insight magazine

The A to Z of Gen Z

This is how your youngest workers will change your business culture. By Kristine Blenkhorn Rodriguez | Fall 2016

Gen Z

Every generation thinks it will be the one to set the world on fire. But up-and-coming Gen Z—made up of those born between 1995 and 2015—brings with it a humble pragmatism.

This new generation of workers has witnessed its parents and slightly older peers hop from job to job, with little security and no reward for loyalty. “This group has seen the hangover their slightly older counterparts, Millennials, suffer from,” says Jason Dorsey, co-founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics. “College debt, failure to launch, delayed marriages and children. And they are swinging the pendulum in a decidedly new direction.”

What they’re hoping to distance themselves from is economic insecurity, a lack of work-life balance, and ping-ponging from company to company with no sense of purpose other than money-making. What they hope to embrace is stability, hard work, opportunity, trustworthy leaders, clear purpose, and a desire to give back to the world.

Though reminiscent of past generations, don’t think that these values bring us back to a slower, stodgier workplace. While Gen Z is clear on its values, it also favors speed, ubiquitous technology and immediate feedback.

Gen Z is set to change your work environment in myriad ways, but we’ll get you started with this cheat sheet of five of the most critical to prepare for.

ONE: Plug and play is the name of the game

“To a Gen Z member, technology is not something you go to. It is something you carry with you, no matter where you are,” says Dorsey.

Gen Z-ers multitask across at least five screens a day and spend 41 percent of their time outside of school/work with computers or mobile devices, reports Accounting Principals’ 2016 Generation Optimization white paper.

“I walk by many of our new hires and see them answering email after email on their mobile phones, while their laptops sit untouched beside them,” says Jeramy Kaiman, vice president with Accounting Principals, Parker + Lynch. “They are just not interested in a device that’s not ultimately portable no matter what you are doing. That changes the way we work.”

Futurist Daniel Burrus insists older managers need to adopt Gen Z’s perspective on technology. “If you’re an older Baby Boomer, you remember thinking of a toaster as technology. But this younger generation has been having immersive 3D experiences while gaming on their tablets since their toddler years. All of these things we think of as new and emerging—from cloud computing to virtual reality—to Gen Z, these are toasters. We can’t equip them with yesterday’s tech and expect them to applaud—it’s about the new.”
Stephanie Tyler, BDO USA’s national director of campus recruiting, says Gen Z is already changing the way her firm recruits.

“Gen Z doesn’t know the world without the Internet, so we meet them where they live,” she explains. “We’re putting on-campus recruitment info online and mobile friendly. And we’ve upped our social media presence across all channels immensely. These candidates live there and they pay attention to what their fellow candidates are saying about companies in this forum.”

Communicating across platforms using responsive design and images versus heavy text is key. In fact, points out that most Gen Z’ers will only give a person or a screen about eight seconds of attention; if you don’t entice them in those first few seconds, you’ll lose them.

So, whether it’s making your recruitment and HR forms more app friendly, or equipping your teams with devices that port easily, or making bring-your-own-device plans more workable, Gen Z will be changing the face of most firms’ technology footprints. After all, they carry the Internet in their pockets.

TWO: Talk often and talk quickly

With Gen Z, it’s immediate feedback that matters. “We no longer do annual performance reviews with lots of formality,” says Tyler. “Now goals are set in real-time, and feedback is more frequent, project by project. This means our recruits get more time with career advisors, which we find to be a good thing.”

In the same way that Gen Z prefers snackable online content versus long articles, their feedback should be delivered in the same format—frequently, in digestible chunks.

This plays into their desire for a stable environment rife with opportunity, at least at the outset of their careers, says Michelle Reisdorf, regional VP for Robert Half in the Chicagoland area. “Millennials came in without a care for security; they were fast movers looking for the next promotion and title pronto. I see the Gen Z’ers we’ve hired as craving stability and a company where they can move in different directions and prove themselves without having to continually jump from firm to firm.”

“Prior to the 2009 downturn, we saw candidates interested mainly in organizations with a ‘cool’ factor. But on campuses now, students say stability is one of the most important things to them,” Kaiman adds. “They want an organization with brand recognition where they can progress.”

THREE: ‘Gather’ makes a comeback

By “gather,” we don’t mean they love to spend hours at a conference table (although they will do that if asked). Gen Z is ushering in a new type of office space, one that provides for hoteling—and sometimes even demands it—so employees can come and go as they need to.

“We’re creating more spaces that look nothing like a traditional corporate environment,” says Grant Thornton LLP’s Human Capital practice leader Erica O’Malley. “In Grant Thornton’s Chicago office, we have a variety of casual meeting spaces—small gathering rooms, a room that looks like a living room with a fireplace and couches.”

“These employees have shown already that they get work done in a flex environment, whether at home, the office, or a client’s site,” says Kaiman. “So they want options.”
In other words, expect more informal collaborative workspaces to crop up in offices, regardless of firm size. This Starbucks generation is used to them and will balk at staid, formal layouts.

FOUR: Corporate values matter

Accounting Principals is a socially responsible organization, says Kaiman, but “even we’ve had to step up our game on a local and a national level” for Gen Z. “I’ve interviewed about 50 Gen Z potential recruits this summer, and at least 80 percent have asked about our charitable and nonprofit initiatives—and it’s usually one of their first five questions.”

Kaiman’s stat jives with’s finding that 76 percent of Gen Z is concerned about humanity’s impact on the world, and 60 percent want their job to have a positive impact. The study went on to say that one-in-four of your future workers is already volunteering as a teen.

FIVE: Crowdsourcing & gaming culture reign

Gen Z has grown up crowdsourcing the best shoes, restaurants, games, and more. So it’s not surprising that they’ll use that method to ideate at work. When a team faces a tough challenge, rather than scratching their heads and trying to go it alone, Gen Z’ers are more likely to tap into the power of the Internet to ask for help in a variety of forums. According to digital design firm iiD, 52 percent use YouTube or social media for research assignments.

When that solution is found, they’re also very likely to give credit where credit is due—either with online shout-outs or utilizing a company’s more formal recognition system. This generation of gamers expects the online badges and perks that come with “scoring” on any project.

The implications for managing workers within this demographic become clear: Recognition matters, but the end result is more important than any one ego. Teaming, whether virtual or face-to-face, matters, but a team could be broader than its core members. Inclusiveness abounds.

Increased use of technology and online social networks; regular, concise communications; a corporate conscience; a preference for gathering; and a penchant for throwing the net wide to find suitable solutions—of the many laundry lists Gen Z could bring to the workplace, this one seems more than reasonable.

“Gen Z is the reality check generation,” says Reisdorf. “They’re pragmatists with a vision, and they want to change the world.”

If that’s not worth rolling out the corporate welcome mat for, we’re not sure what is. 

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