“You’re never too full for ice cream because it fills in the cracks” – Thomas Curley

Meet Thomas. Ice cream lover, impact maker, world traveler, movie buff, and a December 2017 graduate of Virginia Tech, who bleeds maroon and orange. He’s been promoted from a college graduate to a Marketing Associate at Sageworks. Gen Z is already striding into your workplace and impacting your culture, and I recently spoke with Thomas to gain his unique perspective on what leaders can expect when working with Gen Z.


Research tells us that 82% of Gen Z prefer face to face communication with a boss. Can you shed your insight on this statistic?

I have the expectation that I will have a good relationship with my boss. It’s important to have a connection and genuine conversation. We all get hundreds of emails every day, and as a new associate, face to face communication is more effective because it gives me an opportunity to collaborate, build a relationship, and determine what is important to my manager. I can’t do that if I am spending time trying to format an email and ensuring it’s correct with no grammatical errors.

Face to face gives me the opportunity to ask questions, read body language, and look for nonverbal cues. When I can ask questions, it helps me learn and grow as a new associate. While I will use Slack for some communication, if I need a quick answer to a question, I still prefer to get up and walk over to someone’s desk. Technology is a part of life and can be efficient, but it’s no replacement for getting in front of each other to effectively check for understanding and demonstrate to your manager that you are professional and prepared.

What traits does Gen Z look for in a leader?

  • Hard working – Show me an example of what hard work is. It’s important to see efforts so everyone can achieve their goal. Be willing to roll up your sleeves and help me out if the workload is overwhelming.
  • Responsiveness – If a leader responds quickly, it helps improve efficiency.  It doesn’t hold me up from the work that I am trying to get done.
  • Be open to change – The future workplace is about ideas. We have some amazing ideas, and they can have a positive impact on the workplace.
  • Listen to our voice – We can offer fresh insight if we are heard.
  • Trust – Build trust in the workplace by allowing flexibility if we get the work done. I need a leader to trust that I’m a professional and have finished my work.  That means allowing me to leave at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon, because I put in 80 hours the previous week.
  • Be Supportive – Make an effort to connect and support us in our goals for the company

62.3% of Gen Z say that the ideal length for a feedback session is 5 minutes or less. What do you hope to get out of a feedback session with your boss?

We prefer frequent feedback. Sometimes 5 minutes can be a little quick, but no more than 10 minutes is preferable. I want to know that my manager is prepared to provide me with nuggets of what I’m doing well and where I can make some corrections.

Be intentional and focused in our feedback sessions. Things are moving quickly. Speed is important, but so is connection.

Be honest and transparent. Show me that you are willing to help. It’s important for a manager to take the time to ask what they can do to support my efforts and ask how they can help me get better. Our generation is motivated and willing to work hard to succeed. Share practical examples and guidance on how we can.

Gen Z states that Leadership Development is an important aspect of what they look for in an employer. What does this mean to you?

We place great value on an employer’s ability to coach and mentor. Managers will need to show they can do this.

No one wants to report to a “bad” manager. Companies that have strong leadership development programs illustrate that an investment in leaders is an investment in associates.

We want mentoring and learning opportunities.  We need to see that companies are preparing us for leadership roles and upward mobility and growth. We need to see there are programs in place to arm us with the skills we need to tackle those leadership roles.

How does Gen Z define their core values?

Each person has their own set of values and beliefs, but I think something my generation values is the freedom to balance well. I want to help my company do awesome things. As I mentioned earlier, I’m willing to work hard to do that, but I don’t want to work so much that there is no time to enjoy the fruits of my hard work. Success is the whole person. Success is not just at work.

I want to have amazing experiences in this world with the people I care about. I’ve worked with refugees in Africa. I’ve seen poverty and I’ve seen grace. My favorite place so far that my feet have been is the Roman Coliseum – I just wanted to yell out lines from “Gladiator” when I was there. Because travelling is important to me, I keep a sticky note on my laptop with the 11 places I would most like to visit. The list spans the globe – from the Pyramids of Egypt to the Grand Canyon. Closer to home, during football season, you will find me decked out in orange and maroon from head to toe cheering on my beloved Hokies in Lane Stadium or wherever they happen to be on the road. This summer, I’m whittling my must see list down from 11 to 10 when I travel to the Grand Canyon.

Embrace the new Gen Z’s in your workplace. Be authentic, a good communicator, supportive, open to new ideas, and if you want to throw in some mint chocolate chip ice cream, it can go a long way to building trust.


Wendy Berenson

Wendy Berenson

Wendy brings over 20 years of expertise in training and development, facilitation, and Human Resources to the InnerWill team and the clients we serve. She has a passion for helping leaders develop a culture of engaging employee experiences and has a unique knack for identifying the strengths of others and helping them reach their highest potential.

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