By David Stillmann and Jonah Stillman
With the next generation of workers upon us, Generation Z, or the iGeneration, has already begun to enter the workforce, and the first class of college degree holders will graduate this spring. So what does this mean for the future of work? Gen Xer David Stillman and his son, Gen Zer Jonah, describe what distinguishes this generation from previous ones and what that will all mean for employers in coming years.
What is Generation Z, and what are some of its defining characteristics?
David: Gen Z is the generation that comes after the Millennial generation. They were born between the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, so roughly 1995 to 2010. Many are surprised to hear that the leading edge is already graduating college this spring and heading to work. They are 72.8 million strong. Like all generations, Gen Z has its own unique events and conditions that have shaped them, resulting in a different outlook.
Jonah: As my dad said, we have our own unique events and conditions that have shaped us, including our parents. Where Millennials were raised by self-esteem building, optimistic Boomers, we were raised by tough-love, skeptical Xers. At a young age, we were told by our Xer parents that there are winners and losers, and that more often than not, you lose. In addition, we grew up during the Great Recession, so we’re pragmatic, independent and in survival mode when it comes to looking at our future careers. We’re also the first true digital natives. We have only known phones that are smart and have been able to get our hands on any bit of information 24/7. While this makes us very resourceful, it also creates challenges in that we suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — big time. Gen Z is always worried whether we are moving ahead fast enough in comparison to everyone else. We are definitely not the most patient generation.
Why is it important that organizations and leaders begin thinking about Generation Z now?
David: We have a golden opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive. The leading edge is just starting to enter the workplace. If leaders get to know what makes Gen Z tick today, then they can better prepare to recruit and retain them. It’s not about “out with the old and in with the new,” it’s about anticipating where the conflicts might be and how best to prepare. In the 90s, leaders were not ready for Gen X when they showed up and they paid a serious price for it. For example, Gen X entered the workplace skeptical and wanted to keep close tabs on their performance. Once a year formal feedback that worked for the Boomers was not enough for Gen X. Many Xers left their workplaces in search of companies that would give them more information more often.
Jonah: We see a lot of leaders look at someone young and assume we are all the same. Even more so, it is natural to look at someone from my generation and assume we are Millennials. The mistake is to then treat us like Millennials. If leaders do that, it will backfire again as our national studies have proven we are drastically different than the Millennials.
What will Generation Z be looking for in a workplace?
David: One thing is for sure, they will not be looking for the same things we saw Millennials look for when they started out. Millennials were all about finding meaning in their jobs and how best to make the world a better place. With Gen Z coming of age during the recession, they are putting money and job security at the top of the list. Sure they want to make a difference, but surviving and thriving are more important. The cultures that can foster that are the ones that will win the war for talent with Gen Z.
Jonah: The cultures that he is referring to will be those where we can showcase our own individual talents. Being in survival mode has made us very competitive. In fact, 72% of Gen Z said we are competitive with those doing the same job. Where Millennials had more of a collaborative mentality with everyone pitching in and working together, we are more independent and want to be judged on our own merits.
How will Generation Z transform the workplace?
David: Gen Zers are true digital natives. Ninety-one percent of Gen Z said technological sophistication would impact their interest in working at a company. As the workplace continues to figure out how best to incorporate technology, this generation will lead the way. This will not feel natural, as usually it is the older generations to lead the way. However, this is the first time we have the youngest generation as an authority figure on something really important. This will change the typical corporate hierarchy.
Jonah: More than technology, I believe my generation will bring an important entrepreneurial spirit to work. We will constantly look for ways to streamline processes and procedures. One thing we hear from a lot of Gen Zers is that we think the other generations overcomplicate things. We have grown up in a time where often the middleman has been eliminated so we will look for ways to do things more efficiently when we show up at the office. We truly are a DIY generation and will bring this mentality with us to work.
What was one of your most surprising findings?
David: With Gen Z being the true digital natives, we had assumed their preferred mode of communication was texting or via one of their social media platforms. However, in our national study, 84% of Gen Z said face-to-face is their preferred mode of communication. Having seen so many organizations and leaders called into question as well as struggle in the recent recession, Gen Z is looking for honesty above all. Only 5% of Gen Z said they were motivated by a company’s reputation. In order to find that honest and transparent workplace, they want to be able to look their leaders in the eye.
Jonah: I was also surprised to hear that so many preferred face-to-face communication. However, I found it fascinating that 61% of Gen Z said they would stay at a company for more than 10 years. We are looking for stability and opportunities to advance and are willing to stick around if we can find it. However, we won’t be motivated if those opportunities to get ahead are based on how long you’ve been in a job. That will make no sense to Gen Z. In our eyes, it should strictly be based on performance regardless if you’ve been there 3 weeks or 3 years.