Getting ready for Generation Z

What effect will they have on our organisations?

With two sons born on the cusp of Generation Z, I’ve a real interest in this group. As I watch them grow and develop, I find it fascinating to consider the way their behaviours, and those of their friends, will play out in the future.

It’s only a matter of a few years before the eldest of this generation enter the workforce. How will this change things? What will the future leaders of our organisations demand? What will motivate them to perform? What positive qualities will we be looking to further develop, and what detrimental tendencies will need to be brought into check?

Generation Z, roughly speaking those born in the late 1990s or early 2000s, have never known a Wide World without the Web. The majority have grown up immersed in technology – “digital natives” who can’t imagine a world without mobiles, MP3 players, laptops and game consoles. They network on-line, with both “real” and “virtual” friends, sharing personal thoughts and details with alarming transparency. The collapse of the Soviet Union was before their time and few of them are old enough to have any lasting memories of the devastating attacks of September 11th...

Rather than outline the perceived characteristics on Generation Z, perhaps it would be more interesting to consider the types of working environment that will make the most of them and encourage them to lead your business to future success.

Provide Constant stimulation

Generation Z workers are already incredibly adept at multi-tasking. They’re used to doing several things at once – texting, listening to music, downloading content, chatting, doing homework, eating…none of these need be mutually exclusive! When they become a workforce I believe they’re unlikely to appreciate being asked to focus for long periods of time on a single task. This is not in their nature and will not be welcomed by their short attention spans. Challenging them with complex business projects that can be tackled in a multi-media of ways will more likely succeed. Mentoring, challenges and experience-based learning will be more effective than more traditional training and teaching methods. I imagine a definite plus will be their ability to adapt to change quickly and willingly. They may even seek it out.

Encourage opportunities for collaboration

Generation Y are known to be great team players. Will this be the same for Generation Z? Not necessarily. Individualism is important to this group. They value their sense of identity, their “profile”. We can see, however, that they already network avidly and invest much time in social groups. What we may see is a desire to belong to groups but with the ability to move fluidly between them. Perhaps it will be wise to encourage working groups around certain business projects as the need arises, but to keep these flexible – they may exist to fulfil a purpose and once this is achieved allow energies and networks to quickly re-form elsewhere.

Be flexible

This lack of loyalty is something organisations are already experiencing and struggling with. With the advent of Generation Z workers the challenge is likely to increase. Engaging these employees will rely on excellent leadership and line management that also pays respect to their need for balance between work, family and personal needs. In a world where mortgages and loans become increasingly hard to secure, workers may resign themselves to the fact that they are out of reach, and non-financial, lifestyle perks will really come into play. Allowing for sabbaticals, flexibility with contracts and working from home will be key to engagement. Recruitment may look to sponsoring schools and further education in an attempt to secure talent.

Accommodate for portfolio careers

With each generation we seem to see less commitment to a single employer. Experts at gathering and processing data, Generation Z are no strangers to comparing and finding the best deal – and this will apply to prospective employers as much as to new purchases.

Increasing chances for mobility within the organisation is one way to prevent employees looking elsewhere. Employers may also find themselves sitting alongside other employers, “sharing” workers who, with their portfolio careers, act in a more freelance capacity.

A responsible approach

Generation Z represent our most environmentally aware generation to date. They’ll be looking for a values-driven approach to doing business, where focus on profit is balanced with focus on planet and people. They’ll relish the chance to make a difference, but will also be savvy enough to do this when it best suits them – they’ll be advocates of Doing Well by Doing Good, knowing that the two can go hand in hand. They’ll be happy to volunteer…especially when it brings them experiences they need to further their career! They’re also tough realists – having grown up amidst economic crisis and war. This combination of environmental awareness with a hardened, economical cynicism has great potential - I hope, and believe, that they’ll be heroes of Sustainable Enterprise.

A Feedback culture

This group have faced relentless testing since toddling. They have constantly received feedback from those around them – parents, teachers, peers. They will expect the same in the workplace, looking for more spontaneous, regular feedback rather than infrequent, structured reviews.

Room to create and innovate

An extraordinarily high level of creativity is one of the things that really excites me about this generation. Generation Z have a strong leaning towards creative arts and are naturally imaginative…after all virtual worlds are essentially real to them. They also have a huge capacity to process information at lightning speed, keeping abreast of the latest trends. As organisations strive to meet the needs of their customers and reflect the societies in which they operate, Generation Z, who are intrinsically connected to the social scene, stand to add great value.

Diversity

Generation Z won’t expect a diverse workforce – they will assume it as a given. This group has grown up amidst anti-discrimination legislation and increased globalization. Not only that, but they readily assume wildly different personas in on-line games. They have an instinctively more inclusive mindset and a better global view. Whether they choose to physically travel or connect virtually, they will see making global connections as key to doing business effectively and fulfilling life.

To be completely honest, I really like what I’m finding out here regarding the potential of generation Z to really make a positive difference in the world. If they can catalyse a whole scale rethink of the world of work and how it engages with us as individuals, our environment and our communities, then I for one will be applauding their arrival.

What do you think?

Are you looking forward to welcoming generation Z into work?

What kind of organisation will attract and hold on to generation Z?
 

Comments

Great blog, Thank you for sharing. Is Gen Z the same as Millenials? In my experience of coaching Gen Y, they want an Adult conversation, i'm sure the same will be with Gen Z. Gen X are to blame for this for our transactional stye of communication. Gen X parents tend to negotiate more, "what do you want for dinner, pasta or pie?" 'What time?". However I agree with Andy C. If it is true that Gen Y and Z want an adult conversation, then they must meet Gen X and Baby boomers half way and learn things such as learning to be corporate savvy. My experience coaching a National team of Gen Yers was very positive although painful at first. Andrew Sillitoe

Very interesting observation. Overall these are young people, who can and will be influenced as they develop. While many of the traits mentions may well be true, we should not ignore what we can do to encourage some of the better traditional values. Referring to the article regarding team playing, I would like to add that team playing to Generation Z has meant competition and rivalry amongst their peer groups. One important aspect those of us in the older age bracket can do, is to encourage support for others in the workplace, in realising the overall goal. The overall goal should be a successful company, which raises us all to a whole new level, where success breads success.

Love the optimistic take on GenZ! Too often past and current generations bash the next as careless and self centered, when in actuality they're all great, just different.

The oldest of these youngsters is only just old enough to do full-time work ,so there is also the challenge of distinguishing between generational change, and the eternal process of growing up. Good organisations are doing what will be needed to fit them in already - listening to and valuing people as individuals (as well as thinking about what might assist specific groups) and creating a culture in which each person can thrive and contribute.

This is very interesting and good to hear this positive and optimistic view of generation Z David.Working in careers and also having children of student age, I am amazed how resilient and enthusiastic our students remain.They face a difficult and more complex job market, student debt and high property prices.I'm also struck by how they use technology and flexibilty to personal advantage and generally accept the here and now rather than demonstrate discontent. Mark Armitage,University of Exeter

Sometimes I worry that as trying to understand each future generation, we ask "what will they want?" without including in there "what do they need to learn?". For example, the phenomenon we (catchily) call 'continuous partial attention' is something that seems to increase with each new generation. It seems to me that we can be ready to focus on the likely skills gaps as much as celebrating their gifts and diversity. What do others think?

Interesting article David. I wonder what the next generation will be called - anyone know?!

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