Exploring the issues that shape today's business world.

The Way to Be With Gen Z

Don’t overlook today’s teenager as tomorrow’s customer, client or colleague. By Derrick Lilly | Digital Exclusive

Gen Z

Teens these days. If you go by the stereotypes, they’re entitled whiny brats, lazy “screen addicts” and out of touch with what’s in store for them in the working world. Gen Z is nothing but Gen We.

If you maintain this mindset, however, you’ll have just as hard of a time reaching them as you did (or do) with Millennials.

You see, Gen Z is the next wave of influential entrants into our workforce. Loosely defined as those born between the late 1990s and now, Gen Zers will make up nearly a quarter of our population and around 40 percent of all consumers by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Which means connecting with them as customers, clients and even colleagues will be critical to companies seeking success in the decades ahead.

To do that though, first you have to understand them. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare to work with, and for, Gen Z.

They’re Digital Natives

Barring some form of global electromagnetic Armageddon that wipes away our electronic lifestyle, Gen Z will never know a world without the Internet, smartphones, Netflix or the likes. By some accounts, Gen Z is connected to technology more than 10 hours per day, and as Accounting Principals’ Generation Optimization white paper points out, Gen Zers multitask across at least five screens a day and spend up to 41 percent of their time outside of school or work with computers or mobile devices. This “constantly on” environment has fostered a generation that’s earned a reputation for having a short attention span, but the reality is quite different.

“Gen Z [has] adapted to quickly sorting through and assessing enormous amounts of information…. Once something has demonstrated attention-worthiness, Gen Z can become intensely committed and focused. They’ve come of age with an Internet that’s allowed them to go deep on any topic of their choosing,” writes Fast Company’s Jeremy Finch in "What Is Generation Z, and What Does It Want?"

“Gen Z [has] a carefully tuned radar for being sold to…. Winning Gen Z’s attention will mean providing them with engaging and immediately beneficial experiences,” he continues.

This means two things for you and your business—whether you’re trying to sell products and services, or trying to sell them on joining your team. One, you have to connect with and engage them on their terms. Two, you better make a good impression…fast.

Here’s a hint: Deep Focus’ Cassandra Report: Gen Z points out that Gen Zers prefer brands that reach out through social media. The top source? YouTube. This is driven by the fact that Gen Zers are more likely to respond to advertising featuring real people; after all, YouTube is a shining example of how relatable people can become highly influential, even celebrity-like, on a social platform. It also means you need to change your messaging, no matter if it’s for a product pitch or a recruitment video, to focus on images and visuals and short snackable content that inspire curiosity and engagement. If you need a more polished example, think TED Talks.

They’re “People” People

Growing up in a post-9/11, recession-hit and increasingly multicultural world has impacted Gen Z like no other generation. Despite their constant connection to technology (which constantly exposes them to all of the triumphs and challenges of the world we live in), real people still matter to Gen Z—both in their personal and their professional lives.

“They are highly educated and globally connected…and clearly recognize the impact that businesses doing meaningful good can have on creating a better world,” says Andy Last, CEO of London-based Salt Communications, who commissioned research on US Gen Zers. “Generation Z feel a strong connection to businesses who are taking steps to put sustainability at the heart of their organization. Random CSR activity just won’t cut it for them,” he says.

Salt’s research reveals that 73 percent of Gen Zers believe organizations should make “doing good” a central part of their business. What’s more, 61 percent said they’re “willing to go out of their way to buy products and services from these businesses,” and 59 percent rank “working for a company that helps make the world a better place as important a consideration as salary.”

As Last writes, “This is great news for organizations who are ahead in sustainability. They are more likely to attract a stronger pipeline of young talent to work for them and be able to sell more of their products and services to a well-informed generation.”

A stronger pipeline is on Gen Zers’ minds, too. According to NextGeneration Recruitment, 34 percent of Gen Zers are most concerned about boosting their people management skills. Further, Fast Company reports that “the majority of the people in our study also said that their ability to communicate clearly in person, specifically with older adults, was the number one skill that would ensure their future success.”

So how can you capitalize on this in the workplace? Show them that your company and brand, or the career that they may be considering with you, has a higher meaning and a greater purpose.

“Given their social entrepreneurial spirit, Gen Z may be willing to forego a higher salary to work for a firm that places a strong emphasis on social responsibility. If not already doing so, firms should consider offering volunteer and social responsibility opportunities, including paid volunteer days, to help attract this new generation of talent,” writes Kathy Gans, Accounting Principals’ senior vice president, in “What You Need to Know About Gen Z.”

They’re Entrepreneurial

If Gen Zers can’t find businesses or brands worthwhile to them, they’re likely to launch their own, which is also a good thing for CPAs—the world’s most trusted business advisors.

Entrepreneur’s Gen Z study concluded that, “Gen Z appears to be more entrepreneurial, loyal, open-minded and less motivated by money than Gen Y (Millennials).” The Cassandra Report found that 62 percent of Gen Z respondents have a desire to start their own companies and that 89 percent say they spend part of their free time in activities they consider productive and creative instead of just “hanging out.” And research compiled by New York ad agency Sparks & Honey reinforces Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit, finding that 76 percent of Gen Zers hope they can turn their hobbies into their professions; 72 percent of high school students want to start a business someday; and 61 percent want to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee.

Whether they’re going it alone or stepping in as a new member of your team, Gen Zers want to be—no, they need to be—taken seriously and associate themselves with honest companies and leaders.

“They have a keen understanding of the importance of collaborative relationships,” writes Gans, who makes special note that Gen Zers are strong team players who value togetherness and acceptance of each other’s differences. “The introduction of Gen Z to the workplace brings a fresh set of hard-working and ambitious talent that [is] eager to learn and grow professionally.”

“They want leaders to be open with them and not hide information because of their age or title,” writes Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, in interpreting Entrepreneur’s study results. “If you’re honest, they will trust you and want to work for you or purchase from you—it’s that simple.”

What does this all mean? That Gen Z needs you in order to succeed just as much as you need them, and that’s not such a bad thing.