It is no longer the Millennials which are taking up the attention of every demographer, sociologist and recruiter. The Millennials are quite firmly in the workforce, taking up 35% of roles (due to be 50% globally by 2020) despite their fierce fight against traditional working structures and perceived elongation of youth. They rocked the boat for employers in terms of flexible/agile working, use of technology, and the general notion that work should not just be work, it should be fun.
But Gen Z are different. Having been born between 1995-2015, they grew up in the midst of the 2008 recession where the focus was on cutting back rather than indulgence; the normalisation of gay marriage, gender identity politics and having an African American president; and they do not remember a time before the internet, where world events and a variety of people are just a click or scroll away from their fingertips.
Jean M Twenge explored the differentiating characteristics of Gen Z in her 2017 book ‘iGen’. She explores and analyses themes such as social media use and its potential link to the mental health epidemic amongst Gen Z, their views towards sexuality, politics, and religion, their interactions with alcohol, drugs and sex, along with their fears and aspirations. It gives the impression that the areas in which Millennials were branded as pioneers, Gen Z have been branded as natives. So as Gen Z begin entering the working world, what can we expect them to bring to the workforce and wider society?
They are even more tech-savvy than the Millennials:
Many iGen students seem to see their schools as behind the times, irrelevant in a fast-paced world of constantly changing technology.
Gen Z do not know a world without broadband, mobile phones and computers, which means that they are digital natives. They grew up on social media and spend more time looking at their personal screen than any other generation (15.4 hours a week more than any other device). Although other generations may label them as ‘addicts’ (which is not far from the truth), this ‘always on’ mentality provides two key benefits for the workforce: the obvious tech-savviness which is useful for a working era which is increasingly relying on tech, but also multitasking.
Gen Z are used to constantly switching between various apps while watching a movie, texting while eating, and online shopping while doing homework. While this ability to do multiple things at once has resulted in a shorter attention span(an average of eight seconds compared with the Millennial attention span of twelve seconds), this is suits busy work environments and the new form of job role where people are expected to cover multiple aspects of a business rather than stick to what is on their job description.
They value face-to-face communication:
All in all, iGen’ers are increasingly disconnected from human relationships.
Despite the majority of Gen Z’s communications taking place online, numerous studies have shown that Gen Z actually prefer face-to-face interactions with colleagues and managers, rather than on email or internal platforms such as Slack or Teams. This may partially be a result of their strong desire for collaboration and choice. In a study by Global Banking and Finance, it was found that Gen Z are most likely to expect a say in the way an office environment is designed (68%) compared with all other employees (54%). Similarly, Gen Z are the most likely to want to work with a variety of people, with 70% saying it is important to them to work with colleagues of different ages and differing levels of experience – compared with 57% of all employees. It seems as though the benefits of integration Gen Z have found on the internet has resulted in their desire for integration in the working world too.
They view diversity as the norm:
They have no patience for inequality based on gender, race, or sexual orientation.
As a result of social changes and explosion of social media, Gen Z are incredibly inclusive. With the possibility of having friendships and relationships with people from virtually any part of the world, and international injustices not only being accessible but constantly present on almost any online platform, it is no surprise that Gen Z are often branded as the most supportive of social equality. In an Ernst & Young survey of Gen Zers, respondents said they most value employers that provide equal opportunity for pay and promotion, along with opportunities to learn and advance professionally. Generation Z are invested in inclusive work environments, with 77% saying a company’s diversity would be a deciding factor.
They expect their mental well-being to be a priority:
iGen is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decades. On the surface, though, everything is fine.
Despite the scaremongering stories we often see on the media, the world is generally safer than it was ten, fifteen, even twenty years ago. Murder, poverty, and disease epidemics are all at their lowest rates since the start of the 21st century. Harvard professor Steven Pinker stated “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time… we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence”.
But a different world provides a different kind of threat. Gen Z are 21% more prone to anxiety than previous generations. Despite the drop in smoking, alcohol and drug use amongst this generation, their rates of depression are still apx two-thirds higher than millennials, resulting in record numbers of self-harming, suicide, and confidence issues. Gen Z are aware of these issues amongst their generation and want their employers, along with societal institutions to help them. This may be in the form of mindfulness sessions, safe spaces, access to counselling etc. They want their mindfulness to be a priority as much as general health and safety regulations.
They want job security:
Managers who can give them some security, along with some nurturance, may well find themselves with the hardest-working group of young people to come along in a decade or even two.
While the Millennials grew up in the economic boom, Gen Z grew up in the recession. This has largely influenced the type of jobs both groups are more interested in. According to research conducted by Indeed.com, Gen Z are interested in “future-proof” jobs and job stability. They worry a lot more about debt and housing than the Millennials did when entering work, and because of this, they come across as more competitive. Willing to do what needs to be done to have a comfortable life. One aspect of this which has carried on from the Millennials is wanting a workplace which will provide then with learning opportunities. The top three factors respondents named were career advancement opportunities (95%), a manager they can learn from (93%) and professional development and training opportunities (91%).
Gen Z, in many ways, seem to be building off of the paths laid by the Millennials in terms of their love of tech, CSR and opportunities to learn. But having grown up in an age characterised by the dot-com boom and the recession, their priorities are different. Gen Z value stability in income and job security, mental health policies, and face-to-face communication despite their ‘always online’ culture.