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Great Expectations: Generation Z

Posted by: Nika White on Monday, May 21, 2018

If you think all the research and media dissecting Millennials (Generation Y) has prepared you for Generation Z, you might need to think again. Gen Z was born roughly between 1996 and 2010. That means the high school and college graduates showing up in our social media feeds this month are in the first waves of Generation Z to enter the workforce.

But do we really know who they are?

While there’s not nearly as much information on Gen Z as their Millennial predecessors, it’s become clear they’re a distinct group whose traits we should learn. Why does this matter? As our workplaces become increasingly diverse, the more we learn about each other’s differences, the better. Deeper understanding about distinct groups not only helps organizations foster individual success, but also leverage the assets difference can create.

What do we know about Generation Z?

This group sometimes goes by a few different names, including iGeneration, and Post-Millennials. In total, there will be two billion of them worldwide. Some previous generations assume Gen Z will behave pretty much like Millennials… They’re wrong. Here is a rundown of notable differences, compiled from multiple sources.*


*Inc., Growing Leaders, Huffington Post, and Getting Gen Z.

What can bosses expect from them?

Gen Z tends to be early starters into the workforce. This results from the confluence of some of the characteristics listed above: less value on expensive formal education, a realistic streak, and a desire to co-create the world around them. So, we are working with them at a younger age we did Millennials.

Because Gen Z grew up during a recession that put parents out of work or left them under-employed, the young people place high value on employment. They’re likely to feel lucky to have a job, making them more loyal to employers. As consumers, they are much more driven by the perceived value than by brands, which is partly a reflection of how much they value their incomes.

The drive to keep jobs, coupled with a strong independent streak, might make them more competitive in the workplace, where Millennials are more collaborative. At the same time, loyal Gen Z sees security in having multiple income streams, or “side-hustles.” That means employers might need to manage competition, while also loosening restrictions on outside employment.

What about Gen Z diversity?

This generation is also interesting to look at in terms of diversity. Not only are they the most diverse age group in America, but they’re also the most inclusive. They are less likely to label others and are more accepting of fluid identities. That’s also how they expect to be treated. So, in communicating with Gen Z employees, we should be thoughtful about using labels they’re likely to reject.

The implications for Gen Z recruitment and retention harken back to other groups. Employers must ensure hiring managers are aware of the difference between Millennials and Gen Z, just like the different experiences and strengths of men and women, or majority and minority groups.

Like those other groups, Gen Z want to define themselves. To that end, I’ll close with a few videos that will allow them to speak for themselves. This Washington Post video highlights some of their views on technology. This New York Times piece gives some (often witty) insight into what Gen Z thinks of the Gen Z label itself. Finally, a video from HR firm Randstad asks two generations questions about Gen Z. It’s hilarious, but also thought-provoking about how wide the understanding gap is.

In the shifting workplace, you want to be sure you’re standing on the right side of that gap.


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