What Managers Need to Know About Working With Generation Z

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The most recent generation—Generation Z—ranges between 1997-2012, meaning the oldest members of Gen Z have been viable members of the workforce since 2011. While the majority of future Gen Z employees are still in school, many Gen Z workers are becoming the ideal candidates for companies opening up new positions. 

To best understand this new wave of workers, it’s important to get a sense of what they’re looking for in a work environment and what kind of tendencies they have. By doing so, you will also be able to anticipate possible changes for your own business down the line.

Understanding Generation Z

In a survey conducted by the College Employment Research Institute, 83% of respondents reported that they hired at least one recent graduate during the 2017-2018 academic year; those graduates being the first wave of Generation Z. 

Gen Z was the first group to be born into an age of smart technology and alternative education structures, such as collaborative classrooms and hands-on teaching methods.

Because access to information and methods of learning have changed drastically since Gen Y, and it’s safe to assume that Gen Z will gravitate toward workplaces that accommodate their learning style.

Gen Z Is Entrepreneurial

According to a field study from the Online Schools Center, 41% of Gen Zers are planning to start their own business. While this projection has yet to become a reality, it is still significantly higher than the 4% of millennials (and a few Gen Zers as well) who currently own their own small businesses. This doesn’t mean that Gen Zers won’t fulfill their goal of owning their own businesses—the average age to start a business that hires at least one person is 42 years old. 

Having a desire to start a business and employ other people isn’t the only way that Gen Z demonstrates a self-employed spirit. According to a 2018 report from Upwork, 46% of Gen Z’s work in the gig economy—either as a supplement to their day job or as their main source of income. 

Unlike older workers, Gen Zers go for the gig economy as a first choice, as it affords them more flexibility over their own work, as well as an easier way to explore career paths they’re passionate about without committing to them full time.

So, while the oldest Gen Zers haven’t been in the workforce for a long time, the pattern of opting for self-employment over working for others is becoming clear. When possible, many a Gen Z has turned to self-employment in some fashion or another, and you can expect to see these numbers increase as members of the Gen Z cohort gain work experience and finish their education.

Gen Z in the Corporate World

While many Gen Zers trend toward the gig economy, there will still be a significant percentage looking for a full-time office job. As employers, you need to understand the values of Generation Z employees to best use their talents. With Gen X parents who have likely helped guide them through their educational and professional career paths, Gen Z will enter the job market with strong education and ambition, but significantly less corporate work experience. The traditional hierarchical corporate structure is a bit abstract, and overall more unappealing to Gen Z, which is made clear by their affinity for freelance work as opposed to the standard 9-5 workday. If they do find themselves in an office environment, there are a few conditions they gravitate toward. For instance:

  • A work-life balance is critical, as 28% of millennial employees have reported feeling burnt out and overworked. According to a survey from Gallup, this exhaustion makes them 63% more likely to call in sick or quit due to stress. With millennial behavior telegraphing the trends of the following generation, it’s important to heed these actions to ensure that younger employees aren’t burning out, losing productivity, or losing morale.
  • Generation Z needs a collaborative, human environment. Despite being the most tech-focused generation to date, according to a recent survey, over 90% of Gen Zers prefer having a human element to their workday and would rather interact with a tech-based project with other team members by their side.
  • More frequent feedback is a must. 66% of Gen Zers have stated that they desire multiple check-ins with a manager throughout the week, as this has been proven to help uphold employee retention and productivity.

Managing the Gen Z Cohort

Generation Z places a large emphasis on comprehensive training in the workplace. But because this generation was educated in a newer, more tech-focused and collaborative environment, the traditional standards of employee training may need to be adapted for the incoming workforce. 

According to research spearheaded by LinkedIn, they prefer microlearning and self-directed learning as opposed to a traditional learning approach. Additionally, they seek instruction that will provide insight on the best ways to advance in the workplace, adapt to changing technologies and company structure, and the best methods on redirecting this knowledge in the event that their job ceases to exist.

This means that the learning and development teams at companies hiring Gen Zers will have to work to change how they teach new skills, rather than expecting their new employees—the first digital natives—to comply with the old methods.

Bottom Line

As Gen Z spends more time in the workforce, it will continue to change how companies function. Whether the succeeding generations will follow their lead or push them to conform remains to be seen. But keep in mind, if the Gen Z employees in your workplace aren’t happy or receiving regular feedback, many Gen Zs are happy to jump to the gig economy, and that is a loss for employers who need to attract and retain a younger generation of workers.