If you haven’t noticed, Gen Z has arrived and they need some understanding! They are the “newest” generation to enter the workplace and are soon to pass Millennials as the largest generation with 1/3 of the world’s population. In the U.S., Gen Z accounts for more than 25% of the people and is the most diverse generation in history.
Now Gen Z is making its presence known in the workplace. Gen Z members were born between 1997 and 2015, and they have never known a world without the internet and most smartphones. Many Gen Z children often played with their parents’ and grandparents’ smartphones or tablets and got their first phones around the age of 10. They have grown up in a hyper-connected world, and the smartphone is their preferred method of communication. On average, they spend 3 hours a day on their mobile devices. Gen Z chooses to be entertained more on YouTube or TikTok than on any other social media platform.
For the past decade, the workplace and marketplace focused on understanding and adapting to Millennials (1981-1996). Millennials changed the world of work while inspiring, sometimes heated conversations about generational differences across the globe. Millennials helped drive flexibility, collaboration, purpose, and new leadership styles in the workplace significantly—and now it’s essential to understand the differences.
Optimistic Millennials – Pragmatic Gen Z
Optimistic Millennials grew up during the 1990 economic boom. Like their self-esteem building Baby Boomer parents, they see the world through a bright lens. Baby Boomer parents wanted to make their children’s lives more comfortable and better. As a result, Millennials are seen as entitled and overly sensitive, wanting a trophy for just showing up and occupying space.
On the other hand, Gen Zers grew up amid the Great Recession. Thanks to their tough-loving, skeptical Gen X parents, they view the world with a pragmatic, independent, survival mode lens. Also, Gen Z witnessed Millennials struggling to pay back their college student loans. Gen Z took notice, and they are earners and savers.
Collaborative Millennials – Competitive Gen Z
When Millennials were in their formative years of learning, the Boomer mantra “Teamwork makes the Dream Work” prevailed. Boomers held collaboration held to the highest standard. Collective group projects and after school team sports were the norm in schools. In the workplace, Millennials have a more collaborative mindset, with everyone pitching in and working together
In contrast, Gen Z likes to win! Raised by their Gen X parents, they learned the mantra, “In life, there are winners and losers, and if you don’t win, you lose!” Their competitive nature applies to almost everything, from sports to school-work. Additionally, Gen Z lives in an increasingly competitive educational environment. Technology allows for online grading portals, which give frequent updates on the Gen Z student’s academic performance. In the past, students sometimes had to wait weeks or longer to receive a test grade. Now, they get frustrated if they can’t access their scores within hours of finishing an exam—and often, so do the parents.
It is not surprising that 72% of Gen Z said they are competitive with those doing the same job in the workplace. This generation is highly independent and wants to be evaluated on its own merits, not their team members. That said, they prefer individual tasks over team tasks.
Work-Life Balance – Human Rights, Equity and Diversity
Gen X tried to attain a work-life balance, but the big push to end the traditional 9 to 5 workplace came from the Millennial. Millennials are not motivated by working hard for 40 years or more and then retiring to enjoy life. They are inspired by the idea of blending their work life and their personal life. Millennials want a healthy mix of time, achieving professional goals, and time pursuing personal goals.
Gen Z also wants work-life balance, but their broader focus is on issues that affect them, their communities, and their future. They care about human rights, equality, and diversity in their workplace. In a recent survey, 83% of Gen Z said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is essential when choosing an employer.
Millennials Seek Work Fulfillment – Gen Z’s Financial Focus
Millennials are known as the purpose-driven generation seeking jobs that offer a strong sense of meaning and not just a paycheck. Older Millennials were entering the workplace near the time of the Great Recession. Many could not find work, so they went back to school or spent a few years volunteering and learning. And yes, many had to move back in with their parents. All that said, Millennials were all about finding meaning in their jobs and making the world a better place. Although the Great Recession impacted many Millennials, this generation rated having meaning and purpose in their work over perks and income. They successfully brought purpose to the forefront of today’s business culture.
The Great Recession had a significant effect on Gen Z too. Gen Z was old enough to see their parents lose jobs and struggle as the economy crashed. This generation remembers the tough times, and they are very frugal with their money. They look for bargains, shop in thrift stores, and they are savers. A new report out states that Gen Z adults between the ages of 18 and 21 prioritize making money and having a successful career. Those two goals are more important to them than having close friendships, getting married, or traveling. Sure, they want to make a difference, but surviving and thriving take priority. Right now, compensation overrides workplace satisfaction and engagement. Money is the key driver, along with healthcare benefits and other perks.
During this pandemic, smart companies incorporate financial education in their online tools for their employees to access. Money is top of mind for this generation and possible for all the others too. Gen Z’s concerns deal with the bottom line: Are they making enough? Saving enough? Can they pay back their college loans? Will they ever have enough money to buy a car? Or a house? Gen Z is turning out to be a generation of savers.
Keep your eye on Gen Z. The world is changing. COVID-19 is reshaping our social, political, and economic landscape. Gen Z, along with the rest of us, is facing an uncertain world. Pew Research reports that Gen Zers have been hit hard during this coronavirus crisis. Their behaviors and perspective may change. Stay tuned.
Karen McCullough is a nationally known keynote speaker and expert on change, generational opportunities and workforce trends.
Karen helps organizations cut through the generational biases and get back to reality by leveraging their team’s strengths, enriching the work environment, and driving better results. Each of her presentations brings a realistic perspective on workplace trends, employee engagement, while offering actionable content.
For the past 15 years Karen has shared her insights to top organizations such as VMware, Procter & Gamble, US Department of Justice, JPMorgan Chase, Symantec, McGraw-Hill, National Homebuilders, Shell Oil, Mercedes Benz, The World Bank, American National Insurance, Humana, United Way, American Heart Association and MD Anderson Cancer Center.