Last Monday, we hosted the Tapping Into Talent Symposium in partnership with the Catawba County EDC, K-64, Catawba Valley Community College and Lenoir-Rhyne University. We brought together leaders in business and education to spotlight local resources and best practice efforts by companies in the region regards to talent attraction, retention and development. Topics included work-based learning (apprenticeships, internships, etc.), engaging the next generation of talent, organizational culture and concluded with a keynote talk titled “Generation Z at Work” by Meghan Grace, generational researcher, author of Generation Z: A Century in the Making & Generation Z Goes to College.
Generation Z is composed of those born between 1995 and 2010, which means that the youngest are around 9 years of age and the oldest, 24. We’ve spent a lot of time researching and evaluating the millennial generation (born 1981-1996), but Meghan Grace says it’s imperative to turn some of the attention to our current and future co-workers, the Gen Zers. Meghan pointed out that this new generation has a lot in common with millennials, but by and large they are different. I’d like to share a handful of their attributes from her research:
1. Gen Z values stability and security.
Our worldview and value system is molded in part by what we’ve experienced or seen others experience. From the Great Recession, to the college debt crisis, polarity and divisiveness in the political landscape, to mass shootings and other global tragedies where first person accounts and media coverage can easily be accessed through the internet, these young people have been exposed to a lot of instability.
While millennials are often seen as more idealistic, and more motivated by purpose than a paycheck, Generation Z may lean more toward security and money. This is a pragmatic generation — they care about making a difference, but are ultimately motivated by ensuring they have a secure life outside of work. More of them are skipping traditional higher education and opting to earning stackable certifications or credentials. Therefore, if you’d like to recruit them and retain them, make sure you’re offering a competitive wage and opportunities to further develop and advance.
2. Gen Z values equity and inclusion.
It seems the idea of taking on the world and leaving it better than you found it is common among all generations. Gen Z has already shown the world that they have the potential to be the most influential generation of all time when they rallied the most attended activist protest in American history, the “March for Our Lives” movement. Grace says this is the most ethnically diverse generation yet with 49% of their generation identifying as non-white and they believe that equity and inclusion to be one of the most important issues of today. They aren’t afraid to discuss cultural and societal issues and they have a powerful global mouthpiece to gain influence and support via the internet and social media.
Millennials were known as the “me-centric” generation, where Gen Zers are “we-centric.” It seems to me that companies would do well to use Gen Z as the guidepost for creating more inclusive and diverse workplaces.
3. Gen Z is entrepreneurial.
Grace stated that Generation Z is more likely to want to start a business than the generation before them. Meghan Grace called it the “Zuckerberg Effect” --- they’ve come to the realization that if you have a little grit, propensity for risk-taking, an idea, laptop and internet, you’re well on your way to creating the next transformational empire. If you can’t find your dream job, create it. The “gig economy” is altering the way that people view and perform work – a Gen Z has the mindset that they can work a full-time job and then go home and bring in some extra coin with their “side hustle.”
These young people with a natural entrepreneurial mindset can make great employees. They are likely to soak up as much knowledge as they can and take on many different challenges. Grace says companies who optimize their return on this generation challenge them with “intrapreneurship” --- give them a problem, a rather lengthy distance and allow them to solve it. Whether it’s in the product innovation and design space or organizational development and internal processes, put their entrepreneurial mindset to work for your good.
4. Gen Z craves face-to-face communication.
This may come at a shock if you are a parent, relative of mentor to a Gen Zer due to the fact that they love their technology, but Generation Z likes to communicate face-to-face. As matter of fact, they crave it. In ranking order, Grace stated that they prefer face-to-face communication, then texting and email and phone conversations round out in last place. She pointed out that the technology they’ve grown up with (FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Snapchat) has allowed them to communicate with a full range of sound and motion, instead of just text. They feel that they’re able to make more meaningful connections with their friends or family. She even said, “Virtual Chilling” is on the rise which consists of group “FaceTiming” with friends that are all in separate locations.
Employers, Grace said to directly communicate how you expect them to communicate in the workplace, but be prepared for regular in-person meetings or Skype/Zoom meetings with your Gen Z employees. She also encouraged educational leaders to incorporate how to craft a professional email and email etiquette in their curriculum since they will be required to adapt to this form of communication in their professional setting for the foreseeable future.
5. Gen Z are true digital natives.
Most people know Millennials as the first “digital generation” but they actually grew up in a world full of fax machines, overhead projectors, dial-up internet and phones with cords. They have seen technological advance over their lifetime at a rapid pace, but have had to acclimate themselves to these advances along with the generations to their senior. Gen Z, on the other hand, has been living in a world of smartphones, free Wi-Fi and wearable tech for as long as they can remember. Grace stated that two-thirds of this generation report multitasking across multiple devices, as many as five, throughout a typical day.
For employers and educational leaders seeking to engage this generation, know that their relationship with technology is instinctual. Gen Z will expect and often require access to multiple technology solutions and devices as tools to get their work done. However, know that as I mentioned above, above all, they crave a relationship with you and others around them.