(Gen) Z is for Zeitgeist: 2020 Vision is Driven by a New Generation

Sophie Wade
Jan 9 · 4 min read

There was a shift last year. A groundswell of energy. A rise in fresh passion. Younger voices. More urgent demands. A tipping point was reached and breached. Millennials passed the baton as they aged up and quietened down. In 2020, the next generation — Generation Z or iGen (born 1995–2015) — is driving the agenda in the public domain and will bring change to your workplace with their rising profile and prominence.

Propelled into the spotlight with Parkland survivors’ demonstrations in 2018, youth activism has been growing. Greta Thunberg surfaced as a legitimate representative not a lone reactionary. A third of Hong Kong’s unknown, leaderless protestors have been under 18. For them all, their fervent advocating is not born of naïve exuberance or passionate rebelliousness. They believe they are — quite literally — fighting for their lives.

2019 saw Millennials’ pushes for purpose and promotions, shared experiences and flexible schedules, drowned out by the fear and frustrations of Generation Z. Taking over as the largest generational group — estimated at over 30% of the global population — they were building their presence, achieving adulthood, and entering the workforce in greater numbers.

For 2020, the emphasis has fully transitioned to our youngest generation of workers who are deploying their anxious energies to protest multiple major live issues. Generation Z’s perspectives and swelling labor market participation will impact your corporate culture, policies, and work environment. Here are five areas your company can address to be equipped to work productively with your company’s growing cohort of Gen Z employees as their influence rises and they set the tone for 2020:

1. Technology Talents: Raised in a boundary-less digital world, many Generation Zs are proficient at finding useful applications to manage their work and boost productivity. Finding email inefficient, open communication channels and project management tools help organize their efforts. Most are wary of Big Tech, realizing they are being manipulated and welcome appropriate help managing usage. With intuitive understanding of new technologies, Generation Z employees recognize they can bring fresh and valuable insights to improve client offerings and operating practices which they see as imperative to compete. This year, advancing your company’s digital transformation, embrace and benefit your Gen Zs’ digital prowess and boost retention by incorporating their contributions.

2. Integrated Inclusion: Generation Zs’ advocacy for social justice causes — including racism, feminism, LGBTQ+ — are not #trending ‘woke’ fads. As the most diverse generation yet, tolerance and inclusiveness are their way of life. Gen Z candidates are asking about corporate inclusion policies and cultural tenets during their job interviews as important factors impacting their decisions. Check feedback from your company’s recruiting front line. What are they hearing? How is your Diversity and Inclusion policy matching up with the work environment Generation Zs are looking for? In 2020, it is time to elevate cultural values that attract and support your whole workforce, including your youngest recruits.

3. Mental Health Matters: Automation has eliminated many entry-level jobs. New hires are tasked with work three to four years more advanced than that of previous generations, adding to the pressure to perform and feeding anxiety about financial security. Mental health support has been prioritized at Gen Z’s schools and colleges and needs to continue into their workplaces. A 2019 study showed over half of Gen Z workers said they felt anxious or nervous from stress the month before — much higher than the national average of 34%. Does your company provide a comprehensive wellness offering that includes suitable mental health support? If not, prepare to introduce new services this year or Gen Z employees may act upon reservations about the emotional safety of their work environment.

4. Managing & Mentoring: Financial instability results in Generation Z’s risk averseness and stress about success and advancing — FAST. 75% of Gen Zs expect to be promoted within in a year and 32% in less than 6 months! What IS appropriate at the new pace of progress in 2020? Manage appropriate expectations to engage and retain Gen Z workers. Simple acts of recognition can turn around a common lack of confidence and reassure them. Managers using coaching approaches with frequent check-ins can course correct and teach them on the go. If you haven’t already, this is the year to launch cross-generational, bi-directional mentoring programs to value and share Generation Zs’ tech talents effectively and well as expose them to the benefits of older generations’ experience and complementary skills and mitigate ‘OK Boomer’ interactions.

5. Eco-Efforts: Kids are sourcing eco-friendly products and worried about wasteful single-use plastics. After watching Australia burning and record temperatures around the world, Gen Zs’ anxiety can turn to anger if they see inexcusable inaction. Since they integrate personal and professional realms, your workplace is not exempt from eco-friendly requirements and paying lip service to climate issues does not fly. In 2020, how will your company: promote carbon offsetting and improve eco-sourcing? Try assigning younger employees to find promising alternatives and discover how well aligning tasks with their interests drives results.

Raised as independent critical thinkers and problem solvers, Generation Zs are channeling their capabilities as an unapologetically disruptive force to fix problems created by their parents’ generations — unwittingly or not. Put yourself in THEIR shoes — as vulnerable kids they are contemplating the possibility that this planet might cease to be livable within their lifetime. How would YOU feel?! This rising generation has unsurprising determination in their drive for change. 2020 is the year to: connect with their concerns; understand and help them manage their anxiety; and recognize and benefit from their value.

Generation Z is our emerging engine of growth. Your organization cannot risk repelling these understandably anxious youths. Instead, take this pivotal year to guide their passions and create the solutions needed — for your company, community, and planet.

Sophie Wade

Workforce Innovator. Speaker. Author-Exec MBA textbk Embracing Progress. Integrating Empathy@Work in: leadership, multigeneration collaboration, remote working

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