You see it everywhere. From magazines to social media and back again, everyone is still talking about Millennials. What are their behaviors, their tastes, their preferences? Will they be voting in large numbers? How many will get married and have kids? We’re intensely focused on how they have transformed everything from society to the workplace, and coming-of-age right alongside revolutionary technology. Our fixation on Gen Y is understandable given that this is the largest generational cohort to come along since the Baby Boomers, who also changed everything in their wake.
So tied to youth in our minds, the word “Millennial” has really become synonymous with young person. Yet, what many may not realize is that the oldest millennial is 37 years old right now. That’s right. The rival generation to Baby Boomers is having babies and settling down in the suburbs. So who is the youngest generation right now? It’s Gen Z, and they’re growing up fast. So much energy has been spent on understanding and adapting to Gen Y that their younger siblings have gotten shorted. Now, the generation born after 1997 is graduating college and joining the workforce. Is your organization ready?
The high-velocity workforce has been ramping up while Gen Z has been growing up. These young people are entering a world of work that has been turbocharged by both technology and efficiency. The gig economy has blossomed as a response to impersonal corporate jobs, yet the struggle is real. If you’re Z, making enough bank to pay back your student loans AND order GrubHub with your roommates – because who can afford to live alone? – is part of your daily reality. Living in the wake of disruption has its advantages, though. The generation of 61 million strong – larger than Gen X – is work-ready.
Growing up as true “digital natives,” there wasn’t a time when digital technology wasn’t part of their daily lives. This means instant gratification is part of the communications style of this generation. Texting and chats are in. Email is out. That doesn’t mean that companies who use email to communicate with clients should adopt a more informal style for outgoing, corporate communications YET. But it does mean that long, lingering text-based update newsletters sent around via email chain probably won’t get fully read. For important updates, the old journalism adage holds true: don’t bury your lede in paragraph three.
It also means that adopting new methods for communicating internally may have benefits. Emojis, for example, capture way more emotion than typing out the same words. Virtual versions of self, like Bitmoji avatars, can be both inclusive and informative. Managers should look at ways to communicate holistically with visuals to enhance productivity and engagement. Collaboration tools like Slack can also be used to be big benefit for teams, but don’t slack on interpersonal communication. Gen Z likes clarity of communication with many even embracing face-to-face interaction, after so much screen time.
Thinking that the shifts your organization undertook to successfully adapt to Millennials will set you up for success with Gen Z? That would be a mistake. While they may have the same level of practical skills as Gen Y – digital, social savvy – their outlook and approach to work may be much different than their predecessors. Growing up in the wake of the 2008 economic crash and raised by helicopter parents, Z craves independence and is a self-starting, internally-motivated member of the workforce. The pace of change has reached a fever-pitch for technology, but the confident Z worker is up to the challenge.
And it’s not just current day advances that Z has to be ready for, the rapid pace of change in their short lives means that this generational cohort must continually learn and adapt. According to Joseph Couglin, senior contributor on innovation to Forbes, “The half-life of education is perhaps shorter than any previous generation placing Gen Z at a higher risk for professional obsolescence in fewer years than even the Millennials … Continuous learning and skills building is no longer the hallmark of the high achiever; it is now the required behavior of the workplace survivor.”
For intuitive, flexible leaders, managing and interacting in the workplace should be a natural progression. Serenity Gibbons covering startups for Forbes says, “Gen Zers want to contribute and be heard, so make sure your culture is directed at this level of participation ... The fact that Gen Zers are more aspirational in their career goals means you have the advantage of finding flexible talent.” Companies with a strict and formal corporate structure will have the most difficulty adapting to Z. For many, the reality is that most thriving organizations have already implemented a more personalized, human-centered, individual approach to successfully collaborating across multiple generations – Boomers, X and Y. Next up: Z.
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