What We Know About Generation Z at Work (So Far)

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The members of Generation Z are quite different than their Millennial older siblings. We’re just beginning to understand the characteristics that will define them in the workplace.

First things first: individuals are complex and unique, and no single person has all of the supposed traits of their generation. Not every Gen Xer was a plaid-wearing slacker in 1994; not every Millennial is a tech-obsessed job hopper today.

Still, there’s a lot we can learn from examining demographic information. The way we grow up matters. Baby Boomers, for example, grew up in a very different time than Millennials. This is plain to see, even if you just look at their levels of exposure to technology at a young age. These differences change the way people think. And, they influence the way individuals, and groups, see the world. Therefore, it makes sense to think about how different workers’ generational influences will affect how they operate at work.

The trouble is that it takes time to get to know a generation. For example, Generation Z was only recently referred to as Generation Edge. (This is because they’re thought to be a bit edgy and because they’re on the cultural edge when it comes to their “expanded views of diversity.”) They’ve also been referred to as the “Digital Natives” generation — the first to grow up with many of today’s technologies. But, for now, the label of Generation Z — two generations after Gen X — seems to be sticking.

We’re still getting to know this group of more than 61 million individuals, born between 1996 and 2010. But, the picture is getting clearer. Older members of Gen Z are already entering the workforce. By 2021, they should make up about one-fifth of it.

Let’s take a closer look:

1. Generation Z grew up with technology

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This group is the first to be raised with internet, cell phones, iPads, etc. As a result, they don’t just understand technology and know how to use it, it’s intuitive and natural to them. While they might not know how to code as well as Generation Xers, members of Generation Z integrate technology into their lives differently, and more completely, than other groups. This is mainly because they’ve never lived in a world without it.

Despite all our modern advances, some individuals — and even some companies — are still lagging behind when it comes to updating their tech. But, Gen Z will have none of that, so folks would be wise to get on board if they haven’t done so already. Some companies are even creating new positions to help bring organizations and individuals up to speed.

“My role is to be ‘a constructive disrupter,’” said Joe Atkinson, Chief Digital Officer — a new position — at PwC, speaking with Forbes. “My mission is to enhance digital fitness throughout the organization and put in place the learning and technology necessary to get the entire organization comfortable with the language and concepts that are driving digital innovation.”

2. They’re diverse and they appreciate the value of diversity

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Generation Z is more diverse and more inclusive than the other generations currently in the workforce. They grew up in an increasingly diverse world. They may even be the last generation in the United States to be of Caucasian majority. The Obamas were the first memorable example of a presidential family for many members of Generation Z. Growing up in a more diverse and inclusive world means that this group has come to expect diversity as much as they appreciate it. And they know that diversity good for business.

Generation Z, as a general rule, appreciates the fact that a variety of perspectives and voices leads to increased innovation, creativity and productivity. Many members of this group would struggle to understand a company that doesn’t embrace diversity. There’s reason to believe that, as they come of age, Generation Z won’t just appreciate the value of a diverse workplace, they’ll demand it.

3. They want security

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Members of Generation Z were kids during the Great Recession. Many of them saw their parents struggle through that time. And, they watched as their older Millennial siblings moved back into their childhood bedrooms after getting their degrees. Because of all this, Generation Z is a group that values financial and job security.

Hiring managers and organizations should keep these values in mind when hiring workers from Generation Z. They may have gotten used to working with Millennials in recent years. But, this generation is motivated by different things. Millennials crave flexible work arrangements and they want to do work that’s meaningful and makes a difference in the world. These things are surely important to Generation Z, too. But, there are indications that a secure job, high salary and an upwardly mobile career trajectory might mean more to them than the preceding generation.

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4. They have an independent approach to learning

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Generation Z goes about the process of learning new information and acquiring new skills a little differently than prior gens. And, why shouldn’t they? After all, these individuals are younger than Google. They’ve always had access to information online and at their fingertips. As a result, this is a generation of independent, self-directed learners.

They’re also wise enough to know that the world is changing. A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn found that 59 percent of Generation Z feels that their job will change dramatically in the next 20 years. Forty-six percent also said they’d be willing to learn in order to get a promotion. This is a generation that knows that the world is changing and that they’ll have to work hard to keep up. Many just prefer to take an independent approach to that learning process.

Organizations would be wise to establish training programs with these preferences in mind.

5. They multitask

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If you thought Millennials were on their phones a lot, get ready for Generation Z. These folks grew up around the modern “distractions” technology brings. They learned, at a very young age, how to do more than one thing at a time.

A recent study found that 95 percent of Generation Z has a smartphone. And, 25 percent of them had one before age 10. Being constantly connected via a mobile device is their norm. Using a smartphone to get a ride, manage their calendar or connect with friends is second nature to them. They’re not just immersed in digital technology, the way many members of other generations are. Instead, its is an integral part of their lives and it always has been.

Attempting to limit this groups’ smartphone use in and around the office could be challenging. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z spend more than five hours on their phone per day. And, 12 percent are on their phones for 15 or more hours per day. This might seem shocking. But, it’s important to appreciate that Generation Z’s  ability to multitask is different than it is for older workers. This generation is more adept at overlapping the digital world and the physical one.

6. They’re entrepreneurs

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Generation Z may end up being defined by their entrepreneurship. Because of advances in technology, there will almost certainly be more remote and freelance workers in the decades ahead. Gen Z’s tech skills, and their independence, makes them good candidates for these kinds of roles.

These individuals grew up in a way that lends itself to autonomy and entrepreneurship at work. And, they know it. In a 2017 survey, 72 percent of high school seniors said they wanted to start their own business someday.

7. They’re people

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It’s interesting to examine generational trends and traits. But, it’s also good to remember that this kind of analysis can only go so far. At the end of the day, people are people. Millennial workers might be more motivated by perks than Gen Xers, and Boomers might be less tech-savvy than Generation Z. But, the individuals in these groups also have a lot in common.

Workers want a fair salary and they want transparency and honesty and fairness from their leadership. They want to be challenged at work. And, they feel good when their work is meaningful and when it is appreciated. Many workers value autonomy at work, and they also crave meaningful feedback from their employer that helps them learn and grow.

As the world continues to change, companies need to work to stay current with technology, not just because their workers demand it, but because it’s good for business. Many workers appreciate and value flexible scheduling, so many companies are working to update those options, too.

It’s important to remember that as much as things change, they also stay the same. Generation Z may have grown up differently than older workers, but people are people. There’s more that connects us than divides us.

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