There’s no shortage of advice on how to handle millennials in the workplace and this generational cohort is now the largest in the workforce. Organizations have been adapting to millennials for well over a decade and those same employees will be assuming senior leadership positions within the next few years (if they haven’t already). Forward looking companies need to begin thinking about the next generation, which is only now beginning to enter the workplace.
Who is Generation Z?
Generation Z (alternately known as Post-Millennials, the iGeneration, or the Homeland Generation) are people born between 1995 and 2010. They already make up just over a quarter of the US population and will account for one-third of the population by 2020. Although the majority of these individuals haven’t turned 18 yet, Generation Z contributes $44 billion to the American economy each year and will account for 40 percent of all consumers within the next few years. Companies are already rethinking their marketing strategies to appeal to this generation, shifting away from traditional celebrity endorsements and brand awareness to focus on popular internet personalities and other influencers.
As the first generation to grow up in a completely digital world, Generation Z is more comfortable with technology than even the plugged-in millennials. True digital natives, they are effective multi-taskers but also tend to have shorter attention spans, with approximately 11 percent of them diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They are quick to pick up new technologies and turn to online communities to build their personal and professional networks.
Growing up in the shadows of the September 11 attacks, the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and the Great Recession, Gen Zers tend to be more cautious and pragmatic than their millennial predecessors. They are less willing to take on school debt and are more entrepreneurial overall. They are 55 percent more likely to start their own business than millennials and many employers predict that an increasing number of teenagers will opt out of a traditional college education in favor of entering the workforce immediately while taking courses online.
Generation Z in the Workplace
If organizations want to remain competitive and continue to attract the best talent, they need to understand what motivates this generation and identify what they want want from an employer.
While millennials are primarily motivated by making a difference or doing work they feel matters, Gen Zers are more focused on safety and stability. Money and job security are often more powerful motivators for them than purpose, and in many cases, they’re more attracted to higher salaries at the cost of reduced benefits or perks. Whereas millennials emphasize collaboration, Gen Zers tend to be more competitive. Having spent their formative years in difficult economic times, they are more apt to view their careers in zero-sum, win or lose terms. Like millennials, they want opportunities for personal growth, but they’re more likely to try to “hack” their development by picking up skills where they can and setting out on their own startup endeavors as quickly as possible.
Their familiarity with digital communication can be a detriment in the workplace. They’re comfortable with texts, video chat, and other online channels, but may lack the soft skills organizations expect from employees. Face-to-face meetings, formal emails, and phone conversations may present challenges for them, especially in customer or client-facing positions.
Fortunately, Gen Zers are quick learners and hard workers. They want to do well in their jobs, not only for the benefit of their employer, but also because they view their job as a value generator for themselves. Compulsive researchers, Gen Zers will want to know everything they can about a company before accepting a position to work for it. They want to know what an organization can do for their career in the long run as well as whether or not it has a culture they want to be a part of. Like millennials, they also want regular feedback to know that they’re doing a good job. When they don’t get regular feedback or feel like their development has stalled, they’re more likely to become disengaged and move on to another employer.
Understanding the factors that motivate Generation Z can help organizations better position themselves to compete for young talent in the coming years. While the broad dynamics of this demographic cohort are still being shaped as more of them enter adulthood, there are already a number of key characteristics that set it apart from previous generations. Ironically, millennial leaders, who spent so many years as the subject of hand-wringing articles about changes in the workplace, will soon face the challenge of accommodating and training a generation that doesn’t share their experiences.