Let’s Spill the Tea on Generation Z: 5 Things You Need to Know Right Now

ITA Group
ITA Group

Group of Generation Z employees

According to Google Trends, the popularity of the term “millennials” has exploded in the past three years.

And it’s no wonder. The millennial generation—defined by Pew Research as people as born between 1981 and 1997—hit full stride in the workforce in the past few years.

Currently, there are five generations in the workplace:

  • Traditionalists, born between 1930–1945
  • Baby Boomers, born between 1946–1964
  • Generation X, born between 1965–1980
  • Millennials, born between 1981–1997
  • Generation Z, born after 1997

According to PwC, by 2020, millennials will make up 50% of the workforce. But as quickly as millennials swept into the workforce, another even larger generation is arriving: Generation Z. And they are position to be a disruptive factor in the workplace.

They’re more diverse (in every way), more technologically advanced and, while millennials and members of Generation Z are close in age, their belief systems are stunningly different.

Generally speaking, Generation Z tends to be more independent, and they view their world with a healthy dose of skepticism—something their Generation X manager may appreciate (but that their Gen X parents would certainly appreciate), but a trait that group-minded baby boomers and millennials may misunderstand.

How people, managers and HR leaders engage this new batch of professionals will determine whether they create an amazing organizational culture that benefits both employee and employer—or if they completely miss the mark.

How will your company adapt? Here are five things HR leaders and department managers need to know about Generation Z:

1. They’re Pragmatic Entrepreneurs

Being raised in the shadow of the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, and by Generation X parents who passed along their street-smart sense of self-reliance, Generation Z has become a very pragmatic, entrepreneurial generation. They’ve seen challenging financial issues first-hand from at a young age: the loss of a parent’s job, a foreclosure or the inability for a sibling to find work after college graduation, for instance.

They don’t want to take chances on a self-fulfilling career (34%) path that could lead them into debt, instead preferring financial security (66%). They understand they will need to work hard to get what they want. Shows like “Shark Tank” have inspired members of Generation Z to look at entrepreneurship favorably. They’ve also seen how technology can be leveraged to create exciting—and lucrative—business opportunities with relatively low overhead. So it makes perfect sense they’d like to be in charge of their own career. And the statistics reflect that:

  • A recent study found that 61% of high school students would like to be an entrepreneur, compared to 43% of college students.
  • The same study found that 72% would like to start a business someday, compared to 64% of college students.
  • 46.9% say their school offers classes in how to start and run a business, according to a Gallup report.
  • 58% of Generation Z want to own a business one day and 14% already do, according to XYZ University.

Organizations should utilize the pragmatic, entrepreneurial spirit of their Gen Z team members so they can flourish within their employer’s walls. It’s important for employers to actively involve and engage them through intrinsic motivation such as meaningful rewards and caring for their work-life balance.

This means going lighter on more traditional command-and-control tactics and heavier on understanding individual motivations (e.g. desires for flexibility, recognition, meaning, etc.). It means avoiding micromanagement—instead building an environment where creative individuals can take chances and innovate without fear of recrimination.

2. They’re Disruptive in the Best Ways

Raised during the most disruptive decade in history has taught them that change—real, significant change—is entirely possible. It’s also taught them the world has many flaws. As a result, Gen Zers are geared toward fixing, changing and creating new solutions and opportunities in hopes of finding a better way to do things.

According to Josh Miller at XYZ University, “To Gen Z, disruption is the norm. We’ve been exposed to global flaws and issues our entire lives, giving us the ability to understand the problems that need to be solved. We’re also skeptical, challenging preconceived notions about how the world should work. This leads to innovation, problem-solving and new ideas.”

Given that Gen Z represents a quarter of the U.S. population, and is even more significant worldwide, their influence will be massive, and companies should be preparing now for the disruptive days to come.

3. There Are a Lot of Them

Just this past year, millennials outpaced baby boomers as the largest generation. But that won’t last long. Gen Z is a very large group and will surpass their boomer and millennial counterparts in numbers very quickly.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than a quarter of America’s population belongs to Generation Z. And, with each birth—approximately 360,000 global births per day—they’re getting bigger. It’s expected that 36% of the global population will come from Gen Z as early as 2020.

4. They Like SnapChat—But They Love Face-to-Face

Even though Generation Z is the first fully digital generation, they want human elements at work. In fact, 72% of Generation Z want to communicate face-to-face at work. When the topic of discussion is important to them, they want to see transparency, authenticity and truthfulness which are all much easier to ascertain face-to-face.

Knowing this, it makes sense they’d prefer Snapchat over some of the other available social apps. In this way Snapchat kind of mimics face-to-face interaction: once a conversation happens it’s gone, and if you weren’t there then you missed it. A conversation with a friend on Snapchat feels more like actually being present with them than most other social media. Plus, temporary messages relieve the pressure to always be proper and always look perfect—further driving the feeling of authenticity.

Engaging with Gen Z requires a balance between traditional interactions (face-to-face) and online social engagement. Both are important and Gen Z needs to feel satisfied in both ways to become fully engaged.

Group of Generation Z employees talking at work

5. They’re Interested in Meaningful Social Change

Perhaps more than others before them, Generation Z has a chance to change the world for the better—and they’re taking it.

Seventy-seven percent of high school students are either extremely or very interested in volunteering to gain work experience compared to 63% of college students.

On top of that, more than a quarter of 16-to-19-year-olds are currently volunteering, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, and 60% of Generation Z want jobs that have a social impact, compared with 31% of millennials.

In general, Generation Z wants to be part of designing solutions to the problems they face, whether that means volunteering for the cause or something greater. Social media allows them to have a voice in our political system even before they can legally vote. Just look at the 16-year-old climate change warrior, Greta Thunberg, who kicked off a political movement around climate change when she skipped school and protested outside the Swedish parliament.

So, what does all this mean for employers?

The importance of community, both inside and outside your corporate walls, will grow along with Generation Z. In turn, the case for holistic employee wellbeing and corporate sustainability will become more compelling. In the very near future, it will be very important as employer and employee work together to build whole and sustainable companies.

While the differences Generation Z will continue to bring to the workforce, it’s important to keep in mind there are also a lot of shared traits across all generations. Namely disengagement. Take a look at what you need to know in order to create an engaging environment at work for everyone.