Generation Z in the Workplace

Three value-adds that should excite you about your youngest coworkers.

By Kate Shipley Richey

A new class of Generation Z students will be graduating high school and college this spring, and, if you’re not already, your organization may be interviewing them soon. Generation Z has been graduating for a few years, now—this isn’t a brand-new occurrence. We are roughly seven years into working with the youngest generation, so we can be pretty confident in our observations about the value they bring to the workplace, which is significant.

It’s common for younger generations to be idealistic and optimistic as they face their future. They have their whole lives ahead of them; the world is their sustainably-sourced oyster. With Generation Z, as with every generation, there are specific moments from their collective childhood that have shaped the adults they are now becoming. From being the first completely digital generation, to watching their parents navigate the Great Recession, to sharing collective experiences specific to their cohort (like gun safety in schools), this generation has used the challenges and the fears of their youth to develop a voice that will be distinct in the office (or, in their remote home-office). Looking for these qualities in young job applicants and finding a way to channel them for the greater good of the company will help you leverage your very best and brightest new employees.

Members of Generation Z are independent learners that won’t need your hand-holding. Gone are the days of lecturing and guided trainings. Although young employees will still need to learn the ropes of your organization (and will likely want to be given specific instructions) they don’t necessarily want you to spend two hours of their day leading them through the employee handbook. This generation is more technologically savvy than any that came before it, so lean on that proclivity. Provide GenZ team members with the information they need (the handbook, company policies, portal access, and learning management system logins). Then, let them go. They prefer to learn on their own, in their own time, and when given the tools they need, they’ll do just that. Consider prompting them with first week (month, year) learning goals and a contact or supervisor to field questions, and then give them the space to search for the answers themselves. Ultimately, this generation is going to save you time.

In addition to saving you time, they might even save you money. Or, if they don’t actively save you money in their job function, they probably aren’t going to cost you any more. Generation Z grew up watching their parents and family members adjust to the Great Recession, and they’re clear and transparent about the finances involved in going to college, working multiple jobs, or owning (and keeping) a home. Generation Z is financially conscious, and they’ll want to know the numbers upfront. They know exactly how much student loan debt they have, how long it will take to pay off, and what salary or hourly rate they need to make in order to do that. They’re aware of the financial context that underlies their lives, and they’re likely to bring that savvy to their position, too. With this generation, you’re likely to see workers that view the company’s money as their own.

If they view the company’s money as their own, though, they’ll also want to share a set of values and beliefs with the organization, as well. This generation focuses on the collective We, and they expect their organization to be as clear about their values as they are. On the job, Generation Z wants to know that their work benefits the common good; they want to know that there’s a moral purpose to what they do. In this way, they’re similar to the Millennials that came before them, but where Millennials simply refused to work for organizations that didn’t match their beliefs, Generation Z workers will push an organization to choose. For companies willing to identify and share their values, this generation will be a huge boon. They’ll be your moral loudspeaker to the rest of the world. With Generation Z, wearing your values on your sleeve is the key to employee buy-in.

Generational shifts can be muddy and confusing for those who have to adapt to the changes in mentality that usually follow. Where does one generation end and the other begin? How do we know that these changes will be that prominent? Shouldn’t workers be adapting to their employer, not the other way around? Answers to these questions will become clearer and clearer as more members of Generation Z enter the workforce and make their needs and preferences known. Until then, be assured that Generation Z won’t be shy about stating their preferences, and if your organization is able to adapt, these young workers will present a positive value-add for your goals, your mission, and even your bottom line.

For more information about Generation Z, check out Generation Z Goes to College by Corey Seemiller and Plaid Associate Meghan Grace. Or, contact us to set up a training on Understanding Generation Z for your office or team.

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