You thought the baby boomer group was large and influential? Move over, boomers. Gen Z is the youngest, most ethnically diverse and largest generation in American history. It might be time to learn more about them.
Born between 1995 and 2010, following the millennials, this is the first completely digital generation, having been raised since birth on social media and the internet. The oldest of this group is turning 25, with many entering the workforce.
Many of us have often thought millennials were glued to their devices. It seems to me that Gen Z is getting smartphones at a much earlier age. I can remember debates when my nieces and nephews were 12 or 13 about whether they should be given cellphones. Today, elementary school teachers are having to set down rules about texting in class.
Another difference between millennials and Gen Z is the desire for security. This will require a shift in recruiting strategy; promises of career growth, job security and promotions are going to resonate with them. This generation is also going to be more competitive and expect to get ahead on their own merits. Unlike millennials, who grew up getting that ribbon or trophy just for showing up, this group seems to have a stronger work ethic, and also will expect to be recognized and rewarded for accomplishments.
A related difference among Gen Z is how they want feedback. Like their predecessors, feedback needs to be frequent. Surprisingly, they seem to prefer face-to-face communication, regardless of their focus on social media and online interactions. Where they differ most is wanting feedback to be brief (think Instagram and Twitter) and fact-based. In other words, they value evidence and data on why you are praising them.
They also expect communication via their phones and for websites to be mobile-friendly. Automation, auto-filling and simplicity are taken for granted. Think about that as you design or refresh your recruiting websites.
We also know Gen Z is more independent and more likely to be entrepreneurial. We see budding high school entrepreneurs. They also are questioning more and more the value of higher education and the desire to avoid huge school loan debt. They will go to school if it is clearly going to support their career ambitions but are much less likely to strive for a degree simply because it is expected.
What does this mean for employers? Gen Z will look for companies that are willing to overlook degrees in favor of experience, certifications or simply a commitment to training them. I have seen more and more job postings reflecting that viewpoint, stating the requirement of a degree “or comparable experience,” as well as clients who are starting to offer targeted certification on practical as well as soft skills. So, think about how your learning and development team may have to shift gears.
Gender identity is another area where this generation contrasts sharply with their peers. This is a generation that, despite their pragmatism, wants to change the world. Diversity and inclusion are critical to them. They may be the first truly colorblind generation, and they see variances in sexual orientation as part of life. Terms such as “Latinx” or “they” used as a singular pronoun are signs of the influence this generation is already having on our language. Organizations that are transparent in their communication and fully supportive of differences and that value diversity at their core will appeal to this generation. This is a generation that is going to expect flexibility and openness from their workplaces. Discriminatory patterns in pay or career development will not be accepted as the norm, and they will not hesitate to mobilize around causes they believe in.
Finally, like any younger group of employees, they will want and find value in mentorships. This is where leaders can take full advantage of the range of ages in their workforce. Gen Z is ambitious and wants to get ahead. They also have a lot to learn about office dynamics and how organizations work. Boomers can be a real asset as mentors, guiding them through these challenges. And in exchange, Gen Z can be a great asset to boomers who may struggle with the latest technology.
We will all gain as this generation continues to enter the workforce, but we are going to need to work at adapting to their needs and passions.