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Who is Gen Z and How Will They Impact the Workplace?

Feb 17, 2021

Who or what is Gen Z? For those who might still be debating whether millennials have changed the way we do business, it might be of benefit to know that there is now another distinct generational group approaching the workforce en masse. Enter “Generation Z” to disrupt recruiting, training, managing, and mentoring as we have come to know these things in the world of business.

With Generation Z in the workplace, how will the business world have to adjust to this next generation of workers? It’s in the best interests of companies and leadership to get to know Gen Z, who will represent about one in five people in the United States by 2020.

They truly care and want to make a positive difference in the world. You can get them engaged if you trust them like the creative, competent, and caring employees they are.

What is Gen Z?

Generation Z, more or less, comprises those who grew up deeply connected to technology, practically from the moment they became self-aware. Generation Z characteristics are interesting and specific; Generation Z features avid gamers and music-goers, and they are known for being ever-present messaging, on the internet, on social networks, and on mobile systems—they are truly the “Digital-ites.” They tend to care about trends, but are also quick to research top issues. 

Generation Cutoffs

Generation Z is defined to be those with birth years roughly between 1995 to 2010—this compares with their millennial (a.k.a., “Gen Y”) cohorts, whose birthdays span approximately 1981 to 1994. The parents of Generation Z are usually those in Generation X, and Baby Boomer or Silent Generation grandparents are common for Generation Z.

Gen Z vs. Millennials

The primary commonalities in focus and passion between Gen Z and the Millennials include:

  • A desire to find (or create) meaning
  • A motivation to contribute to the world
  • Being highly educated
  • Cultural diversity
  • A desire for their own personalized experience

Gen Z is also different from millennials in many ways. Many things that millennials foster as preferences have become expectations of Gen Z’ers, and they expect you to take them seriously. They define themselves differently, are intrigued by group trends, are passionate about issues that their parents may not understand, and are willing to do research.

Those differences that Gen Z’ers will be known:

  • Less validation expectations
  • More independent
  • More entrepreneurial
  • More communicative
  • More competitive
  • More motivated by security
  • Driven by career/financial goals

Generation Z in the Workplace

Generation Z has been making their mark in businesses by demonstrating new levels of digital competence, dedication, and drive to achieve a goal. As more Generation Zers influence the workforce, it will be important for business leaders to understand the work, and benefits that they must offer to best recruit and keep them. Young employees of the new generation are always important to recruit to your business, as they offer a fresh perspective and insight, as well as valuable skills.

Gen Zers are driven by different needs than the generations that came before them—especially in comparison to the way boomers have assimilated into the workforce. Because of this, Gen Z tends to respond better to millennial-aged managers. They also advocate to have a more balanced work/life experience to help them escape the burnout that has inflicted older generations, with 38% counting work/life balance as a priority when choosing an employer.

There are several other factors that have an impact on their work life, including:

Technology Dependence

Another distinct difference between Gen Z and millennials can be seen in the difference between technology dependence vs. technology fluency. Gen Zers are significantly more dependent on technology, while millennials would be considered technology fluent. Technological fluency refers to an inherent, intuitive understanding of technology and how to use it. 

For Gen Zers, their technological dependence is not necessarily considered to be an addiction, but rather that they view their mobile devices as “extensions” of themselves. They can even feel anxiety without them. They also use their devices to the extent that their use causes them to lose sleep, but that would appear to “come with the territory.”

While this can mean they often rely on technology to keep them organized and facilitate communication between departments, there are other arenas where technology can influence how Gen Z does their job. For example, many Gen Zers prefer self-directed learning as a training method for their roles. Microlearning platforms are a good example of how Gen Z relies on technology to give them the skills they need to succeed at their job.

Interconnectedness, Online and Off

As a generation that grew up with high-speed internet and the openness to personal information sharing on social media, it should come as no surprise that Gen Z is well-known for being ever-connected online to their peers and social communities—they have shown an inclination for more intimate, immediate social networks such as Snapchat. Generation Z is also well known for using FaceTime instead of texting or calling, unlike previous generations and their utilization of social media and digital services.

Generation Z truly live and breathe the virtual connection life, and it’s extremely common to see them becoming social and product influencers. Social media is a crucial element to this generation as technology continues to expand.

However, this interconnection also expands into how they communicate with management. You might think that their adherence to technology wouldn’t support traditional connection with upper management, but the opposite is true. In fact, Gen Z prefers steady communication with their professional teams and thrives in an environment of transparency. As reported by Forbes, 90% of Gen-Z workers desire and value a human connection in their professional environments, 60% of Gen Z employees expressed the desire to have clarity on the expectations and parameters of their jobs, and 60% of Gen Z workers want direct, frequent communications and check ins with their supervisors for performance evaluation.

Always Working on a Side Hustle

Like the millennial generation before them, members of Gen Z can also be considered a “side hustle” generation—more than half of them prefer to juggle more than one source of income. It’s very common to see an industrious Gen Z’er working on freelance photographic project or managing their own e-commerce website during a lunch break.

Nearly one in five Gen Z’ers want to run their own business, and the vast majority of them would like to turn pet hobbies into full-time careers.

How Should Businesses Adapt for Gen Z Workers?

Success in business is all about being able to adapt and adjust effectively to challenges and changes, and companies with a culture led by those grounded in a firm foundation in business can best deal with this generational challenge.

The right business education will help prepare business leaders to work with multiple generations in one workplace. Problem-solving, tech-savvy leaders will be crucial in blending the many generations into a cohesive workforce. Getting a proper education in the specific technology and management strategies of a good business leader will be the best road to success.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us, remote work is possible with the right support. Gen Z embraced the remote workplace ahead of many companies long before they were forced to. Remote work embraces many of the tenets that appeal to Gen Z: technological interconnectedness that supports work and communication, a good work/life balance, and the freedom to continue to pursue their side hustle without the fear of burnout.

Managers have had to learn how to communicate with Gen Z on their level in this environment and have proven that successful management and nurturing of teams is possible in a virtual world. However, that doesn’t mean that Gen Z only wants to exist virtually. For many, the ideal is a hybrid approach that gives them the opportunity to work from home some days and in the office on other days. The more companies can continue to foster this kind of approach, the better chance they have of keeping the Gen Z talent they have—and attracting more.

There are other key components that employers can focus on to keep their Gen Z employees happy, including:

Diversity Acceptance

Despite (or perhaps because of) the influence that toxic political differences and economic volatility have had on them, Gen Zers are much more tolerant of other races, cultures, and genders, as well as much more interconnected with them all. Many younger generations like millennials and Generation Zs have a sense of social justice, making diversity a must in the workplace.

A recent study found that 63% of Gen Zers feel it’s important to work with diverse education and skill levels, with an additional 20% noting it’s important to work within teams that feature people of different cultures. Many in Gen Z pay close attention to a company’s diversity efforts when making a decision on whether or not to pursue employment with a particular business—and it makes a big difference in the long run, as studies have shown that many employees who work at diverse organizations stay there beyond five years.

Embracing Technology

If the stomach was the way to the heart of a man for the baby boomers, technology is definitely the way to the heart of Generation Z. According to various studies, more than three in four Gen Zers spend between one and 10 hours daily connected to some sort of electronic device.

Companies and management will want to demonstrate to their Gen Zers a healthy embrace for new technology. This can include organizational platforms such as Jira or Asana, communication tools like Slack, CMS platforms, mobile assets, and any other tech tools that can make their professional lives easier. On the recruiting end of things, companies that have a presence on a platform that embraces video—such as YouTube or Instagram—are more likely to catch the eye of Gen Z job hunters.

Frequent Communication

Chats via Slack, quick check-ins over email, and even a simple emoji counts as the kind of communication Gen Z feels they need several times per day to feel connected to their team and supported in their work. Frequent feedback doesn’t have to mean lengthy one on ones every day; rather, managers can shoot a quick text to check in or redefine a project, leave the door open for meetings as needed, and trust their Gen Z employee to do their work.

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