Gen Z, also known as iGen, were born between 1995 to 2012 making them between 6 and 23 years old today. These are the latest generation to join the professional workforce as they graduate university and seek graduate positions in their profession.
For baby boomers and Gen X-ers it can be difficult to see a difference between Gen Y and Z. They are just the “younger generation”. However, Gen Y and Z combined cover a period of 33 years, just as long a period as the Baby Boomers and Gen X cohorts combined. So there will be as much difference between Gen Y and Gen Z as there is between Baby Boomers and Gen X.
Gen Z Traits
Gen Z was the first generation to grow up with the internet readily available. They truly do have an emotional bond to the online world, and escape to it when they encounter worries in the offline world. This is because to Gen Z there is no distinction between the real and the online worlds – it is all an integral part of their world.
But do they have worries to escape? Despite their youth, they do have worries.
Gen Z is more risk adverse than the Millennial cohort. Gen Z has only known a post 9/11 world when the global discourse is on terrorism. They crave security. As children they saw the effect of the economic recession of 2008 on their families. The shrinking middle class mean that more Gen Z worry about finances – they think twice about taking on debt for an education, unlike the Millennials who went before.
Gen Z also contains some with a very entrepreneurial spirit. They can use technology to run a business from their bedroom, due to all the monetised platforms available these days.
Gen Z definitely has made use of the speed of internet they have available – they use intensive bandwidth media such as video, movies and gaming whereas older generations stick to text or email. They are also a generation based on mobile devices rather than PC. To a Gen Z understanding desk top computing can be a little like putting a Gen X or Y worker on a typewriter.
Gen Z have two weaknesses which employers should be mindful of in the workplace. The ease of connection has left them emotionally lacking in self-regulation when it comes to technology. Be sympathetic to their need for support for setting boundaries.
Secondly, they are sensitive to competitive environments. The next generation after Gen Z, known at present as Gen Alpha (and who are starting school at the moment), will experience individualised instruction around their interests rather than a fixed curriculum. However generally Gen Z have experienced traditional classroom based schooling. Gen Z has had a conflicting childhood. Outside of school they have a highly personalised and customised experience but in school have had to conform to outdated models of schooling. It fuelled their insecurity to learn alongside so many others and they perceive this thrusts them into an unnecessarily competitive environment against their peers. There is no reason to think this perception will not continue to apply as they enter the workforce.
Gen Z in the workplace
Five hints for Gen Z in the workplace:
- The physical workplace is slowly changing. Some companies have gone from office or cubicle based seating to open plan to suit Millennial workforce. However further change will come over time and provide the diversity and flexibility of spaces needed to suit Gen Z.
- You will need to convince your colleagues to give you ownership of a project, rather than learn by shadowing others for your first workplace experiences. This does not mean a lack of confidence in your ability – they are just sticking to traditional ways of knowledge transfer.
- It will be difficult to convince others that direct messaging, video and other media you are confident in using has a role in the workplace, but it is important to try to incorporate this into your workflow if you can.
- At this stage, you are in the graduate positions so it is a difficult time as you start a profession. Your colleagues will appreciate this on some level, and don’t be afraid to discuss this and seek their assistance.
- The generations that have gone before are linear thinkers and don’t jump from team to team well. There will be silo’s and old ways of doing things which you will break down over your career. Be patient.
Working with Gen Z in the workplace
Five hints for working with Gen Z in the workplace:
- Competition is not the way to motivate Gen Z – they want to have worthy causes and meaning in their work.
- Give Gen Z a small project to take leadership of, they have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to be given the chance to succeed.
- Gen Z’s do not natively communicate in any of the methods dominant for their predecessors (ie. writing, email or texting). They use direct messaging on a social platform. Try to see the advantages of this and provide it as an option.
- Gen Z like to work independently and across multiple teams rather than being focused on a single collaborative team like Millennials.
- Gen Z have the potential to be great generalists – they don’t naturally work in silo’s.
Check out our Pinterest board on the generations for some useful infographics and comparisons of the generations.
And remember that much of these generational differences are down to the commonalities of human life stages. All older generations think the next generation is less worthy than their own. This is because everyone lives in the context of their upbringing – they value the traits that were most desired by the society they were raised in. These values shift over time, hence the negative viewpoint of those who come along later with different values.
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