Generation Z, also known as the iGen and as the post-millennial generation, will begin to arrive in the workplace en masse this spring. While the actual definition of Generation Z is subject to debate (it is generally seen to begin with people born in the mid to late 1990s), there is growing buzz about the fact that in 2016, we will see more people from this new generation in the full-time workforce, but are we prepared? More importantly, what training and support will members of Generation Z need once they arrive on the job?
What We Already Know about Generation Z?
While Generation Z shares much in common with Millennials (they are also tech- savvy children of the digital era who love their pop culture, find their mates online and generally hold progressive political attitudes), having grown up in the midst of the nation’s worse economic slump since the Depression, their attitudes towards work, money and the future are also somewhat more cynical and perhaps, even more realistic. While Generation Z has yet to be subject to the excessive sociological and journalist musings already lavished on the Millennials and Generation X, a few things are already apparent about this generation:
- Even more than Millennials, Generation Z can’t live without the Internet, and this is no surprise. They’ve never experienced a world without the Internet, so like air and the passing of the seasons, they assume the Internet is always there and never turns off.
- Since Generation Z is always online, not surprisingly, they expect everything to be available immediately. Books, music, films and television programs are expected to be streamable from any location at any time. But this is also the Amazon Now generation (if they need something, with one click, they can have it delivered to their home in two hours or less). In short, speed and convenience are taken for granted by many members of Generation Z.
- In terms of personal relationships, there’s a widespread perception that Generation Z, sometimes referred to disparagingly as the “screeners”, are more comfortable communicating online than they are in person. Some observers fear that Generation Z is already adrift with their devices in hand and little experience relating to people in face-to-face situations. After all, they grew up having play dates on FaceTime and swapping updates and photos on Facebook. They now use Tinder and other online dating apps to meet their intimate partners.
- If Millennials appear to be endlessly at play, even when they are making billions of dollars, as exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg, Generation Z is overwhelmingly stressed out. In many respects, this is understandable. They’ve grown up during a period of war and economic decline.
- Not all Generation Z stress can be attributed to the economic and political context in which these young people have grown up. Generation Z is coming of age in a culture increasingly obsessed with testing, measurement and analytics. Indeed, they have arguably already been measured, scrutinized and evaluated more than any generation yet, and they frequently cite an intensified culture of testing as a major source of stress and anxiety.
- Generation Z has grown up with the sharing economy. As children, they enjoyed staying in cool Airbnb flats with their parents and being carted around to their lessons and school by Uber drivers. In the long term, they may also prove to be a generation especially amendable to the idea of renting rather than owning and as a result, make the sharing economy an enduring part of the future economy.
- Generation Z identifies as a generation of born entrepreneurs. Moreover, they have a strong sense that one doesn’t need to spend years bootstrapping to make their first million or billion. Inspired by Millennial entrepreneurs whose start ups have made many billionaires by their 30th birthday, it is not surprising that Generation Z also has an entrepreneurial drive. Some studies report that anywhere from 50% to 70% of Generation Z wants to run their own start up rather than work as an employee for an organization. Whether they will succeed, however, is yet to be seen.
Generation Z’s Education
Generation Z started school after 2000. As a result, many and even most of them learned to read and write with the aid of computers and other online tools. Perhaps, more strikingly, even before they could read and write, many of them were already accessing information online with the aid of icons. In this sense, they are also a highly visual generation. In addition to their visual orientation, we know that Generation Z has a phenomenal ability to multitask and to process multiple channels of information (often streamed through multiple windows).
As suggested above, however, Generation Z has also grown up in a culture obsessed with evaluation, metrics and testing. They have been taking standardized exams since elementary school and often had educations primarily geared toward excelling on these exams. More than any generation yet, they are inclined to define themselves by these metrics too. Perhaps, this is why Generation Z loves apps like Wishbone, which turn evaluation and ranking practices into a source of entertainment. While one can reasonably expect that Generation Z will be less likely than previous generations to resist the measurement of their workplace performance, their reliance on immediate feedback may also prove negative (e.g., they may prove less able and willing to take risks or try out methods that have not yet been subject to evaluation). In short, at some point, Generation Z will need to start self-evaluating, but are they prepared to make the leap?
Generation Z’s Work Experience
One of the most striking things about Generation Z, which may not be good news for employers, is that they are more likely than any other generation to complete college having never held a part-time or summer job. Indeed, workers between 16 and 24 constitute the group that has experienced the most substantial decline in labor force participation in recent years. Until 1979, youth participation in the labor force climbed steadily and remained more or less solid until 2000. Since 2000, however, around the time that Generation Z came on the scene, youth labor participation rates have been in sharp decline. Notably, the decline appears to hold true across genders, regions and even class locations (albeit with some disparities). The decline in youth labor participation is attributed both to a general trend for young people to stay in school longer than they have in the past and to changing cultural norms for youth. While a part-time job may have once been considered an ideal way for a teen to spend their weekend, many teens, at least those from middle class and affluent families, now spend their weekends enrolled in all-day SAT prep courses, private music lessons and other enrichment activities that are designed to ensure they will gain a spot in a top college.
For employers, this means that some things once take for granted—for example, the assumption that a recent college graduate has already experienced what it is like to hold a job (even a part-time job serving ice cream or flipping burgers)—no longer hold true. Indeed, it seems likely, if not inevitable, that as Generation Z arrives in the workplace, they will arrive with more education but far less work experience than any other generation. While it is true that a higher number of Generation Z employees will have completed one or more internships, which may be more relevant than the average part-time job in retail or the service industry, a short-term internship completed for college credit rarely approximates the responsibility one feels as an actual employee.
While there is no reason to believe that Generation Z won’t perform well on the job, this demographic may pose specific challenges to organizations. For example, organizations will soon be faced with the task of onboarding full-time salaried employees who may very well have never filled out a W4 nor even heard of such a form. The implications for HR staff, then, may include finding ways to not only train new employees to carry out the work they’ve been hired to carry out in the organization but also training them to be employees. This may require organizations to provide support services through HR that were previously not required.
Workplace Training—How to Prepare for Generation Z
While there’s no doubt that Generation Z has much to offer organizations and will soon find their place among the many generations of employees now in the workforce (generations that include Millennials, as well as members of Generation X, aging Boomers and even a growing demographic of people over the age of 75), organizations should be prepared for some challenges as Generation Z employees arrive in larger numbers over the coming few years:
Onboarding: As a generation with relatively little work experience, expect to pour more resources and time into all aspects of the onboarding process.
Training: mLearning and eLearning are already taken for granted by this generation; they’ve grown up using school learning management systems (i.e., eChalk) and expect their education to take place partly or entirely online. Workplace training carried out using flexible and readily available methods, such as mobile learning, will not only be preferred but expected. Face-to-face meetings and workshops, by contrast, may prove challenging with members of Generation Z in the room.
Evaluation: As a generation who has grown up in a culture increasingly obsessed with testing and metrics of all kinds, one can reasonably expect Generation Z to be comparatively less resistant to workplace evaluation initiatives. As suggested above, however, they may also prove overly anxious about metrics and in some cases, fail to take risks or initiative as a result.
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