Not Another Millennial Generation: 6 Ways Gen Z Will Disrupt the Workplace
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Millennials brought changes to the work environment and marketplace. Get ready to adjust again and figure out how to balance different needs as Generation Z seeks something different from work.

For several years, attention has been centered on the Millennials, also known as Generation Y (1982-1995). This first generation of the Post-Industrial Era ushered in the computer age and wowed and perplexed the world as the largest, most diverse, and best-educated generation in history.

Workforce analysts and marketers are turning their attention to Generation Z (1996-2009)—the oldest who turned 21 in 2017—to understand better what will define and drive this next generation of workers and consumers.

XYZ University released a research paper this month on this generation, featuring the results of a global survey of 1,800 youth ages 13-21. For a deeper dive into this subject, we invite you to download Ready or Not – Here Comes Z.

One thing is quite sure from our research: Zs have little in common with their Millennial elders. While it may be easy to lump these two technology-driven generations together, it would be a mistake to think they are the same. Here are six ways Zs differ from Millennials and how this generation will likely influence your workplace.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help at home. The nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represents only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”.

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will primarily be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic. Still, they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

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Coming of age during disruption means most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed and will likely approach work in the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire to the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, primarily Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast, Boomers and Xers came of age when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness — in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. Millennials’ aversion to leadership has been so strong that they sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to defy the norm successfully. This means we will see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for and pursuit of leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood,” Gen Z shows signs of “early adulthood.” Educators and parents often describe this generation as more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are considering their career paths and exposing themselves to career training earlier than Millennials.

It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue, and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security

The aftermath of the Great Recession has shaped Zs. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented with a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.

Zs want to be challenged.

Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results, Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.

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