As Millennials are growing up and moving into the real world, the fuss about “kids these days” has shifted to Generation Z. Will this generation “ruin” whole industries like Millennials reportedly did? Most importantly, how can this generation of digital natives possibly fit into the working world?
Gen Z consists of people born from the mid-’90s and later. Their media consumption, not surprisingly, exists mostly via their smartphones, and the social media channels they prefer differ from those of Millennials. This generation, considered cause-driven and cause-motivated, is 60 million strong and growing, according to a 2016 Monster survey. Business Insider reports that this generation is also the most inclusive and diverse one we’ve seen. The Chicago Tribune calls Gen Zers “entrepreneurial yet pragmatic.”
So the worries that Gen Z will “ruin” industries are, by and large, unfounded. In fact, business leaders positioned to hire members of Gen Z will actually reap numerous rewards by bringing younger team members on board. Gen Zers are highly familiar with technology, and they’ve been raised knowing how to mine for information themselves. The independence that comes with this open access to tech also makes them entrepreneurial.
Gen Zers are also used to multitasking and willing and able to adapt to change. They are quick to take on new skill sets and are cause-driven. Adding this younger cohort to a team not only brings in those qualities, but it also helps that team connect with younger consumers and stay up-to-date on trends. Millennials and Gen Z together make up 48 percent of the media audience in the U.S., according to the Nielsen Total Audience Report, so keeping current can make all the difference for a company.
Joining forces with the youngest generation in the workforce is going to require some adjustments for older business leaders. Leadership and communication styles, in particular, do not always translate well across a generational divide. Here are five ways to prepare any workplace for Gen Z to produce a thriving team:
1. Update the office.
Gen Z is used to having exceptional network connectivity. Any space created with Gen Z in mind should enable these young employees to focus on their work without any distractions in an environment that enables creativity and innovation.
And according to a Huffington Post article, despite its tech expertise, Gen Z prefers face-to-face communication with employees and bosses, so make sure the work environment allows for this. Are company leaders accessible, or are they tucked away behind closed doors in offices? Is it easy for employees to grab co-workers’ attention (whether that’s digitally or in person), or are individuals sectioned off in cubicles? Providing work flexibility and a collaborative environment will also ensure this generation will stick around.
Further, there should be space to build a community. Work Design Magazine reports that 38 percent of this generation cites opportunities for collaboration in the workplace as vital. The rest prefer to work independently. This distinction in preference should be accommodated.
2. Learn to coach — not micromanage.
Micromanaging stifles creativity and slows down productivity. But managers who know how to coach employees by giving helpful feedback and creating opportunities to innovate can get the best out of younger workers. In fact, according to a study by Universum, 33 percent of Gen Zers are afraid that they will underperform in their careers, so feedback is a priority for them.
This mentoring approach doesn’t have to wait until Gen Z enters the workforce. Wake Forest University, for example, has developed a group mentoring program for its alumni in several cities, helping them learn to cope with challenges in their professional and personal spheres. The program also helps college seniors who are nearing graduation by introducing them to alumni and fellow students at networking roundtables.
Implementing a mentorship program at your company isn’t tough to do. In fact, it’s likely that some of your tenured staff — especially Millennials — will be willing and ready to serve as mentors for your Gen Z employees. Use your tenured teammates to your advantage.
3. Communicate company values.
Company values should be evident from the moment a job is posted. If they’re not on the job description itself, make sure candidates can find them on your “About” page in just a click or two. Doing so helps Gen Zers know what you stand for as early as possible.
But being transparent about values shouldn’t stop there. Managers should help employees understand how they fit into that framework by clearly demonstrating in reviews (or even casual conversations) how their individual work contributes to a larger goal. And at the highest level, business leaders should build their company culture upon their vision, social purpose and greater mission. Company decisions should be based on that culture and be made consistently.
While brand stories have always played a role in attracting employees and customers, mission statements are especially important when it comes to Gen Z workers. In a 2016 study, EY found that two-thirds of Generation Z reported equal pay and promotion — regardless of race or gender — as major parts of whether to trust employers.
4. Define their sandbox.
Once the parameters have been set, let these digital natives go wild with creativity. After growing up with endless knowledge at their fingertips, Gen Zers are likely to think big. Defining guidelines empowers the whole team while helping them function efficiently. In the aforementioned Monster survey, 76 percent of Gen Zers said they feel in control of their own career paths, and 49 percent hope to become business owners.
This generation also prioritizes moving for the right job (67 percent would do so) and working outside the 9-to-5 if it paid more (58 percent were in favor). This generation is ambitious, to say the least, but guidance from more experienced leaders can help them stay on the right track without moving outside of the company comfort zone.
5. Learn from them.
While Gen Zers have a lot to learn from older co-workers and leaders, they also have plenty to teach. Gen Z is one of the largest customer demographics in the country, making up 25.9 percent of the population and controlling $44 billion in the U.S. economy.
The social media techniques that work on Gen Xers and Millennials won’t work for most Gen Z-focused campaigns, nor will many traditional marketing materials. Companies housing members of this up-and-coming generation of workers are poised for marketing success if they take the time to listen.
As with all the generations before them, Gen Zers differ from their older co-workers and employers. Leaders who adapt and prepare their businesses and teams to work with Gen Z will thrive — and build a strong company along the way.
By Steve Robertson
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