Generation Z is about to storm your business. But who are they?
Simply put, Generation Z are a demographic born between 1996 and 2010. But such a succinct definition fails to capture the complexity of ‘centennials’, and the lengths organisations will need to undergo to accommodate them as both consumers and workers.
A decade and a half of global uncertainty has raised a generation of cynics who aren’t deaf to the world’s economic, political, and social challenges. The irresolute job market, limited global resources, increased crime rates and heightened global tensions have birthed a movement with a ‘bust’ mindset. Centennials are natural sceptics that are money-driven, entrepreneurial, individualistic, and highly aspirational, in addition to being digital natives.
An InsideOut Development study of 1,000+ 18 to 23 year-olds on their attitudes towards the world of work found several significant findings, but the most pressing for businesses must be the following:
- 76% of Gen Z’ers expect a promotion within 12 months of starting a job
- 60% are interested in pursuing managerial positions.
The report also highlights: ‘In the Huffington Post, TEDx speaker and organizational development consultant CrystalKadakia wrote, “72 percent of high school students want to start their own business someday. 61 percent expect to start a business right out of college.” This means that Gen Zers are 55 percent more likely to want to start a business than their Millennial counterparts.’
But what does this mean for business?
This piece seeks to answer several questions about how Gen Z differs from their millennial predecessors; what those differences mean for organisations; and how they can prepare to manage this unique workforce? It will view these issues from five angles: collaboration, learning & development, employee benefits, mental health & wellbeing, and finally, corporate social responsibility.
Teamwork is one of the most important business aims. The most striking difference between centennials and those before them relates to their communication methods.
Millennial workers who, having been exposed to a volatile job market, have typically accepted rank and seniority, and the idea that greater responsibility comes with tenure. So, they are more likely to respect traditional hierarchies.
Though raised to be digital natives by the technological revolution that has irreversibly connected the globe, Gen Z prefers to work alone which might be down to holding the world at their fingertips. Preferring to take ownership of their work, and greater responsibility at earlier stages of their career, they may find hierarchy harder to stomach.
This contrasting mode of working raises the possibility of clashing work styles and expectations between generations, meaning organisations will need to brace themselves for this potential conflict. The use of effective onboarding software can be key in trying to adjust this new generation into the way that the business operates while inspiring innovation.
Businesses will need to find a balance – it will be imperative to make sure all voices are heard. A business might make use of:
- open offices breaking the link between physical space and organisational status
- generational surveys, so that they’re being represented
- face-to-face interactions to foster social bonds, teamwork, and to give them strong feedback experience.
The centennial, while generally digitally savvy, wants to be social in the office. Open workspaces and creative environments are typically seen in startups and think tanks often attract younger talent because they foster contact between team members. Face-to-face communication is preferred to awkward emailing – often mere metres away.
Organisational alignment is one of the most important objectives facing businesses today, and employers will need to accommodate the communication styles of the next generation.
It will be paramount to get learning and development right
It goes without saying, businesses need to commit to Generation Z’s future and career development, just as with any other generation of the worker to attract and retain talent. But it will be important to pay attention to what centennials want from professional development.
Reinforcing what InsideOut Development highlighted, a study by Monster and TNSdiscoveredthat 42% of Gen Z hires expect to work for themselves one day. Accordingly, they will always have their own development in mind. This important finding, in conjunction with the 60% found to be pursuing managerial positions in the InsideOut study point in one direction: learning and development opportunities that organisations offer need to be structured around the centennial aspiration to be one’s, own boss.
Such a wave of entrepreneurialism should be a wakeup call to businesses because of the dual challenges it poses. On one hand, to appear attractive to this massive talent pool, employers will need to provide training opportunities and develop them. On the other hand, it raises the question of how to keep the talent employers help create, who turns out to be not only a leaving risk but potential competitors- especially in industries with low startup costs.
This means winning and retaining talent will involve setting clear, structured career paths, calling on seniors to step out of rigid lines and give opportunities for Gen Z employees to take ownership of their work. At the same time, the challenge for leadership will be managing centennial eagerness to solve problems beyond their skill set, and developing their soft skills, so they aren’t overwhelmed juggling projects.
Seniors will need to learn to sit down and discuss options, allowing younger and less experienced employees to follow their own judgements and holding them accountable to their results. This will involve coaching leaders to monitor employees without micromanaging. It’s this delicate balance that will shape and direct the successful operations of a company.
As Gen-Z workers chase work and opportunities, they will likely seek to multitask. Some might be prone to inefficient task prioritisation, and it’s up to their seniors to keep track of project delivery statuses, which means being clear about deadlines, time management, and priorities.
Finally, be sure to give feedback regularly. Check-ins and other forms of continual performance management are great ways to give meaningful feedback and motivation that all employees – not just centennials – appreciate.
Employee benefits will need to be tailored
Like learning and development opportunities, employer benefits will also need to take into account the unique interests of Gen-Z workers. It will take more than the promise of foosball tables, yoga classes, and beer fridges to attract this pool of talent. Compensation speaks to this generation, who has been raised around deep uncertainty about money and the job market. They’re a lot more likely to respond to benefits and perks that are aimed at reducing debt, or that offer to learn at a reduced or minimal rate.
In a considerably healthier employment market compared to the last decade, organisations will need to brush up on their recruitment strategies. Vacancy advertisements will need to be tailored to suit the financial aims of Gen Z’ers. They need to see a commitment by organisations to continued learning, flexibility, structured career progression, and a variety of development opportunities.
Troubling research conducted in a 2019 study found among 2007-2018 undergrads that the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide doubled – the message being centennials are a lot more likely to have experienced mental health issues. Luckily reflective of the times, this group is also a lot more open to discussing it.
Due to their multitasking proclivities, and eagerness for early responsibility, they can be more susceptible to stress. As digital natives and masters of most communication channels, they could find it hard to switch off from their work, making them vulnerable to burnout – which has no easy fix.
Businesses will be expected to have sufficient personal and sick leave policies, and to include discussions of mental health and wellbeing in their D&I clauses. Employee Assistance Programmes and mental health initiatives will be attractive across all age groups. Gen-Z workers will need work-life support through coaching on how to manage anxieties within the workplace and dealing with both what is expected of them and what they expect from themselves.
Lastly, but certainly not least, organisations should be able to translate that the work done by their centennial employees has meaning. This means creating a culture that clearly defines its purpose, values, and beliefs. But it’s more than having four words plastered on a wall. It’s about being socially conscious, committing to corporate social responsibility initiatives, implementing sustainable practices, and focusing on building communities.
Organisations should explain what jobs mean beyond the daily surface tasks. Initiate ongoing discussions about long-term project implications. It will be a better motivation. Encourage employees to volunteer or pursue hobbies outside of work. Encourage internal communities, giving them room to grow beyond the confines of job descriptions. Ensure your organisation is demonstrably committed to diversity and inclusion. All these issues are of significant importance to the next generation of workers, and they need to see a genuine effort by their employers to address such concerns.
The challenge of managing a new and unique generation of workers provides businesses with an exciting opportunity for growth and development. Nevertheless, it will be a challenge. Yet walking the fine line of managing the needs of centennials effectively will be the difference between the organisations that swim, and the ones who sink.