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Gen Z and millennial worker productivity is being crushed by bosses who don’t understand them, top economics university research says

Capuski—Getty Images

Starting a career has increasingly felt like a rite of passage for Gen Z and millennial workers struggling to adapt to the working week and stand out to their new bosses.

But it looks like those bosses aren’t doing much in return to help their young staffers adjust to corporate life, and it could be having major effects on their company’s output.

Research by the London School of Economics and Protiviti found that friction in the workplace was causing a worrying productivity chasm between bosses and their employees, and it was by far the worst for Gen Z and millennial workers.

Millennial and Gen Z workers left behind

The survey of nearly 1,500 U.K. and U.S. office workers found that a quarter of employees self-reported low productivity in the workplace. More than a third of Gen Z employees reported low productivity, while 30% of millennials described themselves as unproductive.

Employees with managers who are more than 12 years their senior—the average gap between bosses and workers—are 1.5 times as likely to report low levels of productivity, and nearly three times as likely to report being unsatisfied in their job.

Millennial and Gen Z workers thought their abilities in active listening, time management, and judgment and decision-making needed to be honed to improve their productivity. A key obstacle, though, appears to be getting that point across to their older managers.

“There is good evidence that across generations individuals have different tastes and preferences. So why do we expect them to work easily together?” said Grace Lordan, founder and director of the Inclusion Initiative at LSE.

“We now have five generations working together in the workplace, and the skills that are required to manage these dynamics are not usually being taught by firms.”

LSE’s study divided respondents between those who worked in “intergenerationally inclusive” workplaces and those who didn’t.

An “intergenerationally inclusive” work practice means considering an employee’s age when helping to develop their career.

Focusing on making it easy for each generation to “fit in,” advancing workers based on merit rather than age, and having managers skilled at working with different generations were viewed as the key practices to improving productivity.

According to the findings from the study, bosses who implemented these inclusive policies brought down low productivity levels among Gen Zers from 37% to 18%, and among millennials from 30% to 13%.

“Our research shows that if we invest in giving these skills to managers, and creating intergenerationally inclusive workplaces, there are significant productivity gains to be had,” said the LSE’s Lordan.

Intergenerational tensions grow

While the evidence points to inclusivity ultimately benefitting companies, there are several examples of bosses taking the opposite approach and even venting their frustrations with their younger employees.

The most high-profile example of this was actor and director Jodie Foster, who earlier in January described Gen Zers as “really annoying, especially in the workplace.”

“They’re like, ‘Nah, I’m not feeling it today, I’m gonna come in at 10:30 a.m,’” Foster said of her younger colleagues in an interview with the Guardian.

She’s not alone. In a Harris poll carried out for Fortune, four out of five bosses complained that soft skills were the thing Gen Z workers lacked the most.

However, younger workers are becoming exasperated by these growing complaints when their bosses appear to avoid offering any solutions to fix these apparent communication issues.

There is a growing body of evidence showing younger workers are seeing both their careers and quality of life impacted by various workplace dynamics that their elders helped normalize.

According to research by Vitality, employees under the age of 30 were losing 60 productive days a year largely due to issues with their mental health.

Younger workers were more likely to suffer from depression, to report significant financial concerns, and to be dissatisfied with their jobs, the health insurance group found.

The findings also point to a trend of younger workers losing motivation for a career as an increasingly unequal economy removes their incentives to succeed in the workplace.

Data from the ONS showed millennial and Gen X workers in the U.K. had cut back their working hours significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a viral video responding to criticism of Gen Zers by 54-year-old comedian Rick Mercer, TikToker Robbie Scott laid out exactly why Gen Zers might be putting in less work than their parents did.

“We need to stop expecting the same damn people who bought a four-bedroom home and a brand-new Cadillac convertible off of a $30,000-a-year salary to understand what it’s like to be working 40-plus hours a week with a master’s degree and still not being able to afford a 400-square-foot studio apartment in bumf-ck Iowa,” Scott said in his video.

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