Meet the new generation of business leaders

When you think of a typical employee, the image of someone glued to their computer for 12 hours at a time and constantly checking their work emails (even outside the office) may come to mind. But while this may have been the norm in the past, leadership styles have changed. New and emerging leadership styles signifying the emergence of Gen Z’ers in the workplace have replaced the traditional hierarchical structure that treated workers like assets.

The cohort of young people born between 1997 and 2012 is often plagued by negative stereotypes, such as that they are lazy and not interested in developing careers. However, as they begin to enter the workforce, they have proven to be forward-thinking young leaders advocating for new management practices to reshape the workplace landscape.

One leader adopting new workplace practices is Julia Hart, a Toronto-based restaurant general manager. According to Hart,  trust is fundamental in new leadership styles. Hart said older leadership styles did not trust workers to make decisions. Although no one enjoys being micromanaged, she finds that younger workers are especially resistant.

 “Gen Z likes their autonomy,” Hart explained. “Instead of resisting that, I embrace that.”

Hart added that since restaurants are traditionally a work environment with strict expectations, giving workers too much autonomy can be difficult. However, Hart said she believes there are plenty of opportunities for her employees to make their own choices.

One example is lunch breaks. Hart explained that in many restaurants, employees don’t get breaks, despite it being illegal. She said she believes that a big reason for this is that workers feel pressured by their managers to work through their lunches. Hart, instead, allows her employees to take breaks whenever they choose.

She asks that they get their work covered by their co-workers when they are on break. Aside from that, they can take as many breaks as they would like as long as it isn’t too busy.

Beyond an understanding approach to breaks, Hart allows her employees to dress however they want. Additionally, she avoids putting pressure on them to work harder if they are short-staffed.

Hart said the key to this is in the hiring process. She strongly prefers hiring kind-hearted people, whom she believes will work better with more freedom.

Hart also said an important aspect of leading the new generation is asking for their opinions. When there are decisions to be made in the restaurant, Hart brings in as many staff members as possible to help make the choice. Although she oversees the front-of-house operations, she encourages the kitchen team to do the same when developing new recipes.

By asking workers for their input, Hart feels that workers care more about their work environments. Not only that, but she finds her employees often have interesting, creative ideas that she wouldn’t have thought of herself.

Sarah Zhang, a coffee shop manager in Toronto, emphasized that s respecting employees’ time off is the best way to increase employee morale. She accomplishes this by releasing schedules at least a month in advance. This allows the shop plenty of time to reorganize shifts to accommodate time off requests.

Zhang finds that her employees favour regular schedules rather than traditional shift work. According to Zhang, there is no need to schedule shifts inconsistently. She finds that employees are more receptive to regular and consistent shifts so they can plan their lives outside of work.

Of course, sometimes, the schedule needs adjusting. Zhang explains that in terms of switching around shifts with notice, it is easy enough for her store. In her experience, other coffee shops can make a big deal about switching shifts, but she allows her employees to swap shifts whenever they want.

“Some managers don’t trust their employees to switch shifts,” Zhang said. “I just don’t understand that.”   

According to her, most coffee shops will make their employees go through a long process to switch their shifts. Some practices involve submitting shift-switching request forms, which are sometimes denied. Zhang explained that she trusts everyone on her team to be good at their jobs, so there is no need to make them go through a long hassle to switch shifts.

“I don’t care who is working with me because I like everyone. I just need enough staff,” she added.

To Zhang, most workplaces don’t treat their workers like people. Instead, they view them too callously or treat them too much like friends, leading to employees being taken advantage of. She has found that treating her employees like people who are there to do a job is the best of both worlds.

If a manager treats employees like a resource to exploit, understandably, they will not enjoy working there. Likewise, if a manager attempts to cross employee-employer boundaries, many workers will become resentful.

Now workers expect a management style that allows for a respectful, professional work environment. They wish to be treated well without having any boundaries crossed and to be valued for their work. New leaders have become aware of these needs, and many have begun implementing them into their management practices. This can also improve workplace operations, as when employees are happy at work, they tend to be more productive and creative.

These transformations are just the beginning as more workplaces are listening to the concerns of young employees. Working is no longer about hustling but rather respect and balance. As these leaders continue implementing new changes, they transform workplaces into inclusive, supportive and motivating environments.

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