It’s almost that time. The newest generation of workers – Gen Z (born between 1994-2010) – are just about to make their debut. Another generation? Already? But we’ve just figured out how to incorporate the Millenials! For managers, the narrow age bands that separate generations can make the juggling workplace management styles tricky.
It’s been easy to compare later generations with the Baby Boomers. We’ve had their lifetimes to define their patterns and establish them as the ‘norm.’ Gen Xers now find themselves in a similar situation – forgetting that they struggled against, sometimes rightly, often wrongly, the stereotypes thrust upon them by a previous generation. The Millennials are engaged in this right now, and as the first all digital generation, they really are redefining the workplace as we know it. So what do you need to know about your newest recruits? What’s the same, what’s different and what’s really possible to anticipate?
Historically, it’s been hard to extrapolate what a generation will be like before entering the work force, but Gen Z is unique because they’re already engaging with their careers. A recent study indicates that almost 50% of all high school students have an internship or are volunteering in a field that they’re interested in as career. They grew up in a time of uncertainty – they’re the first post 9/11 generation and they’ve watched the world struggle with economic downturns, institutional instability and depleted resources. They also had access to more technological resources (not more technology, we’re all equally hooked these days) and more exposure to people of diverse backgrounds across all divides. And the combination of these things has given rise to a hard working, focused, entrepreneurial generation. The competition is intense and they’re focusing early on opportunities that will make them more attractive candidates later on.
While students are coming out of school with more knowledge and the highest test scores in history, they’ll still have some of the same struggles as the Millennials. Particularly with the soft skills that are honed over time. Their familiarity and ease across boundaries will serve them well in many ways, but it can also make workplace etiquette and hierarchy more difficult to navigate. Having well defined jobs and pathways to promotion should help mitigate this as the most motivating factor they cite for working harder and staying at a job longer is the opportunity for advancement.
Recent studies of Gen Z have also yielded some surprising results. For instance, far fewer Gen Zers (28%) list money as a motivating factor than Millenials (42%). And while we think of them as the first completely digital generation, we’re all addicted to technology now. The real difference is not the ubiquity of devices in their lives, but the type, and that they’ve seen the downsides of it play out for the generations before them. The lack of privacy, the distraction, the disconnection – Gen Z is the first generation to see the full picture of how modern tech can impact our lives for good and bad. And it turns out that’s effected them deeply. They’re significantly more interested in face to face communication than their predecessors. 54% of them say that in-person meetings are their preferred form of communication. And while they’re able to take advantage of the on-going educational opportunities technology has to offer (MOOCS, for instance), they have stepped away from it more than previous generations. What they can do with technology is adapt to it faster; their learning curve will be less steep and they will be able to use it more efficiently in the workplace.
Another surprise finding – and possible side-effect of technology – is that far fewer Gen Zers are interested in multi-tasking than the Millennials are. Instead of a fast paced workplace with more disparate responsibilities, they want jobs in which they can focus more energy on fewer tasks. Lazy, you say? Nope. Research bears out that these proclivities are actually better for working. The multi-tasking we prize actually makes us worse at all of the tasks we’re trying to attend to. And worse, it has lasting negative effects on our ability to concentrate on a single task.
Possibly the most notable thing we know about Gen Z is how entrepreneurial they are. Between 60-70% of them say they want to start their own business one day. While these numbers probably won’t bear out at quite so high a rate over their careers, we already see teenagers in the pages of Forbes and Money, driving charities and harnessing the powers of having easy access to global networks. Workplaces won’t have to change too much to tap into this goal. Having jobs that have some elements of ‘visible leadership’ and offer opportunities to learn and expand their skills will attract the best in your Gen Z employees.
For employers, the idea of a new generation with a new set of rules can be anxiety producing. But I believe that as long as we remember that every new employee is exactly that, new, then Gen Z will be bringing some wonderful and new traits into workplaces very soon.