How To Lead Generation Z In A ‘Praise-Junkie’ Workplace

Every CEO and business leader can follow these simple principles to celebrate their twenty-something employees in a way that creates value.

Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo

Today’s workplace is complicated. In the history of business, there are more generations, more technology, and more activity involved than ever before.

CEOs and business leaders are tasked to manage multiple projects, demanding deadlines, and countless expectations. They must also manage people across multiple generations with a diverse set of expectations and demands.

In particular, the generational interests of a diverse workforce are front and center and widely debated. More specifically, the most-praised generations.

In 2007, Wall Street Journal writer Jeffrey Zaslow took a deeper look at the phenomena of uber-stroked and ultra-praised kids reaching adulthood — and now their bosses (and spouses) have to deal with them, in his article entitled “The Most-Praised Generation Goes To Work.”

“Now, as this greatest generation grows up, the culture of praise is reaching deeply into the adult world. Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit.”

“After the traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y/millennials, we have Generation Z – that group born after 1995 now starting to graduate college.” And as today’s most-praised generation enters the workforce, it’s wise for leaders to think strategically about how to lead them effectively.

“Certainly, there are benefits to building confidence and showing attention. But some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today’s young adults feel insecure if they’re not regularly complimented.”

How should leaders navigate this new reality at work? Giving praise is about creating value for an organization and the people who contribute to it.


Five Principles of Giving Praise In the Workplace

“We are always saying that young people are less committed to an organization, more obsessed about growth and self-actualization, and that’s always been true – age matters, even if the generation you were born into has a minor effect,” says Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell.

How to lead Gen Z at work
© Monkey Business, YFS Magazine

“On a practical level, these discussions about generations tap into the fact that, as we become more distant in age from the people who are entering the workforce, we find them more and more mystifying and find more challenges in relating to them and their approaches.”

In order to demistify Gen Z in the workplace, every CEO and business leader can follow these simple principles to acknowledge their twenty-something employees in a way that creates value.


V – Victory

Praise should be given through affirmation.

Wins should be celebrated. Employees who accomplish great work should be praised. A culture of praise will help organizations achieve big objectives and reach new heights. Many young employees are outside the box thinkers. CEOs can help equip Generation Z by allowing them the freedom to explore new areas and praise them when they accomplish something new.

Q: Do you pay attention to the victories achieved by the youngest people on your team?


A – Authenticity

Praise should be given authentically.

The next generation of leaders crave genuine and authentic conversations. That want to be praised for a job well done, but they do not wish to be given empty words. Look for the value in their efforts. When you give praise, make it as specific as possible, highlighting their efforts with detailed examples.

Q: How can you encourage more authentic conversations in your company?


L – Listening

Praise should be given through acceptance.

CEOs should train leaders within their companies to listen to new employees and help them grow their self-esteem and self-identity. Although many Gen Z employees are used to receiving praise, they still struggle with negative self-talk. Wise leaders are the ones that can listen to understand an employees’ weakness, and amidst their deficiencies, call out their greatness. Jeff Martin, CEO of Tribal Brands, stated it this way, “Young people need to be asked what matters, not be told what matters.” When a leader can encourage their team, the impact can be long-lasting.

Q: How well do you know the youngest members of your team?


U – Understanding

Praise should be given through understanding.

Generation Z, much like Millennials that came before them, has many aspirations and are involved in multiple activities and causes that vie for their time and schedules. When they choose to support a cause or mission, they know they do so at the cost of another worthy cause. Striving to effect change, 85 percent of Gen Z will seek companies that prioritize resolving social problems, for example. To win Gen Z loyalty, leaders must care about and support their causes. Knowing that they have chosen a specific cause or company to support, praise their choice, and strengthen their dedication.

Q: How well does your company support causes that extend beyond work?


E – Evenly

Praise should be given though acceleration.

Praise can lose its profundity when it’s given without truth in equal measure. Generation Z desires recognition but also wants to be challenged. Allow your visionaries, across generations, to look into the future. Come along beside your younger employees with ideas to build upon theirs. The wisdom of the past can move their dreams forward.

Q: How well do you encourage synergy and camaraderie with older and younger members of your team?


Leadership and the ‘praise’ factor

I once worked for a leader would say to each of his employees “Each of you is either an asset or a liability.” The point he was trying to make is that each of us had something to contribute, and if we didn’t, then we were hurting the organization.

Today, many organizations are filled with new and capable assets, as Generation Z enters the workforce. If leaders do not learn how to celebrate the most-praised generation in the right way, they will become discouraged, disheartened, and consequently, a liability to the organization. It is every CEOs responsibility to see that every member of their team is utilized to the best of their ability.


Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience). He serves leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. He has worked with hundreds of CEOs and leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, coach, and strategic partner with CEOs. Ken is the creator and facilitator of the Christian CEO Linkedin Group and creator of the CEO Experience Impact Assessment. He is married to Shonda, and they have four children. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.


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