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Dr. Santor Nishizaki Discusses his Study on Gen Z, Upcoming Book, and more

Dr. is an award-winning CEO with NASA and Fortune 100 experience, a keynote speaker, author, professor, consultant, and corporate trainer. In the lead up to his book, Working with Gen Z: A Handbook to Retain, Recruit, and Reimagine the Future Workforce after COVID-19, co-authored by James DellaNeve, Dr. Nishizaki is sharing some of the most valuable insights from his study on Gen Z, revealing how leaders of all generations can most effectively recruit, retain, and lead this group in a post-pandemic workplace environment.


Your upcoming book explores the differences between Millennials and Gen Z within the workplace with credible data and digestible analysis. Can you describe your career background and what led you to conducting this study and writing this book?

While obtaining my doctorate in organizational leadership, I had the opportunity to hear a guest speaker (an HR Leader in a very reputable organization) mention that one of their most significant challenges was to have all generations in the workplace harmoniously co-exist. I didn't realize that this was an area of study and noticed it in my career path and decided to write my dissertation on Millennial work environment preferences in the aerospace industry. As I became immersed in the research, I realized that the way different generations work and lead causes friction that usually arises from misunderstandings.

After working overseas for a year-and-a-half, I went back to teaching undergraduate courses (in addition to running my training and consulting firm). Once I got back, I noticed a significant change in the behavior of the younger college students: more face-to-face visits during office hours (I rarely had anyone come to my office hours before I went overseas), students were quieter in class, discussions around Snapchat and influencers (“Facebook is for our parents and grandparents”), and realized the next generation must be early. After acknowledging this notion, I decided to do a study to discover more about this emerging generation and found that Generation Z is here!

We wrote this book to help leaders, human resource professionals, and coworkers of Generation Z to better understand them to recruit, work with, and lead them as we exit the pandemic. Also, we wrote this book so organizations don't get caught off-guard like they were (and maybe still are) when Millennials entered the workforce.

Based on your research, how should Millennial leaders approach their coaching/leadership strategies with Gen Z colleagues?

Generation Z grew up with technology and social media, which impacts how they communicate, work with teams, and approach work.

We found that Gen. Z prefers to meet with their supervisors at least once a day for 5-30 minutes, wants their leader to be a mentoring coach (more than a technical expert), and it is the responsibility of the organization/manager to eliminate boredom from the workplace. This generation requires a lot of attention, if only for a short time. I do not see this as a bad thing, but I see it as an opportunity to have more time to coach and get to know the people you manage.

Also, connecting Generation Z to an organization's impact will genuinely help them stay engaged in the organization. Millennials are no stranger to "impact" at work, so this should be easy for them to implement. One of the things I've done in my career is to show the entry-level folks who work for me how the work they do contributes to the company's mission and impact on their customers and their communities.

Lastly, we found that 67% of the workers admitted delegating a task to a peer at work. I would never delegate anything to a peer at work because I thought that this is the supervisor's job, but Gen Z thinks this is okay, so be ready!

Can you provide a few examples of surprising or unexpected conclusions you were able to draw about Millennials or Gen Z?

We found that most Gen Z'ers got a side job during the pandemic but would quit this side gig if their employer paid them more. Over 70% of the Gen Z'ers surveyed would consider moving out of state after the pandemic to work 100% remotely but prefer face-to-face communication for meeting and workplace interactions, which is counterintuitive. This paradox is similar to how Millennials wanted an open-office workplace. When organizations gave this to them, they admitted that it's harder to concentrate and complete their work but suitable for collaboration. Also, we found that many Gen Z'ers said that technology improved their relationships but hurt their ability to innovate.

How should workplace leaders approach a return to the office in the post-pandemic economy?

Listening is always the best way to get the pulse of employees. We found that most Gen Z'ers want to work remotely at least 50% of the time after the pandemic is over. Giving employees the flexibility to do this will help recruit and retain Gen Z employees and the rest of the workforce. In addition, as this is the first time in most of our lifetimes going through something like a global pandemic, once people start coming back to the office or staying virtual, leaders need to continually check in using surveys or focus groups to ensure that the workers are engaged. Also, measuring productivity is another way to find out if their current strategy is working. The old mindset of "sitting at your desk" in the office is the only way to track that employees are "working" is over. Managers will need to have clear and well-defined metrics on productivity and hold their employees accountable, rather than monitoring the time they spend in Microsoft Teams.

Organizations have an opportunity to reset their corporate culture, and I hope that they will take advantage and provide employees with the support (and pay) that they deserve.

Who should read this book?

Leaders, human resource professionals, coworkers, parents of Gen Z, and anyone else interested in getting to know this emerging generation.

What is one key message you hope readers take away from this?

Not everyone under 40 is a Millennial, and being open-minded would go a long way with this fantastic generation. Also, generational relationships are a two-way street: it is the responsibility of younger generations to understand how older generations prefer to work and should make an effort to meet them halfway.

Do you have other books in the pipeline?

Yes. One of the other books I'm very passionate about and have been working on simultaneously for the past few years is a "how-to" guide for first-time leaders. I started noticing some of my professional network friends complain that "these inexperienced Millennial leaders" continuously messed up and lashed out. The first question I asked them was, "Did you provide them with leadership training?" Of course, the answer was always "no," which is not surprising. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, almost 60% of leaders said they NEVER received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role. It seems crazy to me that organizations promote folks based on their technical abilities but fail to provide them with leadership and interpersonal skills training, given that Gallup found that 70% of employee engagement scores are directly dependent on an employee's direct supervisor.

Also, some of the leadership books are a little dry for our generation (although I love them!), so I decided to go out and find 101 Millennial leaders who have accomplished a great deal in their careers to give advice to first-time and emerging leaders. Some of these include over 15 Forbes 30 Under 30 Winners, 30 Under 30, Entrepreneur 30 Under 30, superintendents of school districts, project managers, restaurant owners, and many more. I wanted to write this book for young leaders whose company doesn't have the money to provide training or executive coaching and give them the confidence they need to succeed in their first leadership role. If we had better leaders in our organizations, we'd have happier employees, who in turn would be more engaged (and productive) at work.

To learn more about Dr. Nishizaki, his career, and upcoming book, click here.


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