Lanier, K. (2017), "5 things HR professionals need to know about Generation Z: Thought leaders share their views on the HR profession and its direction for the future", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 16 No. 6, pp. 288-290. https://doi.org/10.1108/SHR-08-2017-0051Download as .RIS
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When millennials entered the workforce years ago, management and leadership experts had a field day with Millennial madness. New theories and research emerged constantly about the youngest generation, at the time, to join the workforce. That was then, this is now – and the workforce today welcomes Generation Z to the ranks.
No generation is a monolith, but there are growing trends of expectations and preferences that change as culture and worker demands change. As with any generation, engaging Generation Z will present unique challenges and opportunities that may change the world of work forever.
Working to understand Generation Z may tell leaders something about the generation, but isn’t meant to be one-size-fits-all advice for personal engagement. It’s important to consider characteristics emerging as indicative of Generation Z, how they differ from their closest generational relatives (Millennials), what they want and expect from work and the implications for HR.
Meet Generation Z
Generation Z is the latest demographic to round out the five generations working side-by-side for the first time in the history of the modern workforce. In many ways, Generation Z is manifesting a continuation and extension of Millennial demands at work, but with many key differences, Generation Z was dubbed the “Anti-Millennials” by Fast Company (Segran, 2016).
In a New York Times (NYT) essay introducing Generation Z, NYT reporter Alex Williams summarized the slight disagreement between demographers and marketers on the beginning and end of the youngest working generation (Williams, 2015). Williams wrote that while academia considers Generation Z-ers born between the early 1990s and the mid-2000s, marketers (“who tend to slice generations into bite-size units”) mark the 15-year span from 1996 to 2011 – making them between 6 and 21 years old.
Generation Z currently outnumbers Millennials by nearly one million, with an estimated 60 million American citizens born between the 15-year definition of “1996 to 2011”, making up nearly a quarter of the US population.
Approximately, 3.5 million Generation Z-ers were projected to graduate from high school this year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372, accessed 12 July 2017). This generational cohort is joining the workforce by the millions each year, with the eldest nearing the start of their professional careers and the youngest still in grade school. Generation Z is coming to work in massive numbers. Is HR ready for the challenge of motivating a new generation with unique hopes, dreams and values? Let’s find out.
While each individual brings unique motivations, values and aspirations to the workplace, generations do experience global and nationwide phenomena together, in a sense, although from their unique perspectives to the events of the day. Growing up in a global recession, in wartime, plugged into technology from birth, members of Generation Z are likely to share some connecting traits as a result of shared external conditions. While managers and leaders can learn a lot from generational trends, it’s also important to remember that generations are made of individuals – who, again, bring their own unique perspectives and preferences to work (http://go.maritzmotivation.com/Workforce_2020_Infographic, accessed 12 July 2017).
With that in mind, here are five things HR needs to know about the incoming Generation Z:
Generation Z is the first true digital native generation: Millennials were previously classified as digital natives, growing up around technology of some sort all their lives. However, Generation Z is the first truly connected generation from birth – designated as not only digital native but also mobile native. Many Generation Z-ers don’t remember a time without internet or a time before social media. That constant connectivity has Generation Z consuming information faster than any generation before. How can HR prepare for the extreme tech-savviness, and associated short attention spans, of Generation Z? Understand that Generation Z (and Millennials) bring a strength of tech fluency to the workplace and offer a space for collaboration that values the input of digital savvy employees from all generations, departments and seniority levels.
Diversity is an expectation of Generation Z: Aside from access to a lifetime worth of information and interactive history, social media has given Generation Z a connection to others from different cultures, backgrounds and circumstances. Mary Meehan wrote in Forbes that Generation Z is driven by a cultural ethos of social justice (Meehan, 2016). While the expectation for cultural, racial and gender diversity has been steadily increasing generation over generation, Generation Z is the first to overwhelmingly expect diversity at work.
Generation Z is more pragmatic than you might expect: While it is easy for generations to critique the latest addition for being lackadaisical (arguably a more common trait of adolescence than one to be tattooed as a permanent trait of a generation), it’s not quite so easy with Generation Z. Living through a global recession has Generation Z focused on sensible, stable careers; security; safety; and privacy. After witnessing the “social media fails” of Millennials, the generation to document everything with social media, Generation Z-ers are more drawn to private social networks like Snapchat that focus on an impermanent Web. Rather than rewarding with perks and flexibility, consider that Generation Z-ers may be more driven by traditional opportunities for advancement and development, improved economic security and better benefits.
Generation Z is more entrepreneurial than Millennials: In a study by Millennial Branding and Randstad USA, 17 per cent of Generation Z respondents said they had entrepreneurial aspirations, whereas only 11 per cent of Millennials said the same (Schawbel, 2014). Managers and leaders can cultivate entrepreneurial goals at work by encouraging a sense of agency at work, fostering innovation, autonomy and project ownership.
Ditch the digital to reach Generation Z: Despite the constant connectivity of Generation Z, Randstad USA also revealed that 51 per cent of Generation Z-ers prefer in-person communication with leaders (Schawbel, 2014). While digital and social engagement, recognition and communication tools can still engage Generation Z, feedback (which Generation Z reportedly desires with more frequency than any generation prior) should be delivered in-person in meaningful conversations.
If Generation Z isn’t already part of your workforce, that will change within the next year or two. HR professionals can take steps today to prepare for the next generation – and in the process, if done right, improve engagement and culture for employees of all generations as processes and policies adapt for the future of work.
Meehan, M. (2016), “The next generation: what matters to gen we”, available at: www.forbes.com/sites/marymeehan/2016/08/11/the-next-generation-what-matters-to-gen-we/#2565e7427350 (accessed 12 July 2017).
Schawbel, D. (2014), “Gen Y and Gen Z global workplace expectations study”, available at: http://millennialbranding.com/2014/geny-genz-global-workplace-expectations-study (accessed 12 July 2017).
Segran, E. (2016), “Your guide to generation Z: the frugal, brand-wary, determined anti-millennials”, available at: www.fastcompany.com/3062475/your-guide-to-generation-z-the-frugal-brand-wary-determined-anti-millen (accessed 12 July 2017).
Williams, A. (2015), “Move over, millennials, here comes generation Z”, available at: www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/fashion/move-over-millennials-here-comes-generation-z.html?mcubz=2 (accessed 12 July 2017).
About the author
Kimberly Lanier is based at the Maritz Motivation Solutions, Fenton, Missouri, USA.