Zooming in on Gen Z

How L&D can cater to this rising generation’s intuitive worldview and desires.

As the 60-plus million members of Generation Z enter the workplace, adapting training programs to connect with them is mission-critical.

Gen Zers—born in the mid-1990s and raised in the 2000s—will account for more than 20 percent of working adults by the end of 2020, according to a report from software-based learning management system provider Docebo. Their preferences are more in line with Gen Xers than the Millennials, despite their technology fluency. They’re the first generation raised entirely in the Digital Age but—surprisingly—prefer face-to-face communication with their peers.

Here’s a look at how L&D departments can zoom in on this rising generation’s intuitive worldview and desires in a constantly changing and COVID-19-challenged world.

Change Makes a Generation

“Generations are created from change—the new things out there that change the way we live, think, and our intuitive understanding of how the world should work,” says Marcie Merriman, Americas Cultural Insights & Customer Strategy leader at Ernst & Young (EY), a big four consultancy with more than 270,000 employees in 150 countries.

These changes—including social, political, economic, and cultural shifts—shape a common set of attitudes and expectations for those who spent their formative years in their midst. The result is a new generation, and EY’s Gen Z Segmentation Study shows we’re in the midst of the emergence of a new post-Millennial generation: Generation Z.

Generation Z Is Self-Aware Instead of Self-Centered

Merriman says she first recognized a new post-Millennial generation emerging while studying environmental attitudes. Her research found this new generation has a “self-aware” attitude toward outside issues such as the environment, though she says Gen Z’s political views are across the spectrum.

“Millennials—the children of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s—grew up in a safety zone. With only the Internet, often on a family computer, parents were able to shelter their kids from the world’s evils, including 24/7 coverage of kidnappings, the Columbine massacre, and more. Parents and society became focused on protecting them from it all.”

One of the things that makes this new Generation Z different is they’ve never been in a safety zone, Merriman says. The oldest ones were five on 9/11 and were around 11 when the first iPhone came out. This awareness meant they were taught how to protect and take care of themselves, so Merriman describes one of their differentiating traits as “self-awareness,” vs. what some term Millennials’ “self-centeredness.”

Gen Zers in the Manager’s Seat

Millennials and Gen Zers aren’t just the future leaders of industry—they’re already running the show as managers. A survey of 519 respondents conducted by The Harris Poll and Zapier revealed that 62 percent of Millennials and 49 percent of Gen Zers are managing direct reports. 

Gen Z managers are twice as likely as Millennial managers to say they moved into a management role because someone else left and there was no one else to fill the role (27 percent vs. 13 percent).

Female Gen Z employees are much more likely than male Gen Z employees to think communication skills (81 percent vs. 54 percent) and conflict resolution skills (60 percent vs. 43 percent) are among the most important skills for being a people manager.

The survey also showed the downside for these digital native, always-on generations:

  • The majority are burnt out. Some 73 percent of Millennial managers and 66 percent of Gen Z managers have experienced periods of decreased productivity at work due to job burnout.

  • …But they expect teammates to respond to them outside of work hours. That’s the case for 66 percent of Gen Zers and 57 percent of Millennials. Male Gen Z employees are more likely than female Gen Z employees to feel this way (74 percent vs. 56 percent).

  • They struggle with delegating work. Some 42 percent of Gen Z managers and 32 percent of Millennial managers say they struggle with delegating work.

  • They are likely to ghost an employer (quit without giving notice). Gen Z managers were almost twice as likely as Gen Z non-managers to say they would not feel guilty doing so (48 percent vs. 26 percent).

For more results, visit: https://zapier.com/blog/millennial-managers-report/

Access to Information Means Gen Z Expects Transparency

Gen Zers have never been in a safety zone regarding access to information, and they learned to be skeptical about corporations from their Gen X parents, so they want companies to be more transparent. “They’re not accepting information at face value, so they’re expecting companies to be more transparent with the facts, things such as salaries, for example,” says Merriman.

How a company treats and trains employees is not only an internal issue—now it’s part of the external brand, too. Clients will know when a workplace is a negative environment, or one that presents new growth and opportunities.

Gen Z Has as Much to Share as They Have to Learn

Gen Z has grown up with the world at their fingertips: They have a greater awareness and can find solutions to problems we weren’t trying to solve. A recent EY intern shared at the end of the summer that they had created a bot to help submit their expenses. “They see the opportunities in situations the rest of us may have come to accept as the norm,” Merriman says.

Gen Z Prepares for Future Jobs We Can’t Imagine
Gen Z has been told that jobs are going to be completely different when they get out of college. They expect to grow and adapt into the new positions being created. They’ve also developed the ability to learn at a rate other generations cannot even imagine.

Training departments need to be prepared to give them the tools to learn at a rate that works for them, so they can push themselves. “It’s important to give them resources and challenges so they don’t feel held back,” says Merriman. “Gamification, mobile learning, whatever helps them get up to speed.”

It’s also important to train them continuously on-the-job to allow for quicker onboarding, since tenure at a company is not likely to grow longer. This works both to the company and the worker’s advantage, Merriman says, since they will feel like they are progressing faster, and the value they bring to the company will be realized quicker.

How a Coach Approach to Leadership Can Help Gen Z Employees Thrive

By Magdalena Nowicka Mook, CEO, International Coaching Federation

Generation Z employees—often independent, ambitious, and values-driven—want transparent leaders and instant feedback. Both are now even more crucial for leading remote teams during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Managers using the outdated command-and-control style need to adopt a coach approach to leadership that’s more collaborative, inquisitive, and supportive of employee growth and development.

These three coaching skills can help managers inspire and develop their youngest team members, drawing from the International Coaching Federation’s core competencies:

Listen Actively

Focusing on what employees are saying—and not saying—can help managers fully comprehend what is being communicated and identify issues lingering below the surface. Make note of body language while they talk, and refrain from judgement. Summarize what your employee shares to ensure clarity and understanding. Working remotely makes observing nonverbal cues more difficult, so ensuring you’re on the same page is more important than ever.

Evoke Awareness

Asking powerful questions can help employees explore beyond current thinking, reframe perspective, and guide them to identify their own solutions. Questions that start with what or how (What do you need to be successful? How are you feeling about everything?) expand the conversation, while “why” questions (why did you do it this way?) put people on the defensive. Over time, this can help employees build their capacity to solve problems on their own. Encourage employees to ask questions, as well. It’s a vital skill, and it may help a leader understand the employee’s mindset and positioning.

Effectively Communicate

Gen Z employees crave feedback. Instead of yearly reviews, quick, regular check-ins can lend themselves to coaching conversations where managers can monitor progress while empowering employees to work autonomously and effectively.

For coaching skills to be truly successful, companies should invest in training resources for managers to understand coaching practices. A 2019 study from ICF and the Human Capital Institute revealed that 83 percent of organizations plan to expand the scope of programs to help managers and leaders implement a coaching approach.

This can start by partnering with a credentialed professional coach, who can support ongoing opportunities for managers to hone an effective coaching approach to their management style.

Gen Z Expects Bite-Sized Digital Training

“Those of us with Gen Z-age children are always surprised at how natural they are with computers and phones,” says Jeremy Hess, Digital Marketing manager of CloudShare, which offers a platform for companies to deliver training modules in an online, virtual environment. “When we were asked to do homework, if we Googled, it was considered cheating, but for Gen Zers, you have a natural progression—they expect to use Google and the Internet on their own.”

Training departments can respond by looking at the kinds of content and media Gen Z is used to: things such as video-sharing social network TikTok, where everything is bite-sized, fun content. Instead of a one-hour course on software, you’re cutting that into smaller chunks to keep them engaged and interested, Hess says. Another example is Duolingo, which does scoring and rankings, and pings users to come back.
“You’re getting microlearning, a gamified experience, continued pinging, learning in a positive way,” Hess says. “You want to blend all these aspects together, whether it’s a classroom environment or online, but ensure the learning you do is full, complete—everything you want to teach is still there.”

Hess says CloudShare is seeing partners like learning management system (LMS) providers challenged by the younger generation. “There needs to be a proper design in how the classes work—with microlearning, hybrid learning, gamification—so you can ensure courses keep attention, are relevant and vital. Training providers need to live up to the experiences these younger learners expect.”

Neverthless, Gen Z Is Skeptical Toward Digital

Paradoxically, while Gen Zers are at home with devices, they don’t see them as a final solution.

Research from PSI Services, a testing software company with 2,000-plus employees and programs in 160 countries, shows Gen Z considers games-based assessment to be less effective compared to Millennials. This could reflect a level of skepticism of Gen Z toward this type of assessment methodology, according to Alissa Parr, director of Talent Solutions at PSI Services.
Gen Z is motivated by hiring processes that are engaging and high-tech, and seamlessly integrate into similar training processes. Given their experience with disruptions, Gen Z may even prefer interruptions in the workplace, a result of the need to “multitask” they developed in their formative years.

In response, Training teams should augment digital onboarding and development with a human touch to onboard and foster new Gen Z employees.


Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.