Move Aside, Millennials

Siqi Liu Issue 13 - Sept/Oct 2014 Leave a Comment

Generation Z is coming to the workplace, and they are opening the dawn of a new age. Tech-saavy, multitasking and driven, they will have a unique effect on business.

Back when the Millennials joined the workforce, they had a plethora of cynical stickers slapped onto their foreheads. Entitled. Egotistical. Selfish. Privileged. In contrast, their successors—Generation Z—face much less notoriety. Yet Gen Z embodies an eclectic group of young people vastly different from their predecessors, and these changes mean both growth and growing pains for businesses.

With its oldest members born in 1990, Gen Z is just wetting its feet in the workforce, but it is already bringing a new energy to companies. Members of Gen Z tend to be focused on learning and recognize that globalization has made it easier than ever for them to make a lasting impact.

Kristen Robinson, Chief Human Resource Officer at Pandora, observes that these young employees “want to consume as much as they possibly can in terms of knowledge and skills” and “make an impact in the world.”

But are these characteristics representative of Gen Z?

Jason Li, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of iReTron, a company that helps reduce waste by recycling old electronics, asserts that the relentless quest for knowledge and the desire to instigate change are typical of his generation.

“We’re always innovative,” he said. “I think that this entrepreneurial mindset is integral to our definition of our identity.”

It is this very mindset that drove Li to found iReTron at age 16. Over time, he made up for his lack of experience via his motivation to gain an inside look at the business. “With the help of the digital age,” he noted, “Generation Z can do anything.”

Tech Savvy & Cautious

This same digital age also has given Gen Z members significant advantages in their career, particularly in the technological department. They are the first-generation born and raised in the world of Internet, which includes social networking outlets that they will become experts at manipulating far before becoming employed.

“They know that the world is at their fingertips,” Robinson said, and more importantly, “they know how to use [technology] in a very resourceful way.” This is a potential boon for their future employers, who need workers to adapt to new technology quickly.

Technology, however, is often a double-edged sword, and no generation lives the dichotomous effects of it more completely than Gen Z. The stereotypical teenager tapping away on his or her phone while crossing the road or updating Twitter every minute may be just a slight exaggeration. Li observes that his tech-immersed peers sometimes “fail to remember that there is still such a thing as real life.”

Sure enough, this characteristic may damage the workplace culture. Robinson notes that she has seen how young employees sometimes forget that they can “get a deeper level of understanding by engaging in real-time conversation with someone.”

Balancing Breadth & Depth

Aside from the total technological immersion, Gen Z’s shortened attention span presents another challenge to employers. These up-and-comers are often eager to embrace a new idea at the expense of the old. As a result of growing up in a constantly multitasking world, they tend to move quickly from one endeavor to another.

The problem with this kind of movement, according to Robinson, is that “it gives them breadth, which is good, but it doesn’t necessarily give them depth of mastery.” Members of Gen Z may find themselves drifting among tasks that they are interested in exploring but not lingering on them long enough to achieve expertise.

Hiring & Feedback

Taking into consideration both the strengths and weakness of Gen Z, Robinson points at two things employers should do to orient this new group of workers: hiring well and giving feedback.

“You’re going to get the most out of this generation if you hire well,” Robinson saids. Hiring well, she said, means “hiring people who are going to consistent with your culture.” In other words, the key to understanding Gen Z employees is matching their goals to the goals of the company.

The second piece of advice—giving feedback—stems from Robinson’s observation that “the younger generation expects to get some kind of feedback in some way shape or form all day long.” In this digital age of instant messaging and tweeting, young people are used to rapid-fire responses. As a result, constant feedback orients them and keeps them focused.

Social Entrepreneurship

But incorporating Gen Z into the workforce means bigger and more dramatic changes than simple integration. When you throw a group of young people who want to change the world together, you get a change of direction and revolutionized business models.

“I think companies are going to become more purpose driven, and I think they’re going to think more about the way they impact the world in a philanthropic or altruistic way,” Robinson said.

Companies, therefore, will need to think more strategically about putting investment into their employees as well as their communities. Gen Z employees will demand that their efforts can have a worthwhile impact on the world, and they will seek to work together with their companies on achieving that goal.

iRetron is a solid example of the purpose-drive business model that attracts young people. When asked about the company, Li said that what he is most proud of is “not just the concept of my business, but what the cause is behind iReTron.” This type of social entrepreneurship is certain to become more popular as Gen Z members launch their careers. They are at the intersection of technology and globalization, and with proper integration, the future looks bright.

Siqi Liu is Editorial Intern at Forefront magazine.

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