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The gap between employers and Gen Z workers is a problem—and an opportunity

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal  on February 18, 2024.

There’s a disconnect between the expectations of employers and Gen Z employees—those individuals who have most recently entered the job market. This is reflected in the growing frequency of articles about this disconnect. These are just a sampling of article headlines:

This disconnect between employers and Gen Z employees actually provides a path for some Gen Zers to differentiate themselves from their peers, assisting them to rapidly advance in their careers. 

Some employers don’t realize that to get the best out of their employees, they need to acknowledge that employees need work/life balance. They need to accommodate reasonable requests from employees to take care of personal matters. In my 30+ years as a corporate leader, this has rarely been abused by any employee. Employers need to practice the human side of leadership.

Employers also need to create an environment in which employees develop a sense of ownership in their work by making what they do more meaningful. Employees need to be empowered to continuously improve that part of the business that they are responsible for. Employees need to feel that they matter.

There are social media influencers/content creators who advocate not working beyond the hours that a salaried employee was hired to work for, even when that work is mission critical to the success of the organization. These influencers do a disservice to their social media followers. 

Social media influencers should create posts pointing out that employees get promoted when they meet/exceed their employer’s expectations and demonstrate that they are capable of developing new skills and taking on new challenges. This is how they increase their compensation and advance in their careers. They are not giving Gen Zers this valuable advice. They advocate the opposite.

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Very early in my career as a chemical process engineer, a colleague announced that he would not undertake an assignment outside of his job description. This was not the right attitude. He didn’t advance beyond his current position at the company.

Harvard career coach Gorick Ng describes his unwritten rules for career success. 

In his podcast titled, “How to get ahead and get promoted,” Ng says, “How is it that people really get promoted? … Doing your hard work is part of the equation, but it’s not going to be enough if you want to get ahead. … It’s not about following the spoken rules and the written rules, it’s about understanding what’s unspoken, … the hidden expectations that your managers never tell you. … [These] are beyond your job description.”

So, what are these hidden expectations? Demonstrate your value proposition. Be proactive and show initiative by solving problems that your company faces. Exercise initiative and creativity. Undertake assignments that push you outside your comfort zone. This is how you grow professionally.

Employers hire people who see possibilities and abundance, not those who see limitations and scarcity. Problems are opportunities. They are barriers to overcome. Demonstrating initiative is part of your value proposition.

Be proactive. Challenge paradigms, which are the accepted ways of doing things. Challenging the status quo shows initiative and desire to improve the company’s operation. Rather than be passive, be an influencer. 

My message to Gen Zers is this: Differentiate yourself from your peers to compete for that next promotion by meeting/exceeding expectations and developing a sense of ownership for what you are responsible for. If you do, your chances of advancing are much improved.

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

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