Generation Z – getting most from the true digital natives


Generation Z is identified as people born after mid 1990s.

Often maligned in the media, they are characterised as being glued to their smart phones, self-centred, and lacking in a strong work ethic. Finding fault in the young generation is nothing new. Indeed, stereotyping a large group of people is a way to explore gross differences. It’s unsurprising then, that this is used in a negative context. The reality is that Generation Z are going to work differently to their predecessors, and as they form an ever-greater proportion of the workforce in the next few years, employers will have to think very differently about how they recruit, retain and unlock the potential in this group of people.

As true digital natives, Gen Zers have been comfortable with technology from an early age. This is key to understanding why they are different, and how to engage with them better. For instance, as digital marketing companies have fought for their loyalty and custom, Gen Zers have grown accustomed to a personalised and rapidly responsive experience. They expect similar from a career where they are looking for an employee experience built around development and rapid access to progression, whilst working for a socially conscious organisation.

With near constant access to the internet, Gen Zers use a variety of social media sources, mostly to develop and maintain relationships with people living in close proximity. However, they also use social media to develop a bond with people whom they may not have met otherwise. This exposure to wide and differing perspectives has enabled Gen Zers to move beyond just developing a socialised mind based on the norms and values of society around them, developing what psychologist Robert Kegan would call a ‘self-authoring mind’ – one where people establish their own identity through critical evaluation of differing perspectives. This increased level of consciousness has led to greater political and social engagement. Surveys indicate that the subject that animates Gen Z the most is equality. This is reflected in their employment choices, with 62% of graduates preferring a socially responsible and fun atmosphere at work over a high salary.

The other key area where Gen Z is different is entrepreneurialism. It’s thought that experiencing the insecurity and reduced prospects for their parents following the financial crisis of 2008 has removed some of the safety that comes with following sage advice of ‘career for life,’ or ‘employer of choice.’ Indeed, a recent survey of graduates by Accenture suggested that fewer than one quarter of graduates would prefer to work for a large organisation. This is consistent with a World Economic Forum report that predicts the majority of the workforce in the US will be freelance by 2030. This entrepreneurial spirit will serve them well in an uncertain future where, according to the World Economic Forum, skills of creativity, problem solving and critical thinking will become the most important in the next five years. They will also view their career differently from their forebears. With house prices becoming unaffordable for people in many areas, coupled with carrying the burden of student debt, Gen Zers will likely spend a long time in rented accommodation. Again, research shows that they seem likely to move for work, and that they have a high consciousness of health issues. Thus, they are likely to vote with their feet if their employment experience doesn’t meet their needs, and they are not ‘tied down’ with a mortgage.


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Recruiting and retaining the new generation

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation. Every product, experience or organisation has an online reputation to be nurtured and enhanced. Gen Zers will actively seek organisations that represent their values connected to a more socially just world.

Their tech savviness has made them aversive to clicking online adverts, so organisations will need to think differently about attracting them. However, they will consider their employee experience as beginning from the first, probably digital, moment they make contact with the organisation.

As well as a fun and socially conscious organisation, Gen Zers will look for an employer that can give them rapid access to knowledge and skills and, critically, progression. What won’t work is continuing with traditional training practices as opportunities for knowledge transfer. Gen Zers are masters at sourcing knowledge and ‘know how’ from the likes of YouTube. They will challenge why they have to sit through hours of PowerPoint slides, or online content. The key opportunity for employers is to fill the gap between knowing and doing.

Like all people, Gen Zers will struggle in the implementation of new knowledge and skills. Focussing learning around solving problems or achieving clear outcomes will engage them in critical activities of problem solving, working in diverse teams and building influence. This will include early opportunities to lead and take on challenging assignments. Indeed, there are signs that some organisations are responding by making development programmes ‘grade agnostic,’ as they recognise that in a constantly changing and uncertain world, no-one has the answers to what the future holds. Therefore, a new philosophy of ‘anyone can lead,’ associated with Enterprise Leadership will present a real opportunity for organisations to unlock the talents of Gen Zers. With their abilities to rapidly build remote social networks, increased confidence in multi-tasking and abilities in sourcing information, Gen Zers are well placed to thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.


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