How Generation Z Is Transforming the Workplace

by Laura Gayle

If you want to attract, hire, and retain incoming Gen Z talent, it’s a smart strategy to start trying to understand what makes this group tick.

© Artem Peretiatko/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Just when you thought you’d finally learned what makes millennials tick and integrated ways to successfully appeal to that generation’s top talent, you suddenly find that Generation Z has crept right up behind them. This youngest generation is growing up, graduating high school and college, and steadily entering the workplace. According to statistics, by mid-2018 there were a whopping 61 million members of Generation Z poised to flood into the United States workforce.

Gen Z has much in common with their older-sibling counterparts, but there are a lot of differences, too. If you want to attract, hire, and retain incoming Gen Z talent, it’s a smart strategy to start trying to understand what makes this group tick, as well.

Who is Generation Z?

Generation Z is roughly defined as individuals born during or after 1997. Some classifiers place the cutoff year for this generation around 2015, but others have left it open, as the next generation’s parameters haven’t been established quite yet. The oldest of Gen Z’ers are about 23, currently asserting themselves in the workplace. And, much like millennials before them, they're creating some disruptive trends. 

This isn’t a negative, however. As an employer, there is much to be excited about. As this group ages, there will be a flood of technology-savvy talent entering the workforce. With approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day (and it’s not always exactly predictable when they’ll retire) and current employees moving into those gaps, Gen Z can step in to effectively fill any roles that become available.

The key to a successful generational transition is to understand Gen Z. As a leader or manager, if you want to appeal to this generation, you’ll learn to identify what they need. If you try to lump them in with millennials, you’ll quickly learn this is a big mistake. On the other hand, if you strive to figure out how to accommodate Gen Z, you can attract the cream of the crop. As a part of your reward, you’ll gain fresh perspectives, learn about innovative ideas, and discover workers with entrepreneurial attributes — all of which can add significant value to your business.

What do millennials and Gen Z have in common?

If you’ve already transformed your workplace and its policies to accommodate millennials, the good news is that many of these changes will also appeal to Gen Z, so you won’t need to do a total overhaul. These two generations share a great many values and attributes, including:

  • Flexibility. Millennials and Gen Z see flexibility in the workplace as an important value. Both generations are deterred by the “cubicle” environment where workers sit in the same place from 9 to 5. They want flexible schedules and remote work options. This doesn’t mean they're lazy and want easy jobs — quite the contrary, in fact. These younger generations typically blur the line between their work and home lives quite proficiently and are willing to work hard; they just want to do so under flexible conditions.
  • Workplace preferences. Closed-in, artificially lit work environments do not appeal to either generation. Both millennials and Gen Z are more likely to flourish when working in modernized office spaces with natural light and plenty of perks. If you didn’t update your offices for millennials, now is the time to reconsider as Gen Z arrives.
  • Attachment to technology. Millennials love their technology, but Gen Z takes their affection for technology to an entirely new level. They’re the first true digital natives, as they can’t remember a time without the internet, and many of them have grown up in the age of IoT. Gen Zers are rarely seen without their smartphones or another connected gadget in hand — tech is automatically their “go-to” solution.

If you’ve already made changes and/or modernized your workplace to reflect these preferences, you’re on the right path to accommodating Gen Z. If not, it’s probably time to start thinking about more flexible work policies, reconfigured office spaces, and tech upgrades.

How do Gen Z and millennials differ?

While there are many similarities between millennials and Gen Z, don’t make the mistake of confusing these generations for each other. There are numerous distinctive qualities between the two.

  • Collaborative vs. competitive. As you’ve seen in recent years, millennials are major team players and highly value collaboration. Gen Z, not so much. While they’re willing to work with others, they’re also highly competitive and thrive by pushing themselves independently.
  • Entrepreneurial in nature. When the big recession hit about 10 years ago, Gen Z was young enough not to be personally affected financially, but many of them were old enough to remember their parents struggling. As a result, they’re more pragmatic and want security in recession-proof jobs. If that means they have to shape their own futures, they’ll be glad to do so — which can make them great leadership material.
  • Oriented toward salary and security. Unlike millennials, many of whom are staggering under credit card and student loan debt, Gen Zers are averse to debt and are willing to work hard to ensure financial security. Many of them choose to self-educate or find unconventional ways to learn so they're able to avoid student loans. They’re quick learners and crave information; they don’t need much hand-holding or coddling in this respect. This younger group wants to actively learn and enable themselves to achieve better salaries so they can solidify their financial futures.

A primary reason to make the effort to know Gen Z is this: Despite their need for security, they have no qualms about job-hopping and will do it in a flash. Data suggests that Gen Zers are three times more likely to change jobs than members of other generations.

Ways to attract and retain Gen Z employees

As Gen Z steadily enters the workforce, you’ll want to find ways to turn the heads of the top talent in this group. Essentially, you'll need to position yourself as a “preferred” type of employer — this means offering lots of tech opportunities.

  • Invigorate recruiting methods. Traditional methods of recruitment may not work so well with Gen Z. To catch their eyes, you’ll want to focus on branding yourself as an organization that provides the workplace environment and benefits they seek. Seek to integrate more digital processes into recruitment, hiring, and onboarding practices.
  • Make your office “smart.” There’s little doubt that smart tech will play an increasing role going forward, and Gen Z will be the generation pushing this market. Invest in tech upgrades, look for ways to integrate connectivity, and invest in cloud technology to keep team projects and info safe and accessible. Gen Z employees will definitely prefer these types of initiatives.
  • Use mobile and apps. Ensure better productivity from Gen Z’ers by integrating mobile technology and apps into your workflow. For instance, forget paper vouchers, sign-in sheets and other “traditional” mechanisms for managing workflow. Instead, offer your employees access to apps and other online services, such as electronic time and attendance trackers, online tax calculators, and project management apps, to name a few.
  • Offer education options. Like millennials, Gen Z members appreciate chances to add skills and develop themselves personally and professionally. You can provide these in numerous ways, including tuition reimbursement, free mentoring opportunities, online non-credit courses, or even YouTube-like informative videos on workplace processes or industry-related issues.
  • Provide real-time feedback. Like millennials, Gen Z members need feedback to succeed. If they worry they aren’t cutting it, they’ll suffer professionally, which will translate to your bottom line. Be sure to create an environment where managerial feedback and suggestions are freely shared, both formally and informally.
  • Continue integrating flexible work options. Gen Z requires a balanced lifestyle, and they’ll move from job to job until they find an environment that lets them integrate both work and non-work activities on their own schedules throughout the day (and night).
  • Plan for promotional opportunities. This point can’t be stressed strongly enough: If Gen Z doesn’t feel secure, they’ll move on. They need to see clear pathways toward advancement from their current position. Don’t risk investing time and resources into recruiting and training them, only to watch them jump to a competitor because they felt their career path had stagnated.

As you move toward the future, you’re likely to face a tricky balancing act as you try to accommodate not only millennials and Gen Z, but Baby Boomers and Gen X workers, too. That being said, Gen Z is the most populous generation since the Boomers. Research and data project that Gen Z will comprise about 36 percent of the workforce by 2020. Their coming of age and sheer numbers make them one generation no business can afford to ignore. 

If you make the effort now to prepare for Gen Z as they steadily arrive in the workforce, you’ll find it to be easier when they — probably sooner than later — become the dominant generational force in the modern workplace.  

Laura Gayle is the founder of the Business Woman Guide.