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Are you ready for Generation Z?

Posted by: Sam Wheeler

On Monday I was updating HR records when I glanced at an employee’s date of birth; 1997.

1997?! I thought to myself; this means generation Z have entered the workplace. Although the majority of them will not enter until the end of this decade due to university and gap years, the school leaver who has chosen to go straight into work has already arrived. 

Still, little is actually known about this generation. Generation Z (nick named the iGen) are the children of Generation X.

Generation X’s workplace characteristics are poles apart from what we are expecting from Gen Z. Gen X don’t want to work long hours but are keen to stay employable by learning new skills. They are eager for promotions to be based on performance rather than bureaucracy. Technology in the workplace is often a difficulty for Gen X (although they may not be willing to admit it), as well as difficulties around managing generation Y who have a very different approach to working life. However, it will be Generation Y coming into their own in the workplace and be at their peak by the time the majority of Gen Z hit the workplace. Generation Y is often viewed as being the first generation that is distinctly different to any of its predecessors and this is mainly down to technology. Compared to Gen X and the Baby Boomers, Gen Y’s outlook on work and the workplace is more fluid. The “a job is for life” attitude has been replaced with looking for fulfilling roles that have career development with transferable skills and the opportunity to learn through courses, seminars and professional qualifications. Other aspects that are important to Gen Y are opportunities for time off for travelling, a stimulating working environment and the type of organisational culture, motivating and inspiring leaders/managers and high expectations for using technology. 

Technology has also helped shape Generation Z and their expectations. Although there are some similarities with Generation Y, such as smaller family sizes and extensive and regular use of social media, it would be dangerous to assume that there will not be obvious differences when it comes to the workplace. Gen Z-ers are much more impatient, a blink-of-an-eye Instagram generation with an attitude that stems from wanting everything and wanting it now. Their information comes from what is trending on social media; their role models are whoever has the most amount of Twitter followers; their social life is conducted through a 2 by 4 inch screen; they’re de-sensitised to sex, violence and drugs through content accessed at a swipe of a finger; they champion experiences over possessions and they are fiercely hooked on the digital world often multi-tasking between a smartphone and tablet. Living in this age with so much information at their fingertips, Gen Z will need managers and mentors that can help them work this information out and put it to good use.

Both the digital age and the austerity age have shaped Generation Z and their outlook on work. Growing up in the midst of the financial crash they have experienced austerity around every corner including cuts to their schools, libraries (this is probably nothing more than a distant childhood memory) and their support systems. They have perhaps experienced their parents out of work and struggling during the recession and this may explain their need for stable and practical work-career choices. This experience means they understand that they must work hard for their living, although their expectations for salaries and progression tend to be much higher than Gen Y. Generation Z are also seeking guidance and mentors, the more sceptical of us may believe this is down to the new generation of parent who has left Gen Z unable to fend for themselves and needing constant structure and predictability.

I believe we can anticipate that this generation will have a great amount of drive and ambition, with bags of innovation and creativity that will materialise differently than Gen Y’s. However, they will be a generation with their own difficulties which include less developed face-to-face social skills due to most of their social life being conducted online; meaning their ability to resolve conflict in the workplace will be limited. They are also more likely to be susceptible to distractions and constantly multi-tasking between technologies which may affect their ability to finish tasks. But with all this exposure to technology there is no doubt that Gen Z will become our leaders in future technology and online collaboration.

At 23 million strong, it is critical to be enticing Gen Z into the workforce as this generation will have to work the hardest so far to have a career that will support them later in life. Gen Z-ers want to build a career on solid foundations for the future because they have seen how critical it is, through the recession, to have an income for short-term and long-term needs. This will also have an impact on hiring Gen Z because salaries will mean a lot to them. Gen Z also craves relationships with authority figures, so managers need to be mentoring and communicating in person with their Gen Z workforce. But above all, the hardest thing for companies trying to hire Gen Z-ers will be retaining them. Much like Gen Y, Gen Z are looking to be challenged and inspired by their work. This is a generation that wants to make a contribution and an impact and by 2020 Gen Z will make up 20% of the workforce. So is your company ready for the next generation?



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