In an era of constant connectivity, Gen Z seems to have a unique talent we can all benefit from: the ability to set clear boundaries. Recently, I had the fantastic opportunity to participate in a graduate development programme for one of our biggest clients. The session’s focus was on Proactive Wellbeing, and a discussion about social media sparked some truly brilliant insights.
Born roughly between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, this generation has grown up amidst rapid technological innovation and shifting social dynamics. Many of them marked their 18th birthdays via Zoom celebrations and virtually attended most of their university lectures. These experiences have undeniably left a permanent mark on their outlook. And what I observed that day was that their prowess when it comes to setting personal boundaries holds valuable lessons for us all:
- Prioritising mental wellbeing: Listening to their conversations in the room, it was clear that this generation values mental wellbeing and understands the importance of safeguarding their emotional space. They shared tips like using specific apps to limit screen time and curating their social media feeds to filter out negativity. As one delegate put it, “I follow hashtags about travel and adventure and make a conscious effort to disengage with anything that doesn’t make me feel good.” It’s small changes like this that can make a big difference in how we feel.
- Embracing digital detoxes: To me, it seems that young people are more aware of the potential downsides of excessive digital consumption than other generations. Some delegates mentioned deleting apps for certain periods or even stashing their phones in a drawer for the weekend. While going to such extremes might not be for everyone, their attitude should make the rest of us consider conscious disconnection (for a few hours at least!).
- Saying ‘no’ confidently: This generation also seems to have a knack for asserting personal boundaries in relationships, workplaces, and social interactions. They aren’t daunted when it comes to communicating their limits and expectations, resulting in healthier dynamics and reduced burnout. They noted that this is often challenging though because their line managers (usually Millennials or Boomers) don’t always communicate their boundaries in return. A delegate in the room explained, “I want to properly switch off at 7pm, but I feel I need to be switched on in case my manager calls me, as she sometimes does — and I don’t want to look like I don’t care about my job. It’s a conversation I am going to have.” Learning to express our boundaries and expectations effectively can lead to improved relationships and increased self-esteem.
- Championing authenticity: Gen Z values authenticity and individuality, which is evident in their boundary-setting practices (not to mention their personal style — some of the outfits in that room were serious fashion moments). By staying true to themselves and standing firm in their beliefs, they can inspire others to do the same. My highlight of the whole day was hearing them talk about the different sorts of leaders they want to be for future generations to come.
- Respectful conversations: Gen Z has a natural inclination for open and respectful conversations, especially when it comes to setting boundaries. During one of our sessions, we delved into a challenging conversation that one delegate needed to have with a colleague. Throughout the discussion, she was constantly mindful of her intentions and the potential impact on her colleague’s feelings. She embodied the importance of balancing assertiveness with empathy. Learning from examples like this can enhance our ability to set boundaries well, and enrich our relationships in the process.
Reflecting on my own experience as a Millennial professional, I’ve observed the often hazy distinction between home and work life. And in the past couple of years, it feels as if that line has become even more blurred, with round-the-clock emails, side hustles and the feeling that we always have to be ‘switched on’.
However, adopting the boundary-setting skill of Gen Z presents an opportunity to revolutionise the leadership landscape. By incorporating the valuable insights from this generation, I really believe that we can initiate a positive shift in the workplace. By creating cultures that value healthy boundaries, we can create work environments that prioritise wellbeing alongside career growth. And by adopting their outlook, we can pave the way for a more balanced and sustainable approach to leadership.