Sneakers, piercings & no meetings before 10 am

Gen Z has a different way of looking at the workplace and pushes us for a more flexible and inclusive work environment. This is not new. Each generation brings an office revolution. How do you deal with this?

It’s 10:08. One of the young talents you recently hired walks through the door in a pair of extremely colorful sneakers. “Did you forget to set your alarm clock?” one of your colleagues jokes. “No, I like to take it easy in the morning,” comes the reply. You’re amazed by this response. 

“This isn’t how you build a career. And if you wear sneakers and piercings at work – don’t expect to grow three times faster than your senior peers. Is it me? Am I too old-fashioned, or is this really getting out of hand?” 

The answer is neither. 

Each generation brings an office revolution.

    • In 1973, female staff was allowed to wear pants to work at the White House.
    • In 1995, Fridays became ‘casual’ days in offices. You were allowed to wear jeans instead of a suit.
    • Until 2009 you could smoke during meetings.
    • In 2020 – under forced circumstances – it became the norm to have ‘working from home’ days.  


With the entrance of Gen Z to the workplace, we are yet again invited to look at what we consider normal at the office. This generation is characterized by a digital fluency and global interconnectedness we haven’t seen before. They challenge our traditional norms and behaviours.


5 Remarkable Ways Gen Z Challenges Traditional Norms: 

  • Piercings, crop tops, and tattoos are worn out and about. 
  • Meetings are preferably between 10 am and 4 pm. Work communication can occur from 7 am to 11 pm through WhatsApp & Slack. 
  • The phone is glued to their hands ready for to give quick entertainment in between meetings. 
  • Loneliness is a concern. Despite their digital connectedness they crave more connection moments at work. 
  • Feedback is not an annual event but a constant necessity. 

Where should you draw a line?

Gen Z pushes for a more flexible and inclusive work environment. This can be confronting for senior peers. How do you deal with certain behaviors from Gen Z? What can we learn from them and where should they learn to adapt themselves to the current working context? 


There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Not every Gen Z is the same, nor are people from other generations. Based on our experience with Gen Z talent and their managers, here are 5 ways to find out: 


Dress up vs dress down – The Pareto Law

Social media and the start-up landscape are shifting the way we dress at work. Young talent doesn’t wear piercings to push your boundaries. They do it as a means to express themselves. Go for 80/20 rule – allow freedom in clothes for 80% of the situation and define the 20% cases where they need to dress up. 

  • Example: Freedom of clothes for internal meetings and dressing more properly for important board meetings or client meetings. 




Macro leadership: Set boundaries about what needs to be done

As the manager of a team, you need to ensure that the work that’s done is in line with the overall organizational goals and values. Do this by setting clear boundaries that help the team act towards these goals.  

  • Examples: Set clear expectations on the output you expect to get out of an important meeting. You must come to the office two days per week to ensure connectedness between team members. You need to document the findings of a meeting. 



Micro leadership: Allow for autonomy in how it’s done

Once the bigger lines are set, leave room for autonomous working. By letting young talents figure out ways to get the work done by themselves, you don’t just recognize their abilities but you might also learn something new yourself. 

  • Examples of areas where you give autonomy: How output is achieved (via a presentation, workshop, a video, etc.). The way the findings of a meeting are documented (via traditional notes, transcribe services or ChatGPT). 


Communicate, communicate, communicate

Clearly communicate expectations. Don’t assume Gen Z knows the unspoken rules. If you want them to be at the office by 9 am at the latest, be clear about this. Explain them why this is important to you if you want to get their buy-in. ‘That’s just the way it is around here’, won’t do. 


Question your own ‘normal’

Sometimes, Gen Z won’t like what you expect from them. At these moments, reflect on your own definition of ‘normal’. What will the working world look like in 5 to 10 years? Could this new way of doing things be beneficial to accommodate the evolving dynamics of the workplace? 

Managing Gen Z requires a delicate balance between appreciating their unique qualities and aligning them with organizational goals. The workplace is evolving, and embracing the perspectives of Gen Z can lead to positive change. So, the next time you see those colorful sneakers, remember, it might just be the future walking through the door. 

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If you’re a Gen Z talent, you likely have your own frustrations with previous generations. We feel you!


Read here how to deal with more senior colleagues that are stuck in stereotypical thinking.