The influx of members of Generation Z into the workforce today is not only an important diversity issue but also a lens through which to understand the changing workplace, and even changes in the very nature of what it means to be an employer or employee.
We should not expect the new Gen Z workforce to eventually ‘grow up’ and start behaving more like their co-workers, leaders or managers of older generations. Rather, the ‘grown-ups’ will, as a necessity, find themselves thinking and behaving more like Generation Z.
That’s because Gen Z has been moulded by the same forces that are now driving the broader transformation of life and work for us all. These forces are historical trends that have been unfolding for at least the past two decades.
Keep the following factors in mind as you recruit and then manage members of Gen Z:
The ubiquity of the internet — on our computers, tablets and phones — means everyone is capable of connecting and working across borders in every direction, at any time. Unlike any other period in history, we can all look forward to interdependency and competition with a rising youth tide from every corner of the world.
The biggest difference with Gen Z in response to this competitive environment is that they are much more likely to make specific requests for immediate (rather than long term) increases in pay, benefits and work conditions. And they are more likely to make those requests earlier in their tenure of employment than Gen Y workers and the Baby Boomers would have.
The pace of technological advance today is unprecedented, in all industries and in every aspect of life. Anything new can become obsolete by the next day — or minute. Information and possibilities appear and disappear swiftly, radically and often without warning.
Meanwhile, workers must routinely learn and utilise new technologies, processes, practices, skills and knowledge.
Technology also has transformed how we process and receive information. All of us must think, learn and communicate in a never-ending sea of information. Today’s information environment is defined by widespread wireless internet access, complete technology integration, infinite content and immediacy. We have at-will access to any and all information, ideas, and perspectives — unlimited words, images and sounds.
While Gen Z workers may have certain advantages in this environment, they tend to suffer when they receive insufficient guidance and support from management.
Today’s world is under constant threat — of terrorism and environmental cataclysm, of a wildly fluctuating, unpredictable economy. Governments might shut down or run out of money. And companies great and small conquer or fail or merge or continually downsize, restructure and reengineer. Institutions have been forced into a constant state of flux just to survive and, hopefully succeed, in this constantly changing world.
Many Gen Z workers today assume that most employment relationships will be relatively short term and transactional. They tend to gain — at least in the short term — from the diminishing importance of seniority and longevity of employment.
Everywhere you look, the world is becoming more diverse and more integrated. Each generation is more diverse than the last. Every single individual, with his or her distinct combination of background, traits and characteristics, is his or her own unique story. Managers who view members of Gen Z in that light rather than as a single, undifferentiated group, will do better at attracting and motivating these workers.
The blending of the personal and professional
Not only are all of us plugged into an endless stream of content, we are also in continuous dialogue. Through social media, chatting, sharing and gaming — people of all ages are actively mixing and matching from an infinite array of sources to create and then project back out into the world their own personal montage of meaning and selfhood.
The Future for Gen Z
This desire to mix and match extends into Gen Z’s attitude toward ‘work-life balance.’ What ‘work-life balance’ means most of the time is ‘more control over my own schedule.’ The rest of the time, it means ‘flexible location’ or ‘flexible dress’ or ‘flexible something.’ The ability to adapt work to life, rather than life to work, is a powerful incentive for Gen Z employees to remain at a particular job.
These trends have been growing and developing for some time, and they are not about to disappear. While they are now beginning to affect what life and employment mean for people of all ages, it is important to remember that this is the only environment Generation Z has ever known. Just as those of older generations are beginning to ‘catch on’ and adjust accordingly, Gen Z is and has been at the forefront of these sweeping changes.