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Move over Millennials, Gen Z is entering the workforce

Justin Lowe Feb 14, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Change is undeniable and unstoppable. One change sweeping towards the business world is the new generation of workers graduating university and taking their first steps into their future career. Gen Z is the generational cohort after Millennials. It’s defined as people born between 1995 and 2015, meaning their current age range spans the continuum from 4 to 24 (in the U.S., that’s about 74 million people at present.). Gen Z is only starting to enter the workforce, so some of the discussions on their impact and needs are slightly premature, but it’s still important to understand this cohort as they begin taking the first steps in their career. In time, they will surpass Millennials as the major working cohort. Just as every generation does to its immediate predecessor, they will push Millennials up into more managerial roles, and as Gen Z assumes execution-level and customer-facing roles, they will shift the very nature of work.

What impact will Gen Z have on business?

One important aspect of Gen Z through early research is that they’re adept learners and researchers on average, which makes sense given their birth year range. Most are both digital and social natives; even the oldest Gen Z was still a toddler when Google started. Learning-wise: 33% watch lessons online, 20% read textbooks on tablets, and 32% work with classmates online. They want to consume online media in a way previous generations haven't been which is going to have an impact on how and where businesses communicate their messages.

And think about what growing up in a technological world implies. Because they’re digital experts, they’ve spent most of their adolescence and young adulthood getting bombarded with messages from all angles. Their evolution is about cutting through the noise, and learning how to research what’s really happening. This is all reflected in common attention span stats for Gen Z: eight seconds, give or take. That will have a lot of implications for corporate messaging, branding, and internal learning opportunities within companies. We’re likely to see more compact messaging on social media channels and more self-directed learning and onboarding within organizations.

And there's another impact many Gen Zs are bringing with them. Turns out, 58% of Gen Z are “somewhat or very concerned about the future,” but they’re simultaneously do-gooders. Research shows 60% want their jobs to impact the world, 26% of 16- to 19-year-olds currently volunteer, and 76% are concerned about humanity's impact on the planet. Think about the implications of a choosy workforce who takes a company's social responsibility seriously and holds their employers to account for their corporate decisions.

Put that way, could this be the generation that saves the world?

Read more: What else does the future hold? We review AI's current applications for talent acquisition 

What's the difference between Gen Z and Millennials?

Research by the firm Altitude found a number of interesting contrasts between Millennials and Gen Z despite their age similarities, including this:

Whereas Millennials were criticized for their lack of focus, Gen Z are determined to plan ahead. Gen Z have been strongly shaped by their individualistic, self-reliant Gen X parents and they’re committed to avoiding the mistakes their meandering Millennial predecessors made. “I need a job that will come out with money, otherwise college will be a waste”, says Marcus, 17. “I want to pick a career that is stable.”

There is a growing belief among some that Gen Z might be the most entrepreneurial generation to come down the pike as they will be the generation most comfortable with technology and change so far. In reality, early signs are pointing a different direction: the younger North America entrepreneur is a dying breed, despite how we celebrate it in business journalism headlines. More of us work for big companies than almost ever before. There’s a good possibility that Gen Z will be “The Cautious Generation,” and move themselves towards careers that are harder to automate out. The focus on career and financial stability is there, given the world they've grown up in. They’ve seen their parents, Gen X, work in a time where employee and employer loyalty was steadily decreasing, and they’ve seen their closest generational peer, the Millenials, struggle for financial independence. So rather than admiring the Silicon Valley-style entrepreneur, they might decide to play it safer than we think.

How will Gen Z impact hiring?

In reality, no generational differences mean that much for hiring if you follow the inherent best practice for hiring a person. After all, the goal of any hire is to find the right person for the right role and with the help of formal assessments, structured interviews, and reference checking, a hiring manager is able to do that regardless of their candidate's age. Many Baby Boomers behave like Millennials and vice versa. Many Gen Zs will behave like Gen Xs and vice versa. Over-focusing on generational differences is positive in the sense that you understand the different cohorts and how their connection to work and technology is shifting, but every person who could be hired by you is just that: a person. Meet them one-to-one and evaluate them in the same way. That will give you the best picture of who the best future hire will be, no matter what generation they're from.

That said, as we move to five generations in the workplace and the different approaches of each age cohort evolve, using assessments to suss out different tendencies and skill sets among qualified candidates is an increasingly-logical way to focus your hiring process. And keep in mind that while hiring strategies may not  dramatically shift that much when hiring Gen Zs, their needs within the workplace is another story entirely. So long story short, will Gen Z impact hiring best practices, probably not much. Will they impact the workspace they're hired into after the interview? Absolutely.

Pro-Tip: Job hopping is the new normal. Check out these tips on how to get your workers to stick around.

Can HR bridge the generational divides?

If we know we'll soon be facing a new generational at work with different needs from their predecessors, how do we prepare? Well, there are several ideas you can leverage right off the bat. They include but are by no means are limited to:

  • Mentor programs

  • New attempts at organizational learning and develop

  • Knowledge-sharing events

  • Multiple office plans within an HQ

  • New policies on bringing extra screens to work

  • Flexible schedules and work hours
  • Trying to provide more opportunities for purposeful work

  • Trying to provide more opportunities for secure, long-term work

  • Allowing younger employees additional time to work on bigger philanthropic projects (for example, many companies are connecting with local charities to help bring the spirit of giving into the workplace)

There is no doubt the world of work is changing -- both in our connection to it (automation) and who’s inhabiting it (welcome, Millennial managers and Gen Z workers). It’s going to be a wild ride, but we’ve been through a lot of this before, so just focus on getting the best people into the right seats and take the rest of it one step at a time.

 McQuaig System

Topics: Trends, Talent Acquisition

Justin Lowe

Written by Justin Lowe

Director of Marketing and Sales