Gen Z Was Keeping Coworkers At A Distance Long Before It Was Trending

Posted March 17, 2020 by Mark Perna

Gen-Z and the Boomers are the two generations most averse to touch—and more—at work. Mark’s article, “Gen Z Was Keeping Coworkers At A Distance Long Before It Was Trending,” published at on March 17, 2020.

Generation Z is emerging as one of the most touch-averse cohorts in the workplace today. According to a new survey of more than 1,000 U.S. employees from Reflektive, Gen Z joins the Boomers as the two generations most uncomfortable with physical contact with coworkers.

The Reflektive survey reveals varying, generational attitudes about what is—and isn’t—appropriate at work with regard to physical contact, flirtation, social media and more. Though on opposite ends of the workforce age spectrum, Gen Z and Boomers agree that when it comes to touching coworkers, less is more. Unlike their more relaxed Gen X and Millennial counterparts, Gen Z has the strictest boundaries.

Though on opposite ends of the workforce age spectrum, Gen Z and Boomers agree that when it comes to touching coworkers, less is more. Click To Tweet

“There’s a temptation to just lump Gen Z and Millennials together, but it’s clear that while they share some priorities, they don’t share others,” explains Reflektive CEO Greg Brown. “Our research suggests that while Millennials and Gen X enjoy a more casual work environment, Gen Z may be influential in returning a greater sense of professionalism to work.”

Less touchy-feely

Gen Z was coming of age just as the #MeToo movement was gaining traction. Now they are taking its lessons to heart. When it comes to physical contact with colleagues of the opposite sex, Gen-Zers are the least likely to give kisses on the cheek. Similarly, Gen Z and Boomers are the least likely to hug at work.

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The majority of Boomers and Gen Z say they’re comfortable with handshakes, high fives and fist bumps with opposite-sex coworkers. Beyond that, however, both generations veer away from a touchy-feely culture at work—diverging significantly from the generations that lie between them. Millennials and Gen X report higher numbers of hugs, shoulder massages and cheek kisses. And Gen X in particular emerges as the generation most comfortable with close physical contact with coworkers—including many even slapping colleagues on the butt while on the job.

Less flirting and social-media following

The arms-length attitude of Gen Z also extends to the boundaries they set between their work and personal lives. For instance, even though Gen-Zers grew up with social media, they are much less likely than either Millennials or Gen-Xers to follow their manager on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest or TikTok.

Then there’s the issue of flirting—where Gen Z and Boomers again share similar attitudes. While many Millennials and Gen-Xers acknowledge that they flirt at work—with some even saying they’d do it to get a promotion or on a bet—the vast majority of Gen-Zers and Boomers say they never do. Likewise, the lion’s share of Gen Z and Boomers are significantly more likely than Millennials and Gen X to say that sitting on a colleague’s lap during work hours reflects poorly on a person’s professional reputation.

Healthy boundaries

Gen Z and the Boomers may differ on almost everything else, but they do agree that physical contact with coworkers should be kept to a minimum while in the office. Healthy boundaries, both physical and social, can contribute to a safe workplace where all employees can thrive. Respecting others’ personal space is a takeaway for all generations, so let’s follow their lead at work—and in life.

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About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is an international speaker and bestselling author. He also serves as CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.
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