It’s normal to be nervous about a new generation. For much of my career I wrote about Millennials. When we were the youngest employees, I helped companies welcome my cohort. Of course it’s a mistake to make assumptions about an individual based on their age (or anything else for that matter). Millennial buying habits were blamed for almost killing off napkins and newspapers. I can tell you that some of us still use napkins and read newspapers.
Gen Z is the same way. There are folks in their early 20s who quit social media, there are others who avoid social causes and vote conservative. Still, there are traits shared by most people born after 1996. So what are some Generation Z characteristics in the workplace?
They Love Tech
When the movie Eighth Grade came out a few years ago, it showed the difference just a few years can make. In one scene, an older high school student noted that he’d started using Twitter in middle school but was shocked to learn that the main character had gotten Snapchat in Fifth Grade. Considering how rapidly technological change occurs, imagine how much of a difference a couple of decades can make!
Older Millennials may have grown up in a home without a computer. Gen Zers barely remember a time when you couldn’t hold one in the palm of your hand. Millennials entered the world of social media through Friendster or Myspace. Yet Facebook and its sister companies WhatsApp and Instagram have dominated social media for almost fifteen years ––– a lifetime for someone in their 20s.
That’s why one of the driving Generation Z characteristics in the workplace is a comfort with tech. In fact, they want a company that is technologically innovative. According to a Dell Technology study over 90% said technology would be the deciding factor between two similar jobs while 80% aspire to work with innovative technology. Still, three out of four hope to learn from peers on the job rather than online –– a challenge during a period when work and learning has gone remote. As Kasheka Chitkara explained, “The more technology you are familiar with, the more of an asset you can be to a company.” They are also comfortable explaining how to use certain platforms –– after all they’ve been helping their parents for years!
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16- to 24-year-olds made up 11.6% of the workforce in 2020. They suffered more job loss than older generations because they were more likely to be in hard hit sectors like retail and hospitality. Globally one out of four workers belong to Generation Z. It is also the most diverse generation in history. Gen Zers expect an employer who does more than pay lip service to buzz words, they want to see action. They become adults as protests over racial injustice and school shootings dominated news and social media sites. Many have actually protested.
As Warren Wright, president of Coaching Millennials, explained to Business News Daily, “One thing is loud and clear: Generation Z is extraordinarily socially aware to the issues of race, equality, climate and gender. They are very much an activist generation. They expect leadership to be authentic about their beliefs.” As a recent Generation Z survey by Deloitte revealed, one of the defining Generation Z characteristics in the workplace is that they will turn down a job if it lacks diversity and inclusion. Diversity means more than race or gender it also includes orientation and identity. It can even include diverse points of view.
They are all about “they” ––– this is the generation that puts pronoun preference in their emails. In fact, issues surrounding language are likely to be one of the biggest challenges faced by employers ––– especially those with diverse age ranges among their staffers. You may have a hard time explaining to a Boomer why Gen Z prefers the term pregnant people to pregnant woman. Of course some Gen Z activism helps everyone. Who wouldn’t prefer a single bathroom rather than a shared facility ?
They Value Job Security
Gen Z grew up in the aftermath of the 2008 Recession. They watched their parents struggle and maybe even lose jobs or homes. Then as they prepared to graduate college or entered the workforce, they faced a global pandemic. Some remote working Gen Zers have never seen the inside of an office!
What this means is that while many Millennials were entrepreneurial risk takers, Gen Z is more about climbing the corporate ladder. They value security. That doesn’t mean money is everything. Deloitte’s survey found that the majority would choose an interesting job with lower pay over a bigger paycheck at a boring job. One positive outcome from so many of them witnessing how their parents’ survived and eventually overcame upheavals like losing their homes, businesses, and jobs is that for Gen Z failure is not as big a deal. They know they can succeed if they keep trying!
They Like Explanations
If a Gen Zer has to put together a bookcase they will watch a how-to video rather than read the accompanying and often indecipherable instructions. That means they like explanations and clear communication on how to get a job done. They want you to be open to their feedback and responsive. If you hire a remote worker in this cohort, expect regular online face time or FaceTime.
One universal but true cliche is that communication is key. No matter the age or age range of your workplace, clearly communicating your needs and listening to their concerns will make all the difference.
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