The oldest members of Gen Z are still in college, and most haven’t had more serious employment than summer jobs. Yet, the next generation is already on employers’ radars. They might be planning ahead and thinking about how they will work with Gen Z because they had such a difficult time adapting to Gen Y. In fact, it’s only in recent years, as Millennials comprise the majority of the workforce, that companies are extolling their virtues. When it comes to Gen Z, however, senior workers can take solace in the fact that the young people about to burst through their doors will be highly practical and motivated employees who are prepared for their future careers.
When past generations grew up, much of their playtime was spent role playing, mimicking the adults they saw around them, from teachers to firefighters to moms and dads. Gen Z has grown up with an understanding not only of the jobs their families and neighbors do but also of those they see detailed on YouTube or reality TV shows. Their innate youthful curiosity coupled with unprecedented digital access has changed their career outlook, giving them a broader perspective than any generation before them. A young Baby Boomer would likely have had no idea there was such a job as a makeup artist (unless they knew someone firsthand who was in the field); in contrast, a young Gen Z not only knows that he or she could grow up to be a graphic designer, but, after spending a few hours on the Internet, is also aware that he or she could specialize in editorial layout, typography, or corporate branding. The possibilities seem endless, as are the online tutorials and tell-it-like-it-is blogs that help career-minded kids learn about their future trade.
Whether their passion is design or dance, math or makeup, children today have an opportunity to test their skills, practice with professional-level tools, gather feedback on their work from digital communities, and learn about the challenges they’d face if they worked in such an industry. To that end, 89% of Gen Zs spend part of their free time doing activities they consider productive rather than just hanging out. They top off this early experience with internships in high school and college. As a result, the Gen Z who walks into a job interview will likely have as many years “working in the industry” as some of the more seasoned employees they’ll be joining.
Companies may rejoice in this news, but the Gen Z workforce also brings significant challenges for their future employers, who will need to account for widely varying motivations and desires in the multigenerational work environment. While Ys and Zs have many similarities, such as their digital savvy, they also display radical differences. Whereas the workplace has finally recalibrated to accommodate Gen Y’s collaborative, team-oriented nature, it will have to evolve again to make room for Gen Z’s independent streak. And while Ys wanted a pat on the back for doing a good job, Zs will expect to be rewarded for a job well done with more work and a bigger challenge. In addition, Gen Z prefers a clearly defined chain of command, compared to Ys preference for a “flat” management structure.
HR departments will have to prepare for a new set of motivations, too. Having witnessed considerable financial instability in their formative years, Zs prize security and will be prepared to negotiate for the salary they feel they need and deserve. On the bright side, Zs’ desire for stability will extend to their preference for staying in a job for more than a year, provided that it offers room to learn new skills and advance professionally. Businesses will have to adapt their corporate cultures to make room for Gen Z as they enter the workforce, but those that do so sooner rather than later will have the opportunity to harness and retain the immense talent of this generation.