How Will Gen Z Change the Workplace Created for Millennials?

A younger, larger generation is starting to move into the workforce. It’s time to pivot from just thinking about Millennials to considering how Gen Z will affect the workplace.

Millennials have been at the forefront of the changing workforce for years now. Human Resource processes and general business decisions have been tailored to the Millennial worker. 

However, now a younger, larger generation is starting to move into the workforce. It’s time to pivot from just thinking about Millennials to considering how Gen Z will affect the workplace.

Who Is Gen Z?

Gen Z, or Generation Z, is made up of people born between 1995 and 2012. That means the oldest members of this group are beginning to enter the workforce. This group came of age during the Great Recession. They have never known a world where smartphones weren’t ubiquitous. Because of this, Gen Zers also have a different relationship with technology and connectivity than Millennials.

While not every member of Gen Z is identical, this group shares several characteristics. It’s important that HR managers, recruiters, and companies understand Gen Z is different and distinct from the Millennial generation.

Security and privacy are more important to this cohort than to Millennials. Unlike the generation before them, they are much more averse to sharing personal information on social media and with employers. It’s also important to understand that they have greater burden from student debt and appear to be better at saving for retirement.

Gen Z is also more competitive and independent than other generations. They are less likely than Millennials to be motivated by strong work friendships. With their competitive spirit, they also have shown they are the most entrepreneurial-focused generation in the workplace. While many want to own their own business, that doesn’t mean they won’t make great employees. Instead, members of Gen Z are more likely to have a side hustle in addition to their day job. They are innovative and want to use the skills they have developed during their weekend and after-hours gigs to benefit their main employer.

How Will Gen Z Change the Workplace?

Every new generation changes the workplace culture. What kinds of changes will Gen Z bring to their companies?

Because Gen Z is starting out with more debt than any generation before them, employers that offer student loan assistance as a benefit will be more likely to land the top talent. Employers also will find that Gen Z is much more willing to negotiate for better benefits than Millennials. They expect to be catered to, and they have the numbers to force change. Gen Z employees will also want more generous retirement benefits.

 Millennials already have pushed many employers to become more flexible with work schedules and arrangements. This likely will accelerate with Gen Z. Remember, this is a generation that has never known a world without Wi-Fi. Their digital native mindset, paired with their entrepreneurial spirit, will result in employees who resist micromanagement and expect to do their work on their own terms.

As companies begin hiring more members of this group, innovation also will increase. This generation naturally wants to make everything better, faster, and smarter. They are used to upgrades and updates. They see no reason the services and products offered by their company can’t also be regularly improved.

How Can Leaders Prepare to Work with Millennials and Gen Z?

It’s tempting for older managers to think there are no real differences between Millennials and members of Gen Z. This is a huge mistake. Millennials are more optimistic and collective than their younger siblings in Gen Z. Leaders need strategies and processes that will help both generations work together.

Leaders need to examine ways to make work more flexible. This will lead to an overall increase in happiness and loyalty among Millennials and Gen Zers. This means allowing for more remote work and non-traditional work schedules. The more the focus is on results instead of clock punching, the more productive and innovative both groups will be.

Leaders also need to create a balance between organizing employees into groups for projects, and the need for members of Gen Z to have autonomy in their work. Managers must learn to understand that Gen Z employees may be less interested in collaboration until after their part of the project is well underway than Millennials who tend to want lots of input throughout a project.

The biggest challenge for leaders will be channeling the competitive impulse in Gen Z employees. Being competitive can provide great energy to the company, but if not properly focused, it can create a toxic work environment. Leaders need to start thinking about how to gamify the workplace now in a way that meaningfully rewards excellence, but that also rewards and incentivizes teamwork.

What Needs to be Done to Prepare the Existing Workforce?

Gen Zers are beginning to trickle into the workforce. In the next few years, their numbers will greatly increase. Companies that have been solely focused on their Millennial employees need to begin to pivot their mindset to having a workforce with a mixture of both Millennials and members of Gen Z.

HR departments and company leaders should start now by retooling their benefits packages and work arrangements. Gen Z’s top talent will have their choice of employment opportunities, and they are entering the workforce at a time of strong demand for their skills. To be competitive, you will need to be able to attract Gen Z employees.

Managers at all levels should begin looking at ways they can keep the structure of teams, but also allow for greater independence and autonomy for Gen Z employees. This may mean holding fewer large meetings and more one-on-one meetings.

Companies also need to be mindful of not alienating Millennials while trying to appeal to entry-level Gen Z employees. Because many Millennials experienced a rough entry into the workplace, companies may want to reach out to Millennials in management positions to come up with an outreach plan for Gen Z. This will allow Millennials to draw on their own experience and will help them better understand their new colleagues.

Gen Z is going to be a force of change in the workplace just by sheer force of numbers. It’s up to leaders like you to either adapt to the changes and prosper or resist the changes and falter.

Ed Wesley, VPof People at DreamHost, is an HR leader with more than 10 years of experience in culture and operational management.

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