Introducing your new workplace headache: Gen Z

Published on the 10/01/2018 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

Generation Z

The new (est) breed takes a different approach to tech than their Millennial predecessors...

Just when you think you’ve got your noggin wrapped around today’s millennial-centric workplace – with its demands for work/life balance and praise-heavy review policies – along comes a new generation of workers to throw your HR department into a tizzy.

Introducing HR’s newest challenge: Gen Z. Born after 1995, and the world’s first true digital natives, Gen Z is coming to a workforce near you soon.

So what does the new demographic look like?

Predictably, there is some crossover with Millennials. Like Millennials, Gen Zers place a premium on remote working (according to Ernst & Young, 50 percent name schedule flexibility as a priority when evaluating an employer), they’re digitally savvy and they’re victims of some perhaps unfair negative perceptions.

But that might just be where the similarities end. Gen Zers are radically career-focused and entrepreneurial. While Millennials are inclined view their careers through a frame of work/life balance and on the positive social outcomes of their work, Gen Zer’s are willing to forgo both these elements in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

And it’s little wonder. Likely a generation of lifetime renters, Gen Zers are prepared to make big sacrifices early in the interest of financial security – in stark contrast to the charge so often levelled at Millennials that they refuse to ‘pay their dues’ via long hours in the office.

Unfortunately for the incoming Gen Z hordes, entry-level jobs may not be what they once were. Recessive economies and advancing technology have had a deleterious effect on the often-menial and repetitive tasks that historically have occupied new office entrants.

“In many cases, corporate ladders have shortened,” said Carolyn O’Boyle, Talent Strategy and Innovation, Deloitte.

“Career path options seem to have ballooned, entry into the workforce is frequently delayed, and entry-level workers often leave an organisation after a couple of years on the job. All of these changes compel us to take a closer look at whether our entry-level roles are designed to withstand the forces shaping the future of work.”

And, irony of ironies, the Millennial managers who will be taking on these charges are less than thrilled at the proposition: A survey from APPrise Mobile – based on a Google Consumer Survey of 1,000 workplace managers – found that almost one-third of Millennial respondents anticipate difficulties managing employees from Gen Z compared to older generations, with 28 percent saying it will be “more difficult” to train Gen Z employees in general.

Difficult or not, how businesses perform tomorrow is contingent on how Gen Zers are managed today.

So what’s worth knowing when it comes to Generation Z?

The tech’s important: According to one study, 40 percent of Gen Zers say that in the workplace, stable Wi-Fi is more important to them than working bathrooms. According to Gen Z guru David Stillman,over 90 percent of Gen-Z said ‘a company’s technological sophistication would impact their decision to work there’.

But how that technology is used is more important still: For Gen Zers, communication doesn’t necessarily equal technology. In fact, when it comes to making intergenerational minds meet, Gen Zers would rather forgo digital avenues entirely. According to a study from Randstad and Gen Y research and consulting firm Millennial Branding, even though Gen Z grew up with technology, 53 percent prefer in-person communication over tools like instant messaging and video conferencing.

What at first seems paradoxical, may in fact be a testament to Gen Zer’s degree of self-awareness: They know the challenges of intergenerational communication. Few Gen zers believe that technology actually enhances personal relationships with co-workers with just over one-third (37 percent) ranking instant messaging as the biggest work distraction.

“In a study of 4,000 Gen Z participants, 92 percent are concerned about the generational gap that technology is causing in their professional and personal lives,” said Deloitte’s O’Boyle.

“Another 37 percent expressed concern that technology is weakening their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills.”

“While these digital natives may bring an unprecedented level of technology skills to the workforce, there are some apprehensions about their ability to communicate and form strong interpersonal relationships.”

Simply put, the always-on, digital native generation may be lacking the soft skills that businesses have increasingly been nurturing, and they know it.

In the short term therefore, it seems the challenge for business is to produce face-to-face, one-to-one processes for offering guidance and productive feedback, while still providing  new recruits with the tech-centred, financially rewarding environment they’re likely to thrive in.

And the challenge to the Gen Zers, as it is and was for every preceding generation, is surely to make some effort to fit into workplaces which weren’t and aren’t designed to meet their every want and whim.

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