Culture   //   January 9, 2023  ■  4 min read

Gen Z workers want managers to stop assuming they know it all when it comes to tech

Cate Turner works at a New York-based advertising agency where it’s part of her job to help make TikToks. She’s 23 years old and despite growing up as a so-called digital native, like anyone from the Gen Z age range, she admits she struggles with creating content for the app. 

“Often there are things we [the agency’s social media team] find online that we want to repost on our own channels, like dueting it on TikTok, but the account manager asks [me] how it works or what we have to do,” said Turner. Because of her age, Turner feels pressure to inherently have the answers and that older colleagues often expect her to know instantly how to create new content for social platforms quickly. But the reality is, she feels she has the same level of knowledge of TikTok as everyone else does at her company, even those much older in age.

Aside from TikTok, it’s a part of her job to stay on top of other social media. There are newer platforms, like Mastodon and Discord, that she feels her managers and bosses have gotten a handle on quicker than she has.

Beyond that, a significant number of her clients are in the augmented and virtual reality industries, categories of technology of which she possesses limited knowledge. “It was a weird learning curve coming in [to the agency] because I didn’t always understand the main thing we’re marketing for certain clients,” said Turner.

Turner’s comments signal a growing problem: Gen Zers are not actually as comfortable with new technology as older generations would typically presume — particularly in the workplace — a pattern previously reported by WorkLife. This presumption from older generations is leading a larger number of young professionals to experience “tech shame,” according to HP’s “Hybrid Work: Are We There Yet?” report, published in late November.

It’s a reminder that adequate training is needed for this generation of workers. At the same time, older generations can be more mindful that just because someone is tech dependent doesn’t always mean that they are tech-savvy. 

“I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily a tech-savvy person,” said 25-year-old Cassidy Speller, a curriculum writer at a non-profit education company. “I know how to navigate new tech to figure out the very specific things I need it for, but I haven’t developed solid understandings or quick-recall of a lot of tech skills used at work, like how to reconnect a printer or create a formula in Excel. Even outside of work too. I truly have no idea how people make transitions on TikTok.”

Nicholette Leanza, a therapist at LifeStance Health, says that just because someone may use technology heavily and rely on it for some things does not mean they have a deep understanding of how it works or what it means to be proficient at it.

“For example, someone may be very familiar with using different types of apps but may not know how to create or develop an app,” said Leanza. “Someone can be both tech-dependent and tech-savvy, but these qualities do not always go hand in hand.”

Mary Donohue, CEO at the Digital Wellness Center, frames it like this: “They’re [Gen Z] tech dependent, they’re not wizzes at tech. They’re wizzes at what they want to use it for, just like all of us.” 

Leanza recommends supervisors and managers recognize that not all team members may have the same level of experience with technology and it doesn’t always correlate with age. In fact, she’s found that many older workers have felt pressure to stay current in their tech knowledge in order to successfully navigate their careers.

“It should be the manager’s responsibility to encourage a culture of continuous learning and professional development within the team so that everyone can stay current and improve their tech skills,” said Leanza. 

Tech training for all demographics will always be important, whether it’s a lunch-and-learn session that goes over an Excel crash course or fully scheduled programming. 

“I feel like I’m someone who needs to be taught,” said 25-year-old Maura Fallon, a video editor at California-based media company Consequence. “Unless I’m given specific instructions, it’s tough for me to figure computer stuff out on my own. I use Adobe Premiere for work and even that is something I am constantly learning by looking up tutorials on the internet.”

Donohue suggests that during an onboarding process there should be a check-in on what tech learning curves a new hire might be tackling and figure out how an employer can help. That could be simple things from what the company’s email etiquette is to getting used to Microsoft if they’re used to Google, or vice versa. 

“You’re going to have to retrain them in that because Word and Google Docs are very different things,” said Donohue. “They’ll pick it up, but it’s about being inclusive in tech culture.”