So, Where Does Generation Z Fit into the Workplace?
They’re all hyper-connected tech-heads. They’re driven and entrepreneurial. They’re the world’s first ‘digitally native’ generation. They’re tomorrow’s workforce, and by 2020 it’s estimated that 20% of all employees will be part of Generation Z.
So, are you ready for Gen-Z’s grand entrance into the workplace?
The traits of Generation Z
Who are we really talking about when discussing Generation Z? In a nutshell, Generation Z are typically categorised as being…
· Born between 1995 and 2010
· Cautious — they desire security and stability
· Hyper-connected -from socialising to education, everything’s one quick Google away
· Hard-working rule-followers
Like all demographics, these traits are based on a broad consensus that helps us define the upcoming Gen-Z against preceding generations.
That admirable work ethic
You’ve heard it a million times before: Millennials are ‘Generation Me’. Lazy, entitled, demanding… Sure, picking on younger generations is like shooting paper targets with a 12-bore, but there’s certainly a sense that these traits feed into a wider narrative of a narcissism epidemic that’s been rising since the 1980's (Generation Y could be considered the original Generation Me).
Ok, I’m not saying an emphasis on self-promotion is going to end anytime soon. At least, not until The IT Crowd switch off the Internet again. And much of social media is entirely based around self-promotion. But forget the idea of mini-Millennials receiving a degree and expecting to be gifted CEO status at a Fortune 500 company; Generation Z is hard-wired with a seriously strong work ethic.
And you would be too if you’d grown up during two global recessions that struck in the space of a decade. Generation Z has learnt that, if they really want the stability and security they crave, it’s going to take real, hard work.
That bares out in studies of generational workplace attitudes, which suggest that the majority of this generation would be willing to relocate for the right job (67%), 58% are prepared to work nights and weekends, and when it comes to choosing the perfect job over the perfect relationship, 83% agreed. Oh, and they don’t believe in that uniquely millennial concept of prizes for all — this is an increasingly competitive world, after all.
What we’re also seeing, then, is a true entrepreneurial spirit among them. No surprise, when YouTube is overtaking traditional TV, exposing them to real-world, self-made stars who earned their celebrity armed with little more than a video camera and an internet connection — making a success of your life is an apparently attainable dream for Gen-Z. Toss in folks like Mark Zuckerberg, who created billions out of nothing but an idea and some serious drive to change the way we communicate, and you have the perfect poster-children for a modern-day, hyper-connected can-do entrepreneurism.
Tech-smart and tech-dependent
Depending on who you ask, the next generation is either super tech-smart or ridiculously tech-dependent. They’re either curing cancer through the power of the Cloud or they just don’t know what or even how to think without asking Google.
The truth is, as it always is, a little more complex than that. Sure, teens today are addicted to their phones — a global study carried out by the University of Maryland revealed that when forced to ‘unplug’ from their gadgets, they suffer from withdrawal symptoms comparative to drug addicts going cold turkey. One participant even stated:
‘I am an addict. I don’t need alcohol, cocaine or any other derailing form of social depravity… Media is my drug. Without it, I was lost.’
But even with an average attention span of eight seconds, this generation, above all others, has the ability to truly realise what technology promises. According to a study by Wikia, it was revealed that 76% of Gen-Z’ers believe that technology will help them reach their goals, while 66% reckoned that they feel they can do anything thanks to the power of technology.
And who can blame them? They’ve grown up surrounded by smartphones, touch-screens, voice-activated AI, social media, computers the size of calculators that fit right in your hip pocket… For Baby Boomers, it must be like living in a sci-fi movie; for Generation Z, it’s de rigueur. It’s you, you offline dinosaur, that’s the anomaly. They’re already helping to shape the digital landscape; in time, they’ll change the way we work with technology.
This is where switched-on companies can get a jump on the trends and preferences of the next gen. We’re not talking about Surface laptops and Office 365 subscriptions, but a total overhaul of how you deliver core elements of a business.
And the best way to harness this is…
The 3 C’s of the tech evolution
There are three C’s to the Gen-Z technology evolution (and it is an evolution, not a revolution. Maybe it’s a Zevolution?). This is the beautiful intersection where technological possibilities and Generation Z’s strengths converge, so it’s worth every business understanding, and taking advantage of them.
Whether it’s gathering all their mates in a Whatsapp group or it’s the 60% who say they share their knowledge online, life’s all about building collaborative communities. In a 2016 study, Jim Link, Chief Human Resources Officer at Randstad North America, revealed that ‘Gen Z workers named “co-workers who like to collaborate” as the type of worker who would help them do their best work.’ He added:
‘One of the most pervasive themes from this year’s global study is Gen Z’s propensity and desire for collaboration. Whether it is in a corporate office, at home or in a coffee shop, Gen Z workers prefer collaborative work environments… Companies seeking to be an employer of choice must leverage the collaborative revolution taking place and provide the technology, tools and processes that facilitate and encourage it.’
With the rise of workplace apps like Slack, we’ll likely see more collaborative tools enter offices. And that’s something Gen-Z can totally get behind.
Social media. Live streams. Messenger apps. It might seem to some that Generation Z are in the midst of a never-ending conversation with everybody in the world. And that’s kinda, sorta true since everybody in the world is one button press away — and for this generation, they always have been. This is now the primary way for teens to forge and nurture friendships through messaging apps like SnapChat; the smartphone is now the dominant social enabler (at the expense of alcohol and drugs, by the way, because Generation Z possesses a streak of puritanical, neo-Victorianism).
In other words, they are always connected.
So, you may be surprised to learn that when it comes to working with Generation Z, you’re probably doing it all wrong.
Firstly, research shows that, unlike millennials, at work, the new crew prefers face-to-face meetings over whatever tech you throw at them. Beyond that, now’s the time for businesses to look into virtual face-to-face meeting tools (which is a fancy way of saying video conferencing).
Secondly, forget email. Or, rather, forget email as you currently know it. They may be hyper-aware of what they share online, but you might as well be sending a telegram for all the relevance that emails have in the world of the Gen-Z’ers. They might receive emails from their favourite brands, but the act of sending a business email feels like a bizarre rite of passage for Gen-Z, because outside of the professional world, it’s just not at the forefront of their communication channels.
Just check out the research from Yahoo Labs and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, which showed that ‘in general, teens send the fastest, shortest messages.’ Basically, they’re treating emails like they would any other kind of modern-day instant messaging service. Sure, there will always be a place for the slower-paced, more detailed emails — a medium considered to be associated almost exclusively with work — but these days communication happens in a micro-second. It’s on-demand, like everything else. And workplaces should absolutely embrace that.
Generation Z are creators. And we can thank technology for that.
Adobe carried out a wide-ranging study into Generation Z creativity and learning, where Gen-Z claimed to be ‘more creative than past generations’ who are ‘always looking for a better way to do something’ (Of course, they would say that wouldn’t they? We would’ve said the same at their age).
When older generations wished to make a film, they’d have to buy a camcorder, buy the tapes or film, invest in time-consuming editing tools and firewire cables, then burn the movie to DVD (or hooking up the VHS). Today, you can pull out your phone and hit record, edit it in seconds using free tools, and instantly share it on YouTube. Job done. That makes the creative process fast and allows for a more experimental approach.
We know this is an entrepreneurial generation, but it’s also the hands-on generation, willing to roll up their sleeves, create content, and learn from those experiences. Essentially, digital and online tools allow them to fail early, fail fast and fail often — until they hit upon that killer concept.
But it’s not just YouTube videos. They’re creating Vines and memes, telling stories on Twitter. They adopt platforms earlier than anyone else in order to push the boundaries, so their creativity is constant. Sumaiya Omar, a social media consultant, explains to The Drum that:
‘The audience are not just spectators, they are creators as well. As they are spending so much time on [Snapchat] and it has created as a content creation tool, it makes sense that organisations could use these voices to aggregate content.’
Any company looking to the future of their business needs to be nurturing this creative streak, for the benefit of both employer and employee.
So, let’s build skills and training
I’m going to pop my managing director hat on here: It’s my firm belief that all companies can use this information build a stronger workforce through training and skills development. Right now, managers are a little wary of the Next Generation, fearing that they focus on instant gratification, resist authority, and can’t adequately communicate. Some of that may be true, some of it coloured by past experiences with previous generations.
But workplace experiences will iron out those sort of quirks, supplying Gen-Z with the skills they need to develop — particularly soft skills like face-to-face communication, which 55% feel they lack. In the same study by Rioch:
‘Other skills Gen Zers believe they need to develop quickly are communicating with colleagues in a professional manner (48 per cent), resolving conflicts or disagreements (47 per cent) and meeting deadlines (37 per cent).’
In fact, more than any other generation, Generation Z’s natural traits and preferences lend themselves to dedicated training — no bad thing in the competitive world of work.
· Attracted to stable careers
And, beyond training in soft skills necessary to get on in life, perhaps most importantly, they desire guidance and leadership development from their workplace superiors. Because ultimately, just like all of us, Generation Z want what’s best for their futures.