While out shopping in a supermarket the other day, I happened to overhear what I assumed was the team leader complaining about a someone being lazy to her co-worker. She ended her little rant by calling them a ‘typical Millennial’. Yes, if you matured around the turn of the century, sorry, but you have a bit of a bad reputation.
There is this myth (and it is a myth in most cases) that the millennial is self-obsessed and lazy. It is, of course, ridiculous to put people into a pigeonhole this way, but the myth persists. So, what then of the next generation? The so-called Z generation that grew up not knowing a world without digital access?
The first flush of people who were born around the beginning of the century are entering the workforce, and they are a different breed of worker. Again, we should be wary of making sweeping statements, but it does seem to stand to reason that being the first generation of people born in what some people refer to as the technological age will have a difference in the way they see the workplace.
So what traits can we expect and what can we look for in the Gen-Z worker?
- Obviously, they are plugged in. This is a group of people who probably only don’t have access to a computing device when they are asleep. The smartphone appeared as they became old enough to own one and they have had one ever since. That means there is little need for basic computer training to start with and their ability to gather and process information may be excellent. The downside may be a leaning towards a lack of attention to the details and an over-reliance on the technology for answers
- They are likely to be multi-taskers. If you have a child, watch them multi-screen and still hold a conversation with their friends for proof of this. The Gen-Z worker is used to being able to interact with several tasks at once. While this may seem like great news in the workplace, sorry, there is a problem with this. The bottom line is that according to psychologists, multi-tasking is a myth. The theory is that the brain needs to go through a stop/start process and cannot actually process simultaneously. So, while your new young worker may seem to be doing several things at once, they are actually reducing their efficiency. Sticking to a single task may be a challenge for the Gen-Z worker so they will need support in this.
- They can adapt quickly and are learners by nature. This a surprising trait perhaps because it is easy to assume that the reliance on technology will lead to a lack of adaptability, but it isn’t so. When you consider how fast the technology they interact with changes it suddenly becomes clear that they have always had to be adaptable. For the employer, this is an incredibly valuable skill to have in the team. As always, there is a downside though because it can lead to a ‘learn enough and move on’ mentality where the learning lacks a depth of understanding.
- On and offline are the same thing. What we mean here is that the digital realm is not a place they go to. Where the millennial will know to check Google, for example, the Gen-Z will not consider that a conscious process. Checking online and dipping into the wealth of the knowledge that is there is not a function, it is an instinct. As a result, you may find that the boundaries of what is considered ‘the workplace’ are less defined with a Gen-Z. The workplace is online, offline and everywhere in between for the Gen-Z worker. This may well be one of the most frustrating and at the same time desirable traits of them as a worker. They are switched on to the job, the business, leadership team, the products and the social life of your business because it is in their makeup to see a wide picture. Sadly, at the same time they are also still switched on to their own social world and that can be a big distraction in the workplace.
- They communicate through media. The Gen-Z worker is likely to be a video maker as much as a writer. As a result, they tend to be quite pragmatic when it comes to communication and will choose the most effective method over the most commonly used. As an employer, you may well want to let them do this; this generation knows how to send a short message that conveys meaning better than any other in history.
- Brand, Brand, Brand – told through story. The Gen-Z (and indeed the Millennial) have overturned the way we sell ideas to them. That is not just in the commercial world it is throughout their approach to life. Quick messages and ‘trust me’ approaches may not work because they are used to being able to see a myriad of additional information sources. If you want loyalty and commitment from a Gen Z worker, show them an employer brand with multiple levels of engagement. They buy ideas, not practicalities, and they want you to engage them.
We should remember of course that the generation Z workers that are entering the marketplace may be different in some key ways, but they will also still be individuals. This means that finding the right person for your team will still be the top priority regardless of other considerations but, as with any employee, getting the best from them will mean playing to their strengths and the Gen-Z employee will bring a different perspective that can be developed over time to produce a well-rounded, loyal and productive employee.