Building Trust with Millennials and Gen Z

While credibility and transparency are often effective approaches for building trust with Baby Boomers and Generation X, establishing trust with Millennials and Gen Z can at times prove more challenging for leaders.

Both Millennials and Gen Z have faced some harsh criticism since entering the workforce, often being openly referred to as entitled and lazy. It seems to be a knee jerk reaction by leaders who fail to connect with younger employees. The consequence? High turnover, unmotivated employees, and low productivity—all of which are costing companies time and money.

Now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and a social uprising, and morale is suffering more than ever. According to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index, when asked what their main concerns are regarding the coronavirus pandemic, both Millennials and Gen Z cited the job market and their finances. A quarter of Millennials even expect their earned income to decline in the near future. Beyond this, young talent looks for businesses to get involved with social initiatives; they want to know they work for a company that prioritizes diversity and makes positive societal change. Establishing confidence and trust with Millennials and Gen Z during this time is crucial, and it starts with looking past stereotypes and getting to the root of what these generations need from leadership right now and why.


In a recent article, The Washington Post made the case that Millennials are America’s “unluckiest generation.” Born in the early 1980s, they came up during a time of tremendous turmoil. From the Columbine school shooting, the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the 2008 recession, the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not the first time this generation has had to deal with uncertainty. Combined with the fact that Millennials have had to contend with tremendous student loan debt, and you have a generation that does not trust easily.

Being the first generation to grow up in the age of social media, Millennials have had constant access to information in real-time. They grew accustomed to sharing their thoughts and expressing themselves to a wide audience at an early age. Add to that, the Columbine tragedy inspired a change in our educational system, adding guidance counselors to schools across the country to help foster collaborative classroom interactions. Millennials were then able to participate in authentic, open dialogue with teachers, parents, and other authority figures from a young age. Now that they’re fully grown and in the workforce, this has created a new precedent for how leaders are expected to communicate with this generation. The days of “I say ‘jump,’ you say ‘how high?’” are far behind us. Millennials expect more; they want a “why?”

Millennials put their trust in companies who create channels for open, authentic, collaborative conversations—not lectures and memos about new policies and procedures. As you communicate, give them an outlet to be heard. Ask questions as well as make statements. Foster dialogue that includes a mix of both professional and personal. For Millennials, this kind of open discourse creates trust, trust creates a strong culture, and a strong culture is worth working toward.

Gen Z

Gen Z’s formative years were significantly different from Millennials. They have never known a world without Google. They never experienced dial-up internet. They have no memories of 9/11 or Columbine. Their formative years were, however, shaped primarily by tragedy. The War on Terror, gun violence, global warming, recession, and disease were experienced long before this generation set foot in the workplace.

Gen Z has reported high levels of stress and anxiety at a very young age. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report found that 91% percent of Gen Z said they had felt physical or emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, associated with stress. Now, in the infancy of their careers, this global pandemic will no doubt feed into that.

Providing Gen Z with the tools and resources to manage stress and support their mental health is your best approach for establishing and maintaining their trust right now. That trust is best cultivated when companies showcase they value people as much as profit. The health of your company is important, but it’s also important to make sure your team is robust. For most of your Gen Zers, this is their first post-college job. Be sure you’re reaching out to them as everyone tries to make sense of what is happening. Pair them with a supportive mentor who can be a source of strength and guidance. Let them know that, while quarantine might keep us apart, we’re all in this together, and emotional support will continue as we forge ahead through this pandemic and into an unknown future.