While Millennials in the workplace have dominated our thinking about generations for years, it’s time to acknowledge that they are no longer the “newbies” in the workplace — in fact, the oldest Millennials are now aged 38.
So, while decoding the Millennial mindset is still an important part of the work I do as a multigenerational workplace speaker and consultant, much of my clients’ attention is turning to the next generation, Gen Z, whose members were born starting in 1997 and represent the youngest of the unprecedented five generations in the U.S. workforce today.
Now is officially the time to get serious about Gen Z, especially if you hire interns or entry-level employees, and the good news is that employers are likely to be impressed with this new group. For my just-released book, The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace, I researched many of the characteristics of Gen Z and interviewed Gen Z professionals. Here’s everything you need to know about the new kids on the block.
GEN Z IS DIVERSE
Nearly half (48 percent) of Gen Z Americans identify as racial or ethnic minorities today, compared to just 18 percent of Baby Boomers at the same age. Many Gen Zs prefer to identify as “blended” or multiethnic and question the need to “choose a box” on official documents or forms. Gen Zs are also the first generation to come of age with the legalization of gay marriage and are notable for their greater acceptance of transgender and nonbinary identities.
What this means to today’s manager: Diversity and inclusion can no longer be an “extra” program that you layer onto your employee offerings. Today, it must be woven into the fabric of your company culture to attract and retain employees. The bonus is that a more diverse team will more accurately reflect your customer base as well.
GEN Z EXPECTS TRANSPARENCY
While we often think of Millennials as being early technology adopters, members of Gen Z are actually the true “digital natives.” They never endured the inefficiency of dial-up or mobile phones the size of bricks; instead, their devices have always been “smart” and omnipresent. Therefore, they don’t understand the concept of employers’ communicating on a “need-to-know” basis as they have always been able to immediately access the information they want.
What this means to today’s manager: Since Gen Z has never known a world without this kind of availability of information, they have an expectation of ongoing, consistent communication and feedback. The ubiquity of information has also removed an enormous amount of power —the access to and control of information — from today’s leaders.
GEN Z VALUES FEEDBACK
From their recent experiences as students, Gen Zs are generally accustomed not only to frequent feedback in the form of grades, but also to constant, transparent discussion of their next steps. The challenge is meeting this need, and surprisingly, it might not always involve technology.
I loved the story that Amanda Ward, a Millennial-age director of Camp Chinqueka, shared with me as I wrote my book. When struggling to provide enough feedback to the Gen Z–aged counselors she managed, she developed a novel idea; she wrote each counselor’s name on an index card each week and then passed the cards around to the whole staff to write feedback (usually positive) for their peers. She then wrote a few pieces of feedback (both positive and constructive) on the other side of each card. The process was simple, fast, inclusive, inexpensive and effective.
What this means to today’s manager: Forget annual reviews. Connect with this generation by letting them know when and how you’ll be available and take the time to offer both praise and suggestions for improvement.
GENERATION Z LOVES TO SHARE
It’s easy to look at this generation’s zeal for social media — and even their penchant for sharing their financial details on apps like Venmo — as oversharing, but for them it’s just a way of life. I have noticed that their work-related social media posts are frequently positive and often even promotional for their employers as they share their attendance at conferences and events, selfies with senior leaders or customers and recognition or awards.
What this means to today’s manager: Embrace the trend — although you might want to couple it with an established social media policy about what’s appropriate or any tags that employees should use. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, many workplaces are even redesigning their spaces to make them more Instagram-friendly.
GEN Z IS HIGHLY VISUAL
Yep, the selfie generation wants to post pics of themselves on social media, but their need for
“eye candy” goes beyond that. Another great story that Amanda Ward of Camp Chinqueka shared with me involved an employee survey she sent out via email. At first, only a few people responded, because many Gen Zs consider e-mail to be “too much work” to check. But when she edited the same survey into a fun, visual image and posted it to Instagram, her counselors responded in droves.
What this means to today’s manager: I am a huge fan of the concept of “COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere” for any content. So, when you’re creating training materials, go ahead and make a “manual” to post on your intranet, but go a step further and embrace a YouTube video or more visual online training to reach Gen Z in the medium they prefer.
GEN Z WANTS CREATIVE CAREER PATHS
“There’s no longer just one way up — that straight path to managing director,” says Bill Fisse, managing director of human resources and global head of talent and diversity for Citi’s Institutional Businesses, who has been with his company for four decades. While he says Citi has always been known as a place that promotes career mobility, newer generations are increasingly changing the trajectory of the path. I am hearing this frequently, especially from leaders at large organizations.
What this means to today’s manager: It’s time to get creative with the career paths you offer, and make it clear that the contributions of your newer team members are valued from the start.
Daryl Dickson, vice president of talent development and human capital officer at Management Leadership for Tomorrow, says that when she first started her corporate life several decades ago, one of her biggest frustrations was that newer employees were expected to execute someone else’s decisions for years until they had earned their stripes. Today, she believes that organizations that are willing to advance and compensate talent without regard for age or tenure will win.
GEN Z WANTS MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
This cohort came of age during a time of significant turmoil, which has made many of them more cautious than generations before them. First came the Great Recession that rocked many American families’ sense of security; next was the significant rise in school shootings; and finally, the opioid epidemic, which traces back to the late 1990s and has continued for the entire lifetime of Gen Zs. As a result of these challenges and others, between 2009 and 2015, the number of college students visiting counseling centers surged by about 30%.
What this means for today’s manager: Gen Z is looking for workplace programs that bolster their sense of well-being, such as mental health services and financial wellness counseling. This group will gravitate toward companies that get creative with their perks—perhaps offering a menu of options that speak to different generational needs, such as retirement savings and student loan repayment as well as mental health services, which of course benefit all generations.
Have you had the occasion to hire or work with a Gen Zer yet, or are you a Gen Zer yourself? We’d love to hear your experience and any advice in the comments below.