Let's Talk About Generation Z

Generation Z, or Centennials, are fast becoming the demographic to watch. If the predictions are right, under 25s will make up nearly 25% of the global workforce in 2020. Are you ready?

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

If he’s right — and we tend to believe he is — then generational differences are not something to be feared, ridiculed, or used as a tool for blame. 

Quite the opposite, in fact: they should be celebrated.

In this article, we’ll deep-dive into the world of Generation Z (not to be confused with Generation A or Alpha, the oldest of which are still a decade or so away from entering the workforce) — the youngest generational cohort in the workforce today. Who are they? What’s important to them? And, crucially, what does this mean for their entry into working life?

Because whilst Millennials may make up a majority of the workforce today, Gen Z’s time will come — maybe sooner than many of us expect.

First things first, who are Generation Z?

If you know someone born between 1995 and the early 2010s, then you already have a Gen Z-er in your life.

And this wouldn’t be surprising, as according to the latest census figures, this demographic represents just shy of one quarter of the US population. With the population increasing worldwide, more than a third of global citizens are ‘Centennials’ — born since the turn of the century.

You could say we’re preparing for a Gen Z takeover. 

And would that be a bad thing?

Already heralded as “less self-centered” and more pragmatic than the generation before them, Gen Z — despite their young age — have a big reputation to live up to.

So how have we been able to glean so many insights and predictions about Gen Z values and behavior?

Well, it’s been an eventful couple of decades for this demographic to grow up in. The current political, social, environmental and financial climate has played a significant role in shaping what Gen Z wants and the values they hold.

What’s happening in the world to shape Centennial wants and needs?

According to McKinsey, there’s one word that can sum up Gen Z motivations: truth.

Whilst, on a daily — or hourly — basis, this age group might be attached to their devices, scrolling social media and streaming digital content, this means they are more plugged in to global events than any generation before.

As such, Centennials have more global aspirations, drawing daily inspiration from all four corners of the world. And they want the same from the brands and businesses they interact with. To appeal to a Gen Z audience, companies need to show they understand and appreciate how life really is right now — with products that are of genuine use, and inclusive marketing campaigns that favor real people over celebrity endorsers

This ‘always on’ way of living also means they have seen and heard a lot

This generation witnessed the Great Recession and the slow recovery which followed it. They perhaps saw their parents struggle through a period of unemployment, or their Millennial siblings return to the family home because living alone wasn’t financially viable.

Despite all this, the Centennial generation are also rising up to be empowered and able to speak their mind. They are fairly entrepreneurial, too. Two key things could be driving this. 

One: the omnipresent nature of social media, where Gen Z actively create and shape honest content to be viewed across the world. Social media today is less about heavy filters and influencer #ad campaigns. In fact, 94% of Centennials said “being true to myself is important” online.

Two: the number of notable Centennial role models who put independence, authenticity and honesty above being accepted or admired. Young people in the spotlight today — be it musician Billie Eilish or Time’s Person Of The Year 2019 Greta Thunburg — are bravely putting themselves out there to change public discourse, to make the world a more inclusive, proactive place.

And rather than this creating an “us versus them” culture of celebrity, it’s inspiring other young people to do the same. 

The past few years have seen the unprecedented uptake of youth climate strikes. And a fiercely, unapologetic pro gun control speech from high-schooler Emma Gonzalez, in which her rallying cry — “We call BS” — condemned the lack of truth or action from politicians.

Most recently, teenagers in the UK are taking on government public health officials, launching the Bite Back 2030 campaign, to create an “unstoppable movement” of young people who want more accurate labelling on all food packaging.

If there’s one thing to learn from these stories, it’s that this Centennial demographic is ready to stand up for their truths.

So, if Gen Z are on a mission to rid the world of its Instagram filters, substandard politics and inauthentic lifestyles… how well will they fit into working life?

Will they be disruptive and challenging?

Do organizations need to prepare themselves for a cohort who want to create radical change in the world, rather than earn a stable wage?

Not necessarily...

The Gen Z outlook on work: not what you might expect

Despite the headline-grabbing actions of prominent Centennial figures, as a whole this generation is more risk-averse than you’d expect.

But when you consider the financial difficulty they may have witnessed in their parents and older siblings, this isn’t all that surprising after all. Essentially, financial stability is important to Generation Z. Compared to Millennials, Gen Z are expected to job-hop far less, staying in the same role in search of stable income and added security.

This desire for a decent wage also makes Generation Z more competitive. Many of them want to earn, so as to buy a nice home — something Millennials have, apparently, never been all that fussed about.

What’s more, Gen Z are starting their working life earlier than their generational predecessors. Thanks to increasing tuition fees, this demographic is skipping college or university and going straight into the workplace. 

So, if you thought you had some time before even younger Centennials started dropping in CVs, you’d be wrong.

How can businesses attract and retain Centennial staff?

To prepare for Gen Z hires, you need to ask yourself: how attractive is my organization to young people?

And this starts right at the point of first exposure: the job ad. To gain the attention of Centennial prospects, job descriptions should be short and visually engaging. Consider video formats, rather than lengthy JDs, and show some behind-the-scenes content of what a ‘day in the life’ of your organization really looks like.

Because, although this demographic is more money-orientated than you might have expected, they do still care about what your business is about.

In a recent research study from Dell, 38% Gen Z-ers want to work for a socially or environmentally responsible organization, and 45% want work that has meaning and purpose beyond getting paid.

So it’s not as simple as ‘pay them well and they will come, and stay’ — attracting and retaining Centennial staff will require a balancing act between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. And, as is often the case, the secret lies in finding the right combination of both.

However, there are a number of practical things you can do to Centennial-ize how you hire, on-board and support young workers:

Embrace the latest technology

It’s no secret that Gen Z are the ‘born digital’ generation. Millennials (often referred to as ‘digital natives’ grew up with the internet and digital technologies, but Centennials were born into a world in which these things already existed. 

As such, any business looking to attract this demographic should be investing in digital ways of working. That might be offering remote working opportunities, using digital means of communication, providing downloadable on-boarding handbooks, or simply having an up-to-date company social media page.

 … but don’t forgo human interaction

Thing is, Centennials also value in-person contact, with 74% preferring face-to-face conversation in the workplace.

So even if you’re leaning on digital methods of communication to keep disparate teams connected, don’t do so at the expense of employees getting together IRL.

Create diverse communities

Another important factor for Gen Z job satisfaction: inclusion.

Perhaps due to their increased global connectivity, 63% want to work with people of diverse education and skill levels. A further 20% say that having people of different cultures (ethnicities or origins) is the most important team characteristic. 

Provide clear development opportunities and foster their entrepreneurialism

Lastly, organizations need to provide Gen Z staff with aspirational career steps. Not only to answer their financial needs, but to grow their skillset and give them a sense of independence.

We mentioned briefly before that Centennials show a certain entrepreneurial flair. And so opening up opportunities for them to lead on new ideas, tackle autonomous mini projects, and help steer the company’s direction will all be important for retaining your Gen Z talent.

Could Duuoo be your Centennial people development tool?

By bringing together new, seamless technology, and providing platforms for meaningful, authentic communication, Duuoo’s continuous performance development software responds to many Gen Z needs.

It’s never easy to usher a new age demographic into the workplace, but one thing is for sure: in order to attract, retain and grow Centennial talent, you’ll need to talk. 

And, as an added bonus, if you work hard to bridge any generational gaps within the organization, you’ll be creating an environment that allows everyone to thrive — not just the youngest recruits.

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