Gen Z in the Workplace
Millennials have received a vast amount of – mostly negative – media attention over the last couple of decades. However, it’s finally time for them to leave the limelight and give the generation below, known as Generation Z, their time to shine.
Nobody can quite agree on when exactly Generation Z was born – the gap between birth dates may be as large as 1996 and 2015 or as small as 1995 to 2002 depending on who you ask – but everybody agrees that they’re a mile away from Millennials.
Working with Gen Z is a far cry from working with Millennials – not only do the two generations have different values and goals, but they also possess distinct strengths and weaknesses.
So, what exactly is remarkably peculiar about this group of digital natives?
The workplace in 2020: Millennials as the ‘older brothers’ of Gen Z
As more and more Boomers are retiring, workplace demographics are on the cusp of changing beyond return over the next decade. As we progress into the 2020s, 58% of the workforce will be made up of Generation Z and their ‘older brothers’, the Millennials. Baby Boomers and Generation X will become a minority, lessening in importance.
Somewhat surprisingly for a generation known for checking their cell phone every 5 minutes and holding an attention span that lasts no more than 8 seconds, Generation Z values face-to-face communication when it comes to the workplace.
More than 90% of Gen-Zers appreciate having a human element to their teams, even though they acknowledge the convenience of being able to communicate using messaging services. Generation Z grew up with the internet. So they can see a more distinct picture of its flaws and weaknesses – in contrast, the Millennials learned about technology at a later age and have a different attitude.
It’s a higher priority for Generation Z to be working in an organization that matches their social values. This could be a potential weakness for Generation Z, as their noble principles may sometimes fail to live up to reality. They may find themselves job-hopping throughout their twenties – however, Gen-Zers are generally viewed as being more pragmatic than Millennials.
This practicality is reflected in the greater willingness of Gen-Zers to ‘reskill‘ compared to previous generations. This tendency has probably borne from growing up during the Economic Crisis. Generation Z saw Millennials lose their jobs due to not preparing enough, and they don’t wish to fall into the same trap.
As bosses, it’s predicted that Generation Z will be more likely to plan ahead, hire freelancers, and allow their employees to work remotely.
Gen Z’s value and goals
As previously mentioned, Generation Z often has noble values. This generation wants to change the world – whether that’s by eradicating inequality or stopping climate change in its tracks. Preferably both. Given a choice, Generation Z will opt to work for companies that match up to these values.
However, unlike Millennials, they are unwilling to do so at the expense of financial stability. A strength of Generation Z is that they are slightly more pragmatic and less idealistic, despite possessing strong values.
Proving the importance of financial incentives, about three-quarters of Generation Z say that their goal in life is to aim towards the top of their profession. A weakness of Generation Z is that they can be single-minded and fail to take broader interests into account.
However, Gen-Zers are looking for more than just money and clout. Having a boss who they can respect and look up to is also incredibly important. This reflects their unique balance of pragmatism and idealism, undoubtedly a differentiating factor compared to previous generations, who tended to have too much of the former and too little of the latter.
Authenticity is also a fundamental, non-negotiable value to Generation Z; they want to live a life that is authentic for them. They refuse to spend their life blindly slaving away without a clear idea of their goals. Their desire for authenticity also means that they want to work for a company with a genuine vision for society.
What are the core differences between Millennials and Gen Z?
Millennials may have come of age in the digital era, but they weren’t born into it in the same way as Gen Z: this is one of the most considerable differences between the two cohorts. As a result, the ways in which the two groups use social media are different: Millennials have more of a tendency to overshare.
Another important distinction is how the two generations spend their money. Millennials enjoy spending money on experiences such as festivals, travel, and eating out. Generation Z grew up seeing their Millennial older brothers struggle to get on the property ladder and achieve financial stability. As a result, Generation Z prefers to save money than splurge.
Gen-Zers are also said to be natural entrepreneurs. That view may also be a symptom of observing the Millennials’ experience; their careers suffered due to the financial crisis and never truly recovered. Gen-Zers have learned that they can’t rely on a company to provide them with life-long stability. They choose to rely on themselves instead.
While Millennials grew up believing that they would be guaranteed a higher standard of living than their parents — i.e. a good job — Generation Z grew up afraid of a challenging future. This made them determined to hustle.
Millennials are also more likely to be willing to pay for customer experience, which reflects the greater value they place on novelty experiences compared to Gen-Zers. However, Gen-Ze are less focused on innovation – a lower percentage of them describe companies as innovative than Millennials. This reflects a difference in values.
Freelancers, consultants, and remote working: when 9-to-5 isn’t the right path
Not only is Gen Z predicted to be more likely to work remotely or hire freelancers, but they’re also more likely to embrace this way of working themselves.
Generation Z may desire to rise to the top of their profession, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to spend their life climbing the corporate ladder. Many Gen-Zers have become disillusioned with the American Dream and would prefer to pursue a more individual, authentic dream.
The 9-to-5 lifestyle isn’t appealing to Gen-Z-ers. They know it wouldn’t guarantee them a smooth, financially stable life. They’ve seen that many Millennials struggle just to find a ‘conventional’ job in the wake of the financial crisis.
Gen-Zers have learned that they don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket. So, what do they (really, really) want?
Many members of Generation Z are focused on carving their dream careers. This may mean pursuing a life as a digital nomad, freelancing, or starting your own digital consultancy. Members of Gen Z are so entrepreneurial and focused that many of them will pursue this option below the age of 20.
Millennials, Gen-Zers and Mental Health
But it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Despite their idealistic values and strong work ethic, it seems that Generation Z is harnessing more inner darkness than any generation that went before them.
“Half of millennial (defined in this survey as 23-38 years old) and 75% of Gen-Zer (18-22 years old) respondents have quit a job partially due to mental health reasons. (…) Millennials were three times more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety than baby boomers, and Gen-Zers were four times more likely.”CNBC
Even more worryingly, there’s probably an even higher number of Gen-Zers who are concerned or stressed to some extent but haven’t been officially diagnosed.
Why are they so stressed? Money and work are indicated as being the most common factors – this may be an unwelcome side effect of Gen-Zers’ obsession with achieving financial independence.
However, since Generation Z has grown up with a strong understanding of the importance of mental well-being, they’re also more likely to be aware of their symptoms and to seek support. It’s a progress: previous generations were more likely to power through until they reached burnout.
Employers need to fight this by offering support – Gen Z managers will be better positioned to be able to do this.
Of course, it’s difficult to generalize an entire generation, but there are undoubtedly strong demographic trends.
Gen Z is a generation like no other: they long to inspire change in the world, and they’re willing to put the work into making it happen. They combine lofty ideals with a steady pragmatism.
However, before changing world, they must learn to find a new kind of balance between life and work and manage their mental well-being. The workplace needs to change to allow this to happen.
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