Sociologists, economists and psychiatrists have all given their words of wisdom about how members of Generation Z will behave in the workforce. But no one knows them better than themselves.
When I was four, I saw the twin towers collapse into a charred pool of smoke and dust on cable television. Terrorism was as abstract to me as the beasts in Where the Wild Things Are, but I don’t remember a time where airport security didn’t exist. By the time I turned twelve, a significant portion of my life had been spent amidst newspaper articles, television talk shows, and radio broadcasts that focused on the unemployment rate and wobbling economy. Now, at sixteen years old, I seem to have the world both in front of me and behind me—along with millions of American teens, I have immediate access to large amounts of data and social network, but I also feel the insurmountable pressure to stay afloat an ever-growing pool of job competition, college debt, and globalization.
As a member of Generation Z, my fears and goals are characteristic of a group of young people that can no longer be ignored. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in four Americans is under age 18. The oldest members of Generation Z were born in 1990 and are pouring into the workforce, both causing and demanding changes to the future of businesses. Employers need to acknowledge the characteristics of Generation Z so that they can be integrated as painlessly and effectively as possible into the workplace.
The World of Gen Z
One of the most unmistakable traits of my generation is that we grew up with our noses stuck in technology. Literally. I cannot count how many times a day I see my peers burying their faces in their phones or five year olds playing Minecraft on their parents’ phones when they don’t even know how to read. We are incredibly adaptive to new technology, and we are not afraid to get our hands dirty in the most cutting edge inventions. An inevitable by-product of technology is the extensive social network that we have built almost single-handedly. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr are more than ways to connect; they are safety blankets that we use to get in touch with a world that seems to have gotten too massive and globalized for any other channel of understanding.
Although we may be overloaded with technology, we are not lazy or narrow-minded. With the extensive reach of social networking and globalization, we are the first to recognize competition when we see it. Generation Z members are constantly juggling extracurricular activities, sports, schoolwork, volunteering, jobs, internships— you name it. More connection means more peer pressure, and while older generations may think that peer pressure only pertains to the social scene, it influences the work ethic and can-do attitude of teens as well. We grew up in a world where we root for the underdog, and we think anything is possible.
It is important to understand the core values of Generation Z members because they impact how we function in the workplace. We grew up in a time of technological immersion, economic recession, fear of terrorism, and drastic social change. As a result, we greatly value practicality. After watching the college students before us graduate with astronomical amounts of student debt and slim job prospects, we have a tendency to decide a career based on its stability. We are also the most tolerant generation yet. From my observations, Generation Z is more likely than any of the previous generations to welcome a diverse group of people to socialize and work with.
At the same time, the idea that “anyone can be anything” motivates young people to explore non-traditional career paths, particularly in entrepreneurship and start-up businesses. We grew up in an era of easy social networking, and we have witnessed people who made names for themselves seemingly out of nowhere. Because we feel so connected with one another, we have a desire to not only create something but impact people way beyond our own social bubbles. And we know it’s possible. After all, we have seen people make YouTube videos that propel them to fame (Justin Bieber, Michelle Phan), apps that gain millions of hits through social media (Flappy Bird, Snapchat), and Facebook campaigns that create tides of change in continents halfway across the world (Kony 2012, Bring Back Our Girls).
What We Will Bring to the Work Force
Because we are so tech-saavy, we bring a greater degree of flexibility and innovation when it comes to using technology in the workplace. We grew up trying to keep up with latest technology, so we can quickly adapt to new devices or software. Social media will also be in our area of expertise; by the time we start working, we would have had years of training in expanding our social media presence through our Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts. We know how social networking works, and we will be comfortable using it in our careers.
We will also be adept at processing a lot of information at once. Born in the era of computers and the Internet, we never had to go to the library and dig through piles of books for research. Instead, we learned how to use keywords and sift through huge amounts of data to find what we need. This gives us an edge over the older generation in processing diverse information in an increasingly globalized world. It enables us to be relatively self-directed workers as well. With countless search engines at our fingertips, it is possible to become an expert at practically anything if we look in the right places.
For Gen Z, it is certainly easy to get caught in a bubble of social media and lose touch with human-to-human interactions. What is our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness; our ability to connect via technology is threatening to supersede our ability to appreciate real-world experiences. Therefore, it is important for Gen Z to be educated and trained about how our actions—both in the workplace and in our personal space—can cause ripples in the world. Our jobs should allow us to harness the incredible potential that we have for change while forcing us to foresee the implications that change could bring.
As with any other generation, we have the power instigate massive change, but with great power comes great responsibility. We need to recognize that—and so do our future employers.
Siqi Liu is the editorial intern at Forefront Magazine.