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Generation Y

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: Avoid Being Black-Balled While Giving Out Pink Slips

I recently gave a presentation on the importance of recruiting and retaining younger generations in the workforce when someone in the audience raised his hand in vehement protest.

I recently gave a presentation on the importance of recruiting and retaining younger generations in the workforce when someone in the audience raised his hand in vehement protest.He assured me that concerns regarding younger generations in the workforce were no longer relevant. “All bets are off”, he said, because the economy is in dire straights and younger generations will have to go back to kissing up and climbing corporate ladders.Not so fast! For starters, the economic mess we’ve found ourselves in is not a permanent situation. And it certainly isn’t going to stop people from aging.Forty percent of our workforce will be eligible to retire in 2010. Whether all 40% retire at once, or stagger their retirements throughout the next several years, that percentage will continue to increase with each passing year.Meanwhile, more Ys will enter the workforce. In fact, by 2011 Ys will likely outnumber the Boomers, and we know Ys will support the Xers in their quest for leadership and change.The economy might be in the toilet, but all bets are certainly not off.Further food for thought: whether it happens sooner or later, the exodus of the Boomers from the workforce will leave a talent gap in their wake. Yes, Generation Y is the largest generation but they span ages 26-14. It’s going to be a while until those 14 year olds can catch up and take the reigns vacated by Boomers.Even now it’s critical that employers start preparing for the talent gap, realizing that in the not-too-distant future they will need to compete for talent. How your company handles its hiring processes and layoffs when times are tough, can influence its position when times are prosperous.The once-private process of giving pink slips is becoming increasingly public, whether a firm likes it or not. Know that layoffs will be blogged about, live-tweeted, Facebook’ed – ever more the reason to make sure your communication is sharp. Consider this:

Jerry Yang, founder and CEO of Yahoo!, sent out a memo (all in lowercase letters) about the company’s mass layoffs of 1,500 employees. The event made news because employees Twittered about their experience. One employee posted a series of roughly 20 ‘tweets’ detailing his laying-off experience.Shortly thereafter, the board fired Yang. Some critics assume that Yang’s casual approach to the cutbacks, which received widespread negative attention, spurred the board’s decision to eliminate Yang.One of the first things’s chief executive did when he laid off 125 people was Twitter and blog about it. Likewise, the VP of HR at Thomas Nelson blogged about a job cut of 50 people, first to explain the situation, and then to address rumors related to the cuts.Each of these tales show we’re in a new era of transparency and outreach because of technology. Be ready. All bets are not off, so don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. It–they–will soon be here.

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 out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be 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 largely 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, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that 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 much 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 for 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, mostly 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, Xers came of age during a time 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. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials 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 successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to 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 is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to 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. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. 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 a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both 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.

Both 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.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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