Gen Z Set to Make Its Mark

March 29, 2017

Gen Z Set to Make Its Mark

Generation Zthe iGenerationis up, and like previous generations before them, they're bringing their own worldview into focus. In Part I, we learned who this cohort is. In Part 2 of our interview, Gen Xer David Stillman and his son, Gen Zer Jonah, describe what to expect from these digital natives.

How should employers react to the fact that 75 percent of Gen Z wish their current hobby could become their full-time job?

David: This is a big concern. Gen Z is very entrepreneurial. Ideally, leaders will find ways for Gen Z to own their projects and become more entrepreneurial. However, a lot of Gen Zers figuring out how to create security on their own will pursue hobbies that can generate income on the side. The difference with this generation is that they won’t see getting a job or pursuing these income generating hobbies as an either/or. They will likely try to do both. Sure, this happened with other generations, but it was kept on the down low and referred to as moonlighting. Today it is known as a side hustle. From Uber driving to selling stuff online and beyond, Gen Z will for sure have side hustles.

Jonah: The first comment everyone makes is that if they hire my generation, there is no way it is OK to be pursing an outside work opportunity when we are employed nine to five. This seems fair; however, who works from nine to five anymore? If it's not OK to work on outside projects during the day, then why is it OK for my day job to email and expect answers after five? If a Gen Zer is not getting their job done because he or she is too busy during the day working on something else, that’s a problem. But, if we are getting our job done efficiently and effectively, there shouldn't be a problem. We believe those workplaces that can handle our side hustles will find increased retention and loyalty amongst Gen Z.

Gen Z’s independent nature doesn’t work in an open office. Thirty-five percent would rather share socks than an office space.

How is Generation Z different from the generations that precede them?

David: The key here is the word “different.” Where leaders have gotten into trouble with the generations in the past is when they try to debate who is better, worse, right, or wrong. The problem is that they never get an answer and only build more gaps between the generations. Those leaders who instead accept that it is not about which generation is better, worse, right, or wrong and instead embrace how each generation is different, are the ones who always win the recruitment and retention game.

Jonah: Our biggest difference will be our independent and competitive nature. Workplaces have become so used to Millennials collaborative style that this will throw them off—or even worse, have them accusing us of not being team players. Take something as simple as office space. Collaborative Millennials have pushed for open office concept where they can all work together. Gen Z’s independent nature doesn’t work in an open office. Thirty-five percent would rather share socks than an office space.

Where does Generation Z find common ground with earlier generations?

David: Gen Z will find common ground with all the generations. Like the Millennials, they will continue to push for as much transparency as possible at work as well as career paths that can move at a fast pace. Being that they were raised by Xers, there will be a natural connection and understanding—especially when it comes to Gen Z’s desire to work at their own pace and in their own space. As for Boomers, if any generation is going to love Gen Z’s competitive spirit, it’s the 80 million Baby Boomers who have always felt pressure to keep up with the Joneses.

Jonah: Our Gen X parents drilled into us that our opinions aren’t always the best and that we have a lot to learn from others. Because of this, we will be very open to being mentored. It’s never easy to be the youngest or newest employee, but because we know we have to start at the bottom and are not delusional about what it will take, hopefully that will create the common ground we need to be accepted and get ahead. Where Millennials came across as feeling the job was lucky to have them… we feel we are lucky to have the job. Seventy-six percent of Gen Z said we are willing to start at the bottom and work our way up. Paying dues is back on the radar!

Where Millennials came across as feeling the job was lucky to have them… we feel we are lucky to have the job.

What will be the most common conflicts to arise between Generation Z and other generations in the workplace and how should managers prepare and respond?

David: A big conflict will be talking to Gen Z about career paths. Millennials paved the way for pushing career paths to advance at a much faster pace. Gen Z will continue to push for fast advancement; however, it will go way beyond just pace. As mentioned, Gen Z suffers from FOMO, the fear of missing out. Because they can see on their social media feeds what everyone else is doing at all times, they will want to pursue multiple paths at the same time. In fact, 75 percent of Gen Z would be interested in a situation where they could have multiple roles within one place of employment. It will make complete sense to them to work in marketing two days a week and product development the other three. Ideally, managers can figure out a way to offer multiple career paths, but if they can't, creating environments where Gen Z can be exposed to as many roles as possible will be critical. Initiatives like rotation programs will hit a home run with Gen Z because they'll get to feel as though they are working in many areas and therefore not fear they are missing out on anything.

Initiatives like rotation programs will hit a home run with Gen Z.

Jonah: Another conflict that will arise with my generation is around communication. We are truly the emoji generation. Where other generations think in words, we often think in symbols. The problem is that traditional communication on the job has been about being very clear and concise with what you want to say. It was about being black and white with not a lot of room for gray. With the use of emojis, there will be a lot more room for interpretation and ambiguity. For example, let’s say I sent my boss an email that said, “I sent the proposal to our client” and put a tears-of-joy emoji at the end. What if my boss didn’t know what that emoji meant? My boss might think I was sweating, crying, or there was a problem.

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Next: Part 3: Generation Disruptor

The Authors: 

David Stillman (Gen Xer) is the coauthor of the bestselling books When Generations Collide, The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace, and Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace. He has contributed to Time, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today, and has been featured as a generational expert on CNN, CNBC, and the Today show. Stillman has been named one of the “200 to Watch” by Business Journal.

Jonah Stillman (Gen Zer) is a 17-year-old high school senior and currently the youngest speaker on the circuit. He was a nationally ranked alpine snowboarder and has served as an ambassador for the international nonprofit WE, traveling to Kenya and Ecuador to build schools. Jonah provides companies and organizations a unique perspective on our next generation gap. He is the coauthor of Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace.