UAE Gen Z are most difficult to work with due to older ’20th century bosses’, say experts

A recent report by ResumeBuilder, based on a survey of 1,344 American managers and business leaders, found 49 percent of respondents saying Gen Z employees are difficult to work with.

Key reasons contributing to the perception of difficulty in working with Gen Z employees include a perceived lack of technological skills (39 percent), effort (37 percent), and motivation (37 percent).

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote education on Gen Z’s ability to succeed in entry-level positions is also highlighted in the report.

Why is this?

“It is important to recognize that Gen Z has grown up in a world entirely different from previous generations, marked by social media, COVID, and other unique factors. Their upbringing has been distinct, and social media has a twofold effect,” behavioral coach and founder of Hawksby Justin Kent told Arabian Business.

“Firstly, it curates news and content based on individual interests, narrowing exposure compared to the broader news influences older generations experienced through TV news. This creates a content feed predominantly affirming their opinions and established tone,” he said, adding that the second part usually involves the emergence of entirely new career paths.

As per the report, 65 percent of respondents claim they more commonly need to terminate Gen Z employees compared to other generations, with 12 percent admitting to firing a Gen Z employee within the first week.

“Gen Z views careers differently, with influencers, content providers, and digital marketing offering novel opportunities. This shift has opened up new career perspectives not prevalent in previous generations,” Kent explained, adding that influences, particularly strong ones online, play a significant role in shaping career aspirations.

Messages advocating for entrepreneurship, rejecting traditional employment, and pursuing side hustles like affiliate marketing—where one can potentially earn $5,000 a month—contribute to the pressure felt by Gen Z, Kent said.

“The allure of success, often portrayed by influencers, creates a sense of urgency for them to succeed and aspire to attain millionaire status. This influence is powerful, given the emphasis on side hustles and non-traditional career paths that seem more attainable through the lens of social media,” he added.

Concerns have been also been raised about communication skill development and independence, the report said, suggesting that external factors may contribute to the challenges faced by this generation in the workplace.

Gen Z in the GCC have to deal with ‘managers of the 20th century’

However, these challenges are not just in the US, but also in the GCC, according to David Jones, Founder and CEO of Mercer Talent Enterprise.

“Our comprehensive dataset, garnered from many hundreds of thousands of standardised talent assessments amongst Gen Z workers from across the GCC and the wider Arab region suggests the feeling may be mutual.

“A typical Gen Z employee starting work now in the middle of the 21st century, often faces challenges in dealing with managers whose technical experience and leadership skills were often established sometime in the 20th century,” he said.

A persisting trend for future employers

A recent addition to a graduate programme made a lasting impression by likening their initial workday experience to “a trip to Jurassic Park.”

This poses a significant concern, given the demographic makeup of the region, according to Jones, who added: “While senior employees and managers are extending their careers, the workforce in the Arab world is one of the youngest globally. This trend is expected to persist in the coming decades.”

The ResumeBuilder report also showed a preference among business leaders and managers for working with Millennials over Gen Z, citing reasons such as superior technological skills, effort, and motivation.

Moreover, 34 percent of managers who find Gen Z challenging express a preference for working with Millennials, while 30 percent favour Gen X, and 4 percent opt for Baby Boomers.

In addition, 20 percent of respondents reported having to terminate a Gen Z employee within a week of their start date, underscoring the difficulties faced by both employers and Gen Z workers in achieving successful onboarding experiences.

“It is important not to use labels to generalise about, and therefore divide, “boomers” and “Gen Z” etc. as each person is an individual. The judicious use of talent assessments and development is critical.

“Young professionals need feedback and coaching to build their self-awareness and their development should leverage strengths and focus on potential derailers. Managers benefit by also demonstrating adaptive, inclusive leadership strengths as they do with any team members. Finally, most organizations create a sustainable talent pipeline by addressing the prevalence of dominant “male, pale or stale” leadership cadres,” Jones said.

But what do Gen Z actually feel about this?

Arabian Business caught up with Eleanor Roche, a working member of the Gen Z age group in Australia, who expressed concerns about the lack of resilience in today’s workforce, attributing it to an abundance of over-validation and a reluctance to face challenges, adding that individuals seem to easily drop out of jobs without enduring difficulties.

“I think it’s less of a Gen Z thing and more an era thing. There is low resilience,” she said.

The current era, Roche observed, provides a safe space for processing generational challenges.

However, she said that the prevailing culture of validating every opinion without encouraging growth raises more challenges. The excessive focus on policing and quitting, she said, is unsustainable for a community.

While social media has enabled self-expression, Roche said the downsides are equally important, including an influx of validation, pseudo-science, self-diagnosis, and psychobabble.

“It doesn’t provide a sense of challenge or resilience, rather over-validation can quickly turn into self-centredness,” she said, adding that the culture of glorifying a lack of commitment as self-care is problematic.

“It has become easier for individuals to leave relationships and jobs, an aspect I do not agree with,” she said.