‘What’s the matter with kids these days?’ How to build trust when you’ve lost GenZ’s loyalty
- 5 Min Read
Amid the broken relationship between senior C-Suite leaders and frustrated GenZ employees, Dr. Douglas Scherer examines how to build trust with younger generations, from avoiding surveillance software to supporting human agency.
A few months later I discussed the future of work with about 80 GenZers. They voiced their ability to be deeply dedicated to the work and mission of the organization, but that they have seen repeatedly how they and their parents did not receive the loyalty from their organizations that they expected. As a result, they didn’t think their organizations would reciprocate their loyalty.
Trust in leadership impacts employee alignment and performance. Lack of trust is a powerful separator that flows in both directions from one generation to another. Similarly, it grossly consumes the limited time available to leaders, managers, and their teams to be productive. It’s not a problem of generations. It’s a problem of being able to build trust, and its nemesis is micro-management.
Build trust to boost productivity
Trust increases in environments where delegation thrives. Delegation, therefore, helps organizations succeed. A 2016 study showed a strong relationship between productivity when leaders delegate responsibilities and employees feel free to act.
The ability to build trust was also a strong component of productivity in a 2023 study. 66% of the 200 interviewed managers saw increased productivity in hybrid workers, with 48.5% of them realizing “significantly improved” levels of productivity. Those managers trust their team so much that 60% said they trust them completely.
You might think that surveillance tools motivated them to be productive. But time tracking software was used by only 36% of the managers, and productivity tracking software was used by only 26%.
Since trust has timesaving and productivity benefits, what are some of the ways we can rebuild that bridge of trust?
Acknowledge the generational fallacy
First, give up on the generational naming biases. GenZ refers to a 15-year swath of age ranges (1997-2012). Right now, if you’re a GenZer, you’re anywhere in the range of 11 years old to 26 years old. It doesn’t take much to see differences in the world views and experiences of 11 and 26-year-olds. From the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) perspective, grouping solely by birthdate does not even begin to address the multi-cultural realm that we work in.
Start looking instead at trust as a more individual rather than a group problem. You and your fellow leaders have hired direct reports because they’re smart and able. Allow them to guide their teams within the organization’s norms. Measure them on the outcome, rather than surveillance software reports about their time at the keyboard. While typing on a typewriter is enjoyable, we’re well past measuring work based on words per minute.
Build trust in small steps by supporting human agency
Once you’ve broken the false grouping of 11–26-year-olds, build trust step by step. Slow growth is especially important in environments where trust has severely broken down.
Yes, you want immediate alignment and higher performance, but you’ll likely see any gains from forced trust diminish quickly. Trust starts a little at a time.
When your employees are not aligned with your mission and vision, try supporting your employees’ sense of human agency. As a leader, you can help weave your team’s individual and organizational
energies by affording them some control over their environment. Think of how much more energized you feel when you can change your environment rather than feeling it traps or obliges you.
The team’s sense of dignity will also increase when you support their actions as an outgrowth of their own intentions.As you build their dignity, their levels of trust can increase, leading to a turbocharge effect.It may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but your team’s mission alignment will improve when you liberate them with more ownership over their work. Try, in small steps, to build trust by taking the pressure off the gas pedal of surveillance.
Incorporate role modeling
As an HR leader dealing with a massive mission alignment problem, the buck stops, and starts, with you and your leaders. You need to be a role model and inspire trust from your employees. Effectively building trust delivers results in multiple areas of the business. For example, when sales team managers create an interpersonal relationship of empathy with a sales team member, that team member practices more ethical behavior. Research has shown that sales teams that generate trust and ethical behaviors deliver increased sales performance. In short, organizations are more successful when the sales managers create trustful relationships with their salespeople.
The desire as HR professionals to place people within demographics and create large statements around them runs against our desire to incorporate diversity into the HRD matrix. Employees are individuals, not aggregates. Let’s continue to build on efforts that trust them the same.
Douglas Scherer is dedicated to liberating individuals and organizations into thriving life and work. As a keynote speaker, facilitator, and author he believes in fostering a culture of trust, transparency, and collaboration. He integrates his background of mindfulness, reflective learning, and leadership into a holistic approach that addresses the needs of the whole person and organization. His bestseller, F.O.R.G.E.D.: Six Practices of Great Leaders in Volatile Times illuminates his passion for empowering individuals through conscious leadership. Dr. Scherer is also a professor at Columbia University, where he teaches courses on strategic thinking, leadership, and fostering innovation.