The Newest Cohort Arrives in the Workplace.
Make way for Generation Z! Members of the newest cohort of young people are now between the ages of 9 and 22 years old, so the oldest among them are just beginning to enter the workplace. As that happens, those who will be hiring and supporting them along their career paths should prepare to welcome a generation of technologically-savvy, productive, and innovative twenty-somethings who embrace direction, feedback, collaboration, and diversity.
Who are they?
Members of Generation Z were born between the years 1997 and 2010. They are primarily the children of Generation X, and have no recollection of the 20th century. They grew up with high-speed wireless internet and smartphones, and are known as “digital natives” for their familiarity with digital technology from very young ages. Yet they are also interactive team players. A recent survey found that, “more than 90 percent of Gen Z prefer to have a human element to their teams, either working solely with innovative co-workers or with co-workers and new technologies paired together.”
The Pew Research Center finds that members of Generation Z are “more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet.” According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, “Gen Z’s are progressive and pro-government, most see the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing, and they’re less likely than older generations to see the United States as superior to other nations.” They are also significant in terms of their size. Generation Z currently represents a quarter of the world’s population, and about 20 percent of the population in the U.S.
Influenced by the pandemic
This new generation came to age with a Black man in the White House, and during a time when a woman was nominated for president. This may explain why they are more progressive and value racial and ethnic diversity more than previous generations. But Gen Zers will also be profoundly influenced by the current global COVID-19 pandemic which has turned their world upside down, causing extraordinary public health and economic pain, and exposing serious public sector failures.
As cited in a recent essay published by the Harvard Business Review:
“For the rest of their lives, the time the world stopped will be seared in Gen Z’s collective memory, a generation-defining moment that instilled deep fears about their uncertain future. Overnight, they lost their daily interactions with the teachers who trained them, coaches who mentored them, clubs that fulfilled them, and friends who sustained them through the painful ordeals of youth. Milestones such as proms, plays, athletics, and the ritual of graduation can be crucial to social and emotional development, each experience serving as a rite of passage to the next stage of life. These lifecycle markers of adolescence that were nervously anticipated and excitedly shared swiftly vanished.”
How this set of experiences manifests itself in the lives of Gen Zers as they get older is subject to conjecture, but one can only imagine that this cohort will be eager to pursue their professional passions in earnest once their lives get closer to normal.
Making the workplace Gen Z friendly
Gen Zers are authentic and care about their personal well-being. According to a 2019 Dynamic Signal survey, 39 percent value work-life balance over income and job security. They gravitate toward companies with inclusive, communal cultures.
“Building a sense of community is more important than ever. Giving employees the ability to interact and communicate with one another on a digital platform can be a vital component in helping promote a positive culture,” according to the survey report. “When Gen Zers believe they are surrounded by like-minded people who feel their effort has a purpose, work is less like a job.”
It also seems that members of this new generation of young adults are very eager to learn and continually improve their performance on the job. A study conducted by the Center for Generational Kinetics found that more than 65 percent of Gen Zers want frequent feedback from their supervisors, an even higher percentage than among millennials.
“Gen-Z does not only value frequency with feedback, but they also value measurability. This means delivering feedback to Generation-Z in a way that’s trackable. Address specific and tangible points that are as close to their behavior or results as possible in order to help them learn quickly,” advises career coach Ashley Stahl in Forbes.
The global pandemic has only exacerbated challenges facing all young people as they enter the workplace. Author and public speaker Lauren Stiller Rikleen writes in Harvard Business Review, “Research shows that Gen Zers already experience a difficult cultural transition between college and the professional world that can leave them feeling disoriented and confused. Now that their structured learning has been upended, employers and employees may need to develop greater patience with Gen Z’s adjustment to the professional world and a greater focus on intergenerational mentoring and support.”
That said, Rikleed both the significant disruption to their own lives and the pain and sorrow felt by friends and loved ones who suffered during the pandemic, Gen Zers are likely to be vigilant to the emotions of others at work,” she writes. “Companies have the opportunity to help members of Gen Z become the Next Great Generation of leaders. Having been tested at a very young age, they will bring a special blend of resiliency and humanity to the workplace.”
Employers may wish to enhance some of their employee development structures to ensure that Gen Zers are well equipped to work their way up the career ladder. A recent report from Deloitte on Generation Z in the workforce underscores the need for companies and organizations to adopt a “different mindset” when recruiting, hiring, and developing Gen Zers. “To attract Gen Z, employers must be ready to adopt a speed of evolution that matches the external environment,” the report concludes. “That means developing robust training and leadership programs, with a real and tangible focus on diversity.”
Finally, employers will, in many cases, need to reimagine their business operations to appeal to Gen Zers’ social consciousness.
“To win the hearts of Generation Z, companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens. And actions speak louder than words: Companies must demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges such as sustainability, climate change, and hunger,” write the authors of the Deloitte report on Gen Zers in the workplace.
The coming years will be interesting ones in the life sciences and elsewhere, as Generation Z makes its way onto and up the career ladder. It will grow in size over time to become the largest cohort in the workplace, so employers must begin preparing now to welcome them with open arms.