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Should Millennials prepare for Generation Z in the workplace?

November 15, 2017
Borderless Future

For the past decade or so, baby boomers, Gen Xers, and just about anyone writing about business or social trends has enjoyed getting to capitalize on the impending arrival of the millennial generation.

Depending on who you ask, millennials are born somewhere between the 1980s and the early 2000s, they grew up with technological access, and have both annoying and amazing qualities like a sense of entitlement, familiarity with technology, limited coping skills, and a desire to do social good.

But now that we’re nearing the end of 2017, the next demographic cohort—generation Z—is starting to enter adulthood. The generation is still a tenuous one, but it’s distinct from the millennial generation, and demographers estimate its beginning sometime between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. By that definition, the earliest members of generation Z are already graduating from college and entering the workforce.

So should millennials, who currently dominate the workforce, start preparing for the new generation?


First, it’s important to know how generation Z is similar to—but distinct from millennials. Generation Z bears many similarities to the millennial generation:

  • Multitasking. Both millennials and Gen Zers grew up in an era flooded with technology; they’re used to dealing with multiple screens and multiple interfaces at once, and have no trouble multitasking for the sake of being more productive (or is it because they’re impatient?).
  • High demands. Millennials are often categorized as being entitled and selfish, but generation Z may have similarly high demands. According to one study by Ernst and Young, generation Z has higher expectations of brands and retailers; if they don’t feel appreciated, they move onto a competitor, with little regard for brand loyalty. However, it’s worth noting that this survey compared millennial adults with generation Z teenagers, and could be attributable to a mere age gap.
  • Ire of previous generations. Already, there are articles emerging about generation Z being like millennials but “worse,” and like every generation that came before them, it’s inevitable that they’ll bear the ire of previous generations. Soon, millennials will start getting less and less criticism, and generation Z will catch more and more—at least until the successors of generation Z come along.

How Generation Z Differs

However, generation Z has some very distinct philosophies, needs, and approaches:

  • Security. The Great Recession had an impact on both the millennial generation and generation Z, but here’s the difference; the Recession hit millennials right as they entered the workforce, resulting in mass unemployment (and then, pessimism). Gen Zers were kids when the Recession hit, and most likely saw the effects of the economic crash through their parents’ eyes. Accordingly, they may seek more job security, and more practical gains than millennials, who prefer employers with strong ideologies instead of a higher paycheck.
  • Independence. Generation Z tends to think more independently than the millennial generation. Only 64 percent of Gen Zers are considering getting an advanced degree, compared to 71 percent of millennials, and studies suggest they’re relying on themselves to make decisions and advance in life. Generation Z may therefore prefer to have independent, closed-off workspaces, rather than the big, open, collaborative environments that millennials love.
  • Entrepreneurship. Compared to millennials, generation Z is more entrepreneurial; only 11 percent of millennials want to start a business, compared to 17 percent of Gen Zers. This makes them potentially more adept at problem solving and more adaptable than their millennial counterparts; they may also be willing to accept more roles if it means the possibility for advancement.
  • Real digital immersion. Millennials bore witness to the gradual transition from agonizingly slow dial-up internet to today’s hyper-connected reality. Generation Z is made of true “digital natives,” who grew up in a digitally connected world. That means they’re even more familiar with technology, and more accustomed to adapting to new updates, apps, and features.

Should Millennials Prepare?

So do millennials need to prepare for the onset of generation Z? As always, there are massive gray areas:

  • Demographers still don’t know where generation Z begins, which means you might already be working with some Gen Zers, or you might not have to work with them for years to come.
  • Generation Z qualities are averages, and therefore aren’t applicable to every member of generation Z you meet.
  • Preparatory steps you take could feasibly apply to everyone, if your main goals are improving team dynamics and responding flexibly to new employees.

Generation Z will be an interesting one to see develop, but we’re too early in the game to make any definitive statements about these workers as they enter the workforce. Still, it pays to observe these generational traits as they continue to emerge, and adjust your approach in business to accommodate the most diverse range of employees, partners, and clients.

By Larry Alton

Source: Forbes

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