up with the front facing camera and being able to connect with millions of people around the world if we wanted to. We didn’t grow up with the idea that we could have a YouTube channel and become, you know, make money at 12 or 13 years old because of it.

And, and because of it, it’s creating a lot of anxiety. And I think it’s really smart for Gen Z to be able to say, I don’t want to have that. I don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to have anxiety. I don’t want to be tethered to my phone. And so here are the things that I’m demanding. And they’re demanding that in their personal and their professional lives, it’s annoying for us.

Because it’s not the way that we did things, nor the way that we do things now. But I think it’s really smart and really healthy.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, and like anything, I think there’s a, there’s a happy middle ground in here somewhere. I think there are certainly, there are extremes within some elements of Gen Z that, that really just don’t even care about work at all.

I mean, they really just, well…

we’ve always had that. I mean, I, you know, I remember, you know, 30, 35 years ago, working with people who they clearly didn’t care one way or another. They were there to collect their paycheck. And as long as they didn’t get fired, it was a good day.

Gini Dietrich: Yes.

Chip Griffin: That drives me bonkers. I don’t care whether you’re 65 years old or 25 years old.

But I think there are a lot of good lessons to be taken from some of the expectations, frankly, that Gen Z has in the workplace. And I think they’re particularly important for agencies in terms of thinking about how we structure our work, how we provide that feedback to the employees, because we do need to acknowledge the things that they are doing right in addition to correcting them.

And I, I personally, this, this is one that took me a long time to learn because I just, I was very much the, that head down, just get your job done. Right. If I need to change something, let me know, but I don’t, you know, I don’t need the big pat on the back or a hug or any of those kinds of things.

And I learned over the years, even before Gen Z was born, there were employees who needed more of that.

And I think with Gen Z many, if not most, are looking for that positive reinforcement as well. And so we need to be prepared to give that. And we need to be prepared to think about how do we help them to balance work? And I don’t like work life balance per se, because I think it’s very difficult to have…

to really carve them out as two separate things, because most people today, particularly in a remote environment, are going to do work for a few hours and then do some personal stuff. And so there is clearly some blending, and I don’t think that is a bad thing necessarily, as long as you are continuing to be productive.

And productive, by the way, doesn’t mean that you’re just shouldering all the work so that your agency can be profitable because they’re not pricing correctly. I’d be remiss if I didn’t get my pricing plug in there.

Gini Dietrich: You would, you would.

Chip Griffin: So there are things that we can and should learn here.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I think, you know, it’s the feedback one is, I actually just had a conversation with a client about this the other day, like, because we’re entrepreneurs and because we own our own businesses, we tend to…

and this is a generalization, but most of us tend to not need process and structure because we can look at a problem and we can in our heads go, Oh, well, let’s solve it this way. Right. And so we don’t need the process to say, well, you have to do it this way and this way and this way, but that’s why we own the business.

So our employees need. something in, in written in stone, at least for the time being that says, here’s our process, here’s our standing operating procedure, and here’s how we get feedback. The feedback might be that you’re walking around the office. The feedback might be that you’re checking in with a quick Slack, Slack huddle, you know, one of the things I like to do is it’s actually really fun when a person first starts, cause they kind of freak out, but I’ll Slack them and say, Hey, do you have a few minutes?

And they’re always like, And they very quickly learn that it’s just me checking in, but I do like to give them that little panic. It’s or, or type their name in all caps. That’s fun to do to Gen Z too. They don’t, they don’t like their name in all caps. They’re like, what? I’m like, Oh, no, but like, I will just check in and say, Hey, let’s, let’s do a quick Slack huddle.

and just check in, just, you know, see how things are going. Check in with their personal lives. Ask, you know, how, how things are at home. Ask the, how they’re enjoying their work. And it’s just that they enjoy that. And I try to do that with everyone at least once a week. Sometimes I’m better at it than others, depending on how my week is, but giving them that, that open feedback.

And helping them understand that you’re available, but also giving them the opportunity to say to you, Hey, I’d really like to talk to you about this. And it gives, it opens the door for them to say, Hey, do you have a quick minute to huddle? And, and they start to do that. It takes them a few months, but they do start to do that too.

So that you have the back and forth feedback loop that works really, really well.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and I think that the two way feedback is so important here and and you really do need to create that environment. I know most if most managers will say I’ve got an open door policy. Honestly, that at this point means almost nothing in part because nobody’s in an actual office all that much anymore but but beyond that, it’s…

I had a lot of managers over the years who said that, and that was very much not true. You know, if you, if you really wanted to talk to them, you probably were going to have to schedule it out months in advance. And so you need to be thinking about how do you make it so that it’s, it’s not just that you have the availability, but that people have the comfort level as employees to come to you.

And if you don’t see your, particularly your Gen Z employees, but any employees coming to you, proactively with things concerns or or even happy things, whatever it is, then you need to examine that and figure out why. What, what, in your behavior is causing them not to feel comfortable doing that because you want that two way feedback loop to be taking place.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely.

Chip Griffin: And if you, if you don’t, then you’re going to miss a lot of good ideas. You’re going to miss a lot of early warning signs. And so that communication piece is vitally important.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, one of my very favorite things in the whole world is when somebody comes to me and says, Hey, do you have a few minutes?

And then they say, I’ve been thinking about this idea. And they, you know, tell me what they’ve been thinking about and I’m always like, that’s amazing. First of all, I didn’t think of that. I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have like, it never even occurred to me because I don’t even have to think about the client because I know you’ve got it handled.

Like being able to just take that out of your brain and not even have to worry about it is the best feeling in the world. So if you can provide that opportunity for people to feel comfortable to come to you with those kinds of things, all of a sudden you have this huge weight that lifts off of your shoulders.

There might be in the beginning a little bit of feeling like, Oh man, I should have thought of that. Or why am I not thinking about that? Or, oh, that’s such a good idea. You know, a little bit of the ego in there, but eventually you’re like, this is fantastic. I don’t have to think about this! And getting that out of your brain because you’ve created the opportunity for people to feel really comfortable coming to you for all sorts of things, ideas, problems, challenges, all of it.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and questions. I mean, I think we need to, we need to, to help people to understand that for the most part, as they said in school, there is no such thing as a dumb question. I don’t fully believe it. I think there are some truly dumb questions. And, and the environment that I always try to create is, you can ask me any question you want.

I would just prefer you not ask the same question that’s been asked and answered repeatedly. That will drive me bonkers and has driven me bonkers with employees over the years where I’m like, well, we just talked about this last week. And the answer is the same as the one I gave you last week. So there does have to be some education on the part of the Gen Z employees and others that, you know, we can’t go down that road.

But, but otherwise, if it’s, if it’s something that you are legitimately curious about, or you need the information. Come with it because too often we end up throwing our junior employees in the deep end of the pool and hoping that they can swim. And we need to be much more proactive, not just at the onboarding stage, although that is important.

And I see many small agencies really shoving people into the deep end of the pool on day one. And that just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. But it’s ongoing because, you know, if you’re throwing someone a new client or a new project, you need to make sure that you’re clear about the expectations about the resources that are available and you’re there to answer whatever questions they may have about the work that they are about to do.

And this is true, not just for you as the owner, but all of your. middle managers, assuming you have any of them. And, and that’s, you need to create the culture where it’s not just you doing it, but it flows downhill as well.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, and I think that’s where processes and standard operating procedures come into play because now you have, you have something written for them to follow.

And, and it’s everything from, this is how we use AI. This is how we use email. This is what our email signature looks like. This is how we provide client weekly reports. This is how you’ll get your direct deposit information, like all of it, everything, because all of that stuff, even though it should be in the onboarding, sometimes it is in the onboarding and we forget, right?

I mean, you’re overwhelmed and inundated with so much information, your first week of work, that it has to be something that they can continue to use over and over again. So create something that’s a process that allows you to replicate it and scale it really quickly. Without having to do it over and over and over again, make it repeatable.

And I will tell you that there are lots of ways that you can use AI to create your standard operating procedures. Like there’s a template that you can use that will fill in most things. And then you can go in and personalize it and customize it. To the way that your agency does things, which will take you significantly less time.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And you also at the same time need to be encouraging your employees to ask, why are we doing it this way?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. Yes.

Chip Griffin: Because in some cases it may help them to understand it better. In others, they may have a better way of doing it.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Chip Griffin: They have exposure to different tools and services and things.

And so we need to take advantage of that and not shut down the conversation because they’re afraid to provide their own ideas and feedback to us.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. So I think feedback is probably the number one thing. Once you do that, you start to prioritize the soft skills, you start to unbox creativity, and you start to create a level of trust that I think a lot of organizations don’t have.

Chip Griffin: So let’s focus on feedback. It’ll help Gen Z, but it’ll also help our entire workforce in the agency world. Unfortunately, that’s going to draw this episode to a close, but if you have feedback for us, we would welcome it. We always like to hear what listeners have to say about whatever we talk about, however we do it, and all that kind of thing.

So, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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