Gen Z In The Workplace

Isabel Sarhad

116 and West has a long history in the Northwest advertising industry. Despite our agency’s “age,” it continues to be an incredible starting point for many of us “youths” as we kick start our careers.

Currently, Gen Z individuals populate about 26% of our work environment. I’m the youngest of the bunch. Even though most of us would classify each other as old souls more than we would as Generation Z, our age still gives us a unique outlook on our work place. Rather than assume everyone felt the same way I did, I took to our “23 and me” (as we like our call ourselves) Slack channel to ask my fellow Gen Z-ers about what it’s like to be part of the team in our early twenties.

Here’s what we discussed:

Q: What are your thoughts on being in a professional environment and working with people 10+ years your senior? 

A: I think this varies largely on experience. As someone who was working in marketing internships throughout college, building relationships with coworkers who were way older than me was something I’ve had experience doing since I was 19. So, coming into 116 and West as an almost-graduate wasn’t as challenging as one might expect. The intimidation came in when I thought about all the experience my coworkers have and saw all the cool shit they do on a daily basis.

A: It was super strange at first. Everyone was already impressed because they kept expressing how they weren’t in the same place when they were my age. As time went by, this feeling faded and I realized I am surrounded by people no different than me.

A: I just think it’s important to be able to look up to people. The age itself isn’t influential. To me, their experience is most important and how far they’ve come through those years. They help me learn. And, the more you know, the better.

A: I love hearing about how they got their start and how they got to where they are now, as well as how their personal lives integrate into who they are professionally and how that’s helped them. I see bad-ass moms who juggle mastering their role at work and caring for their family at home. I aspire to be like them some day.

Q: How was the transition from a college classroom to a professional environment?

 A: Once you realize you don’t have classes to go to or homework to do, it starts becoming more real. You start to see that you have a job you’re responsible for, and coworkers to build relationships with. You start to get more grounded in one place instead of having to be at several different ones in a day. For me, the only thing that stayed the same, in a general sense, was to maintain the mindset that I’m still learning. As helpful as a degree might be, it doesn’t fully prepare you for a 9 to 5. So, it’s important to get to know your new work home and see how you want to fit in it.

A: There was definitely an adjustment period, but my experiences working throughout college helped me be more prepared and get a taste for what I liked in a professional environment. I was eager and excited!

A: The difference in schedule was the biggest change. In college, some days I would be done by noon and others I’d have work, school, and then be up all night cramming for an exam. A full time job in a professional environment felt much more structured, which made it easy to get into a routine.

A: I think college really prepared me to work with a lot of different types of people. I had group projects I’d committed to and had to learn how to work with various personalities. I was also an intern at 116 and West before being hired, so that definitely made me be more comfortable from the get-go.

A: Coming into this role from college, I felt eager to start working. I was willing to do any type of work because I wanted to show that I was ready to establish myself. At first, I found it challenging to have a voice because I knew I was the least experienced in the room so it’s easy to assume that others know better. On the flip side, that helped me get to know what processes and viewpoints I liked and wanted to adopt myself.

Q: How do you feel about the office and how it runs?

 A: Break room talk is the best kind of talk. We’re in a professional environment getting work done while simultaneously cracking jokes, poking fun, discussing controversial topics, and learning about everyone’s quirks. I think those conversations are one of the biggest things that makes the job fun for me. I have a loving and diverse group of people to share these experiences with. Sitting close to my teammates has also provided a great opportunity for collaboration that helps me absorb the lessons I’m learning.

A: Everyone treats each other with respect – there are no cliques, which I’ve seen happen in some other places. No matter someone’s age, beliefs, etc. we can all get along and feel like a family.

A: It feels like a safe space for people to voice their opinions and bounce ideas off of each other. We have a culture that fosters learning, despite the contrast between experienced individuals and entry level-ers. I’m interested to see how that dynamic will shift in the years to come.

A: I always thought a working environment meant keeping to yourself and not having a friendship with the people you work with. 116 and West really changed my perception there. Its been incredible to see how our in-person dynamic hasn’t changed through this pandemic—even though we only communicate through Zoom calls and Slack—it still feels like we’re the same team we were before it started.

Q: Are you sick of people asking you what slang terms mean?

A: This one was a pretty universal answer among all of us: NO WAY. We’re here to help. Honestly, if we even know what something means and can explain it, it makes us feel cool. So keep ‘em coming.

Q: What value do you think you bring as a young person?

A: I’ve had this thought in my head about being part of the “next generation of advertising.” I feel some pressure to keep up with all the creative talent I see every day. It keeps me motivated to follow in their footsteps and be able to keep the momentum going, especially with the changing times.

A: I think I bring a new perspective into the workplace. Once you start doing something for a long time, it can get difficult to think “outside of the box.” The media and digital landscape is constantly changing. I have insight into how my generation uses and consumes media, which is valuable to clients looking to get our attention.

A: With younger generations comes a different perspective, a different work ethic, new ways of collaboration, and fun! It provides room for growth in the environment. As an agency, we are constantly forced to break barriers and challenge the status quo – fresh, younger viewpoints can bring innovation along with them.

Q: What office norms do you find outdated?

 A: I’d say we’re a pretty hip office – probably the most progressive and integrated that I’ve seen as a younger person. It’s refreshing to be in a place where everyone sees me as an equal, and nobody assumes anything about me because of my age. My experience level is taken into consideration, but not used against me—a really important factor to watch out for in a professional environment.

A: Sometimes an in-office 8-hour workday can feel a little outdated. I think it’s important for everyone to have flexibility to work from wherever they’re productive that day. This need can vary from role to role, especially on the demand for face-to face communication. I think this pandemic has shown how effective we can still be working apart from each other.

A: I think an important aspect we had, during this pandemic especially, is self-care time. It feels outdated to have to log a full 40 hour work week when the workflow slows down. I believe it could improve efficiency overall if, in those slower times, we get what needs to be done in a shorter week.

Although our lack of experience can be a tough thing for us to navigate, we’re eager to learn, grow, and follow in the footsteps of those who teach us today. Being a Gen Z in today’s professional environment has its advantages. We value building both personal and professional relationships with our coworkers. We think those relationships pave the way for collaboration and provide us the space to give our unique thoughts and perspectives as members of a newer generation. If all that wasn’t enough, we also are a great resource for all of your burning TikTok, VSCO girl, and e-boy questions.

For more Gen Z influence, check out our Instagram page: @116andwest, or our Twitter: @116andwest. Follow for follow?