What’s with Gen Z? Thoughts from an Award-Winning Professor of Management

How many times have you heard from the older generations that kids today just don’t possess the same level of respect, work ethic, drive and motivation as they did “Back in the Day”? Have you ever heard a coworker say “I just can’t relate to these kids”? As the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Adjunct Teaching in Management at the University of Cincinnati, my take may just surprise you.


“Here is my question for you Gen Zers…All things being equal, would you rather make 75K a year and be happy or 150K a year a be miserable?” It’s the first day of class at the University of Cincinnati and I am looking at 58 Gen Zers wondering “who is this guy?” I ask “OK by a show of hands, who takes the 75K?” Can you guess how many hands went up? The answer may surprise you. I know it surprised me. 56 out of 58 hands raised. I taunted them a bit by saying “150K is an awful lot of money…you sure?” They were adamant about their answers. Curiously, I asked the two students that took the money whether they ever had jobs before. Both admitted they have never held jobs and went straight from high school to college.

This is a question I ask on the first day of the semester for every class I teach, While the number of hands raised for the 150K fluctuates, the overwhelming majority takes the 75K. It is always interesting to tell this story to my clients outside of UC after they tell me they are having trouble understanding this new generation. Some misconceptions out there are that Gen Zers are entitled, lazy, job switchers, have short attention spans, and have communication issues due to the digital age. I further explain to my client the responses from the students who took the 75K tell me each semester. They always say “I saw the way my parents were treated and what they went through and you can keep the money. What good is having money if you are miserable?” At that point, my client usually becomes very quiet.

I teach Organizational Behavior to the upper-classmen at Lindner School of Business and Change Management at the Graduate level in the same building. I usually have around 150-170 students per semester, so I have a pretty good feel after 3 1/2 months for how Gen Zers think and what is important to them. You know what? They are no different than we were when we were that age. The only difference is the toys they get to play with.

I have all types of kids in my classes each semester. I have the teacher’s-pets, resistors to authority and just about everyone in between. I see students flirting with each other, some scared about potentially getting called on and, of course the know-it-all that responds to every topic. They are all good kids but they all ask the same exact questions that we did when we were 18-22. Most are hard workers, some give enough just to get by and some are slackers…Sound familiar? Most are wide-eyed and thirsty for how to become successful, wanting any short-cuts I can provide…Sound familiar? Everyone wants to be CEO tomorrow, and no one wants to go through the long process of paying their dues…Sound familiar? Who the heck wanted to pay their dues when they were 18? I know I didn’t.

I tell them my opinion regarding a vital key to success on the first day that I think applies to every generation, but I am curious to get their perspective. “In business, the best ability is adaptability.” I usually see a lot of heads nodding as they have seen a lot of change over their brief lives. But they are really nodding for a different reason. They hope that the older generation understands the importance of that too.

You see, it has been my experience, as a leadership development professional, that the real problem tends to lie more with the older generations lack of acceptance with how rapid the world is changing than it does with anything the Gen Zers are doing wrong. In fact, this new generation has in some ways exposed many of the older generation’s faults such as their inability to be creative when it comes adapting to change. They have also exposed those who have treated people terribly over the years and are know scratching their heads as to why their technique is no longer working.



If you are part of any of the older generations, I want to challenge you to think differently. Is this new generation of Gen Zers so different or are we different? To prove my point, answer a question or two for me. When you left the house to go play back when you were 10 years old, what was your parent’s reaction when you closed the door? What is your reaction today when your child leaves the house and you don’t know where they are? When you drove in the back of your parent’s car at the same age, what were you doing with your brothers and sisters? What is it like now for your kids when you drive them around? Are you sure it’s the Gen Zers that are different?

At Sharp Leadership Development, we assist leaders in tackling challenging topics like the one you read above and encourage individuals to look within themselves for ways to provide perspective for them and their team. If this sounds like something that would benefit you or someone you know, visit us a www.sharpleadershipdevelopment.com for details on our individual coaching, workshop offerings and in-tact team events.

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