For managers still trying to figure out millennials, here’s some disturbing news: the next cohort, Generation Z, is already knocking on HR’s door. With this addition to the workforce, we now have 18-year-olds and 80-somethings (and everyone in between) seeking employment. This is an unprecedented change in the workplace, but are businesses ready for it?
Generation Z includes young adults (and children) born between 1996 and 2010. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are an estimated 61 million members of Generation Z in the USA, which makes this group roughly 30% smaller than the baby boomers and the millennials and about 20% larger than Generation X. School shootings, global terrorism, the Great Recession and climate change are just a few of the major events that have shaped their lives.
Generation Z is coming of age during a time of rapidly shifting family demographics and social norms. For example, Generation Z’s era is one in which one out of seven stay-at-home parents is a father. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, largely grew up with wage-earning dads and stay-at-home moms, and many Generation Xers grew up in dual-career households.
Also, thanks in part to high rates of baby boomer divorces and remarriages and the members of Generation X entering parenthood late in life, Generation Z is the first generation whose parents come from three different generations (Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials). And much more than its predecessors, Generation Z is growing up in a time when diversity in ethnicity, lifestyles and sexuality is neither unwelcome nor merely tolerated but widely accepted.
Many of the parents of Generation Z have lived through multiple recessions, spent much of their lives in debt, experienced career disruptions and sustained periods of high unemployment. Growing up in the wake of such uncertainties, Generation Z is the realistic generation, with coping skills and resourcefulness. Unlike millennials, who were led to believe that anything was possible, the members of Generation Z have been taught to be practical and to pursue their specific strengths.
Born at about the same time as the modern-day internet, the members of Generation Z do not know a world without technology embedded into all aspects of life. They are technologically astute and comfortable with communicating at lightning speed.
What Does Generation Z Mean for Business?
Managers need to prepare their workforces for and build relationships with the youngest generation as it starts to enter the job market. Here’s how:
- Think globally. The members of Generation Z are the most socially connected, global-minded people ever to live on this planet, and they will use their connectedness to change the world. Businesses need to provide ways for them to get involved in both their local communities and the global community.
- Do not underestimate their power. Just because their faces and fingers are often glued to screens does not mean the members of Generation Z are not networking. Given the opportunity, they will tap their networks to influence brands and events to their liking. What took decades for the baby boomers to do (and undo), Generation Z can achieve in weeks — if not days or hours.
- Be ready to teach them. Traditionally, young adults gained work experience through after-school work and summer jobs. But thanks to increased automation, high unemployment and the baby boomers who are reluctant to retire, Generation Z is being shut out of these early life experiences. Employers will need to teach this young generation how to cultivate a basic work ethic — not because the members of Generation Z are lazy or unmotivated, but because they simply have little or no actual experience that would let them develop one.
- Accept their technology. To Generation Z, technology is not just a tool — it’s part of a person’s identity. The members of this generation regard their devices, gadgets and social profiles as extensions of themselves. If you try to shut them down, you may find your business shut out, too.
As with previous generations, it may take a while before Generation Z is clearly defined and well understood. Even though it’s largely an unknown phenomenon right now, one thing is certain: organizations that underestimate the value and impact of Generation Z do so at their own peril.
Ira S. Wolfe
Success Performance Solutions
Ira S. Wolfe is a nationally recognized thought leader in talent management and an expert in pre-employment assessment testing, workforce trends and social media. Wolfe is president of Success Performance Solutions, a pre-employment and leadership testing firm he founded in 1996. He is the author of several books, including Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization; The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0; and Understanding Business Values and Motivators.