An article by Luke Harris
Currently, I am in the long four-month summer between the end of second-year university exams, and the start of my third year. But before September brings its challenging dissertations and looming deadlines, I have been thoroughly enjoying my several internships and work experience roles.
A common trend in the current news feeds about ‘Generation Z’, those born between the 1990s and 2010s, is their lazy, uninterested, and screen-addicted nature. As a 20-year-old student, I fall firmly into the ‘Gen Z’ category but somewhat disagree with these remarks.
Like many, I have undergone A-Level cancellation, grading chaos, online lectures, and less than 15 hours of in-person teaching throughout my first year.
Hence more than ever, it is putting an enormous amount of pressure on students, whose ordeal is only sweetened by a bill of £60,000 that awaits them after finishing University!
For a fresh-faced and lesser-experienced intern starting at a new company in a post-COVID world, the prospect of a first-time conversation with a manager has been an exciting, yet daunting experience.
Conversations have ranged from discussing the company’s branding guidelines and marketing strategy, home and work-life balance, to chatting about Murray’s performance at Wimbledon!
I have found these have had to be honest, courageous, and curious, yet still maintain professionalism to sustain and grow working relationships.
Whilst I haven’t spent masses of time in the workplace, and in some cases, I have only met my managers virtually, I have learned to appreciate some key things in a conversation that enable me to be my best.
If I was to share some ‘Top Tips’ for managers talking to new interns, it would be:
- Regular check-ins. These have been essential particularly in the first week, to keep me on track with the manager’s expectations and ensure my work aligns with the company’s existing material. Also, in a smaller company, an intern often works with the founder or CEO, who knows their business inside out. Regular meet-ups enable an intern to fully grasp the company’s message and values, as this may take longer than a manager expects.
- Deadlines and time restraints kept me on track, allowing me to produce a steady flow of quality work.
- Understanding that each generation and particularly ‘Gen Z’, is almost completely different from the last. The chaos from COVID is among many things this generation has lived through, during such a crucial stage of their development. Over 85% of the 17–21-year-olds I surveyed said that their phone or a screen regularly distracts them from their work. Their reasons for this have been the ‘constant notifications’, and that ‘social media becomes addictive and makes it harder to focus.’ Although multiple lockdowns and a generation having more ‘screen-time’ may have led to less conversations, it has also provided new opportunities for innovative types of interactions as we become increasingly more connected to each other, news events, and the workplace.
- Everyone likes to receive positive feedback. But meaningful, constructive, and balanced feedback immerses an intern into the company. The manager’s critical analysis of my work has enabled me to fully understand the business model, customer base, and brand values. Therefore, producing better results.
- Being curious and interested about what is going on outside of the workplace, whether it is discussing an upcoming 21st birthday, or the latest England result, also makes for a better working relationship and strengthens the power of conversations.
- Flexibility in working remotely and in-person is greatly valuable to me. Sitting in an office with colleagues, even if it is just sharing some tea and biscuits, has made me feel part of a team that is all moving and contributing towards a common goal. It also provides motivation and encouragement, as seeing people’s emotions and facial expressions when giving face-to-face feedback I believe makes a massive difference. But I do enjoy the mix of in-person and online working, as it saves time and money spent on transport, and I think a lot of people still enjoy working from the ease of their own comfy chair, with their favourite mug, on their desk at home.
Moreover, I think where we hold the conversation can massively impact its quality too.
At a work experience role a few months ago, I found taking the longer route to the office with the CEO of the company through the park and alongside the river, to be an excellent start to the week as we discussed all things work, hobbies, and pet related!
Also, commuting to and from the station with Sara or Louise whilst interning at The Conversation Space, allowed me to put my mind at ease before the day’s work began.
I get enormous benefits from changing the physical environment of where I have my conversations. Different sights and sounds help me to feel more engaged when talking with a manager.
In summary, be aware of any assumptions and pre-existing beliefs when talking to us Gen Zer’s. Whilst the art of conversation may sound simple, it can also be helpful to give a little thought to what might work best – for both manager and intern. And I’ll do the same too!
To find out more about having better conversations at work, get in touch with The Conversation Space.
Emma Stoufflet. NA Eye, Student Newspaper. The Laziest Generation? 29/10/2020. https://naeye.net/14152/features/the-laziest-generation/
Indeed Indeed Career Guide. 27 Do’s and Don’ts for How To Talk To Your Boss. 29/01/2021. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-talk-to-your-boss
Karianne Gomez, Tiffany Mawhinney, Kimberly Betts. Understanding Generation Z in the workplace. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/understanding-generation-z-in-the-workplace.html
Thomas Kohlenbach. Three ways to engage Gen Z in the process conversation. 03/09/2020. https://www.processexcellencenetwork.com/organizational-change/articles/three-ways-to-engage-gen-z-in-the-process-conversation