What you need to know about working with Gen Z, straight from the horse’s mouth.
By Kate Shipley
If you’re still calling college students Millennials, you’re an entire generation behind. The next generation is already entering the workforce, and as Generation Z grows up and joins your company it will be increasingly important to know what’s important to them.
Generation Z is the first completely digital generation, born into the digital age, never having to communicate with anything other than the tiny smart-computer they carry in their pockets. They are so digitally attuned that some researchers call them iGen. Although this may be the most obvious characteristic of the generation, it’s not the only one you should know about.
The research on this generation has already begun (we love the work being done by Cory Seemiller and Meghan Grace at thegenzhub.com), but we want you to hear some of these differences directly from Generation Z. Although one person’s opinion and experiences can rarely represent an entire generation, we found one who comes pretty darn close!
Jon Salmen is a student at the University of Louisville and a Business Development Innovation Manager for FocalPoint Coaching and Training Excellence of Kentucky. We love what Jon has to say because of his thoughtfulness and insight into his own generation, but we also want to point out some of the generational themes (that you should know about) that pop up throughout the conversation.
Q: What are you most optimistic for in the work force?
JS: The opportunity to help people and how it’s not a thankless job like everybody says. I was talking to my mom, who is a teacher, and it’s like being a teacher is thankless salary-wise. But teaching itself doesn’t have to be thankless. Some of the greatest teachers of all time are billionaires, and it’s a cool thing to see in coaching [at FocalPoint].
I like the idea of financial independence and the ability to make an impact beyond the classroom. It almost doesn’t matter what job you have; I’m lucky to involved in the coaching and training of multiple industries. I get to see the karma of it—the ability to add value and throw positive value out into the universe. It throws it back to you. It’s cool to have a values-based mission as a company, and bring it to your job, and add value to people’s lives.
The biggest theme we see appearing with Generation Z is their focus on “we.” From the get-go in our conversation, Jon honed-in on his desire to help others and add value to the lives and journeys of others. This theme is reoccurring throughout this generation, both anecdotally through Plaid’s work, and also in emerging generational research.
Q: What’s your biggest concern or point of anxiety about the work force?
JS: I relate this to everything that’s going on in a cultural sense. Negativity is the mode of existence—we’re exposed to such negative things as far as news coverage, social media, click bait. It has a cultural effect that carries over into the workforce. It’s negative, and it influences young and old people to oppose the growth mindset. It makes people think more fixed, more scarce, more local. It’s dangerous as far as an apathetic democracy and an apathetic work force.
Individuals of influence have a responsibility now more than ever to fight that in some way. The harder the negative force is, the harder the effort has to go towards being a positive force in the other direction. But people are so apathetic to it, like, how could I ever combat this? That’s where we have to try the hardest.
It’s definitely affecting this generation. We are so triggered by waking up every day and confirming our bias that the world is negative, and it carries over into the workforce. In an age of individualism when everyone is focused on me, me, me, it turns into me against the world. I actually think our generation is prone to a hedonistic approach to life: focusing on me, my pleasure, and that’s it. Getting ahead of that is really important. I really want to work for a company that’s making its stand, has a leader that aligns in a political sense with my own values of positivity, growth, optimism.
Jon’s concern about social negativity that leads to apathy is most likely directly connected to Generation Z’s experiences growing up. GenZ grew up in a world where terrorism is just a plane ride away, and where even going to school every day could be deadly.
Although other generations also experience these things, because of the young age of GenZ when these things happened, their world was shaped by fear and uncertainty. It’s this learned fear that creates a tendency to focus only on what they can control and also a desire for safety and positivity.
Q: What is something you wish you could tell older generations about your own generation (GenZ)?
JS: You’re probably going to have to swallow your pride at some point to adapt to [our] generation. We are the least ageist or authoritarian generation in history, not only politically, but we don’t blindly accept authority just because it comes from older generations. There are very few species of plants or animals on this planet that have been the same from generation to generation, and most companies have to adjust [in order to survive].
There’s no benefit to doing it the old way unless your way is a growth mindset—growth oriented, open minded, and adapted to the people working for you. Your way got you to where you are, and you’re very successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
We get called entitled and apathetic a lot. Really, we just want to be challenged. We have to have the tools and the environment to do that.
Here we see Jon pushing against the constraints of age and experience. His comments are youthful—so much so that they could have been made by any generation in its youth. Toward the end, though, he touches on another theme specific to Generation Z: their desire for challenge.
Generation Z is graduating into an economy that tells them jobs are plentiful, but competition for them is fierce. Many in this generation have worked their way through school or may own their own business. They don’t view work, business, and success in the same way as their predecessors, and Jon’s desire for challenge echoes this.
Our conversation with Jon lasted so long we couldn’t include it all in one post! We’ll share the rest next week, but if you want to contact Jon in the meantime, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.