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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Cracking the generation gap is no game — or is it?

When it comes to attracting and keeping help on the golf course, the "it's my way, or the highway" management style probably has lost much of its effectiveness — at least as it pertains to traditional seasonal employees.

"What stands out for superintendents is that generational differences is a layered piece. It's very hierarchical," said Amy Wallis, Ph.D., professor of organizational behavior and ethics at Wake Forest University. "There is a difference between the relationship between a superintendent and kids who are brand new to golf or college kids working over summer break and superintendents and, say, their assistants.

Many business leaders believe those who fall into the Generation Z category (generally those born from 1997 to 2012) lack work ethic and are difficult to work with compared with older generations. That reputation is hurting many Gen Zers in the workforce.

It's different for those for whom it's not a career, but just a job. . . . They are more concerned about impressing each other than they are impressing their boss.

According to one poll, at least 40 percent of business leaders perceive members of Generation Z unprepared for the workforce and more than 90 percent of those polled admit that they try to avoid hiring them.

Employers, including those in golf who rely on high school and college students to round out their seasonal roster, cannot avoid Generation Z workers forever. Gen Z employees already outnumber their Baby Boomer counterparts in the workforce and are expected to comprise 30 percent of the labor market by 2030.

According to Deloitte, Gen Z is motivated by "engaging work" to a lesser degree than Boomers, Generation X and even Millennials. 

Another survey by Work Trend Index indicates that nearly half of Gen Z workers prioritize personal life over professional, and more than half say they expected to leave their current job within the next year.

Clearly, many Gen Z workers do not have the same level of loyalty to their employer that their parents and grandparents did. And while Boomers and Gen Xers were largely adept at working unsupervised and independently, younger workers today would rather be part of a team and they prefer structure in the workplace, Wallis said. 

"They are more concerned about impressing each other than they are impressing their boss," she said.

Wallis says there are ways to capitalize on what motivates Gen Z workers.

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Generation Z is motivated on the job by different factors than previous generations. USGA photo

"One thing I suggest more and more in temporary work is team or group hiring 18-year-old kids, or those looking for summer help during college," Wallis said. "Bring five of your friends and we'll hire you as a team, and you get to work together as a team.

"This generation is very relational, and they want to spend time with their friends."

Wallis said she has begun giving team-based quizzes in her classes at Wake Forest, in which students collaborate to find the right answer to test questions. 

"They perform better on these than they do working independently, and they study harder because they know everyone relies on each other to get the right answer," Wallis said. 

Wallis says people approach the team hiring model in a manner similar to playing on an athletic team, and says it has proven to be quite successful in the manufacturing industry, for which she consults.

In a time where there is so much competition for our attention and immediate access to information via the Internet, it is not surprising that Gen Zers, who have grown up in the digital age, crave instant gratification. 

That same thirst for instant gratification often translates to the workplace for Gen Z, who also want structure in the workplace, Wallis said.

"We know this generation values immediate feedback and immediate rewards. That's part of being young, but it also smacks of this generation," Wallis said. "They want to be rewarded for good work."

Gen Z also seeks jobs with more structure, or as Wallis said, they want to be told exactly what to do — one task at a time.

"In previous generations, if they don't hear anything from their boss they assume everything is OK. This generation wants to hear from their boss that everything is alright. They want that instant gratification."

We know this generation values immediate feedback and immediate rewards. That's part of being young, but it also smacks of this generation. They want to be rewarded for good work.

And they want to be rewarded for a job well done, she said. A concept that is catching on in the workplace for Gen Z employees is gamification, which, as its name implies, rewards workers for successful completion of an assignment. 

For those worried that "gamifying" work might not be taken seriously by the younger workforce, Wallis said there are no grounds for such concern.

"There is no evidence of that," she said. "Have you ever watched a teenager play a video game and see how seriously they take it? Many college professors are gamifying courses, and it is something students resonate with."

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