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Large and in charge

Forget millennials, Generation Z is entering the workforce as the largest, most diverse, and most demanding generation ever. What’s it going to take to hire — and keep — these ‘always-on’ workers?


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From the pages of In Business magazine.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with Generation Z and need an introduction, the first thing an employer needs to know is that it’s the most ethnically diverse and largest generation in American history, and right now it’s also the youngest. Generally, “Gen Z” is defined as the generation born between 1995 and 2010, and its oldest members are just now entering the workforce.

For all the handwringing employers have done when integrating millennials into their business culture and accommodating their needs and desires in the workplace, is it possible the integration of Gen Z will cause even more concern and unrest? Or should employers be able to use the lessons learned from millennials to more easily adjust to hiring members of Gen Z?

According to local human resources experts, the former will only come if employers aren’t paying attention to the latter. That said, Gen Z is about to disrupt your workplace, which could be a great thing for workers of all ages — just think how millennials’ insistence on greater work-life balance has led to more flexibility for all of us.

Gen Z doesn’t just view work-life balance as a scale, where work is on one side
of the scale and the rest of life is on the other side. They must integrate both, and while it might be going too far to say Gen Z is here to save us, they might just be here to further transform the way we work.

Disruptive integration

“I think the integration of Generation Z into the workforce will be a major disruption to business culture and workplaces, which are still just ‘catching up’ to support millennials,” says Coreyne Woodman-
Holoubek, co-founder and chief human resources officer of Madison-based Contracted Leadership, and also a co-founder of Disrupt Madison, part of a national movement to drastically change the face of HR. She notes the main characteristics of Generation Z that are most concerning are their fierce independence, short focus time, desire for instant access to information and feedback, and their insistence
on multitasking. 

Organizations that build business best practices and policies around the control of the workforce and hierarchical structures should be concerned, and should be ready to let go of a lot of traditional HR practices, especially those around the non-exempt (hourly) workforce and labor market, and the practice of promotion as a means to warrant an increase in compensation, says Woodman-Holoubek.

“Employers can take a few pages from the millennial ‘rule book’ in regard to workplace flexibility best practices, the focus on impact and purpose in company culture, and the integration of philanthropic programing into work hours,” Woodman-Holoubek explains. “I think everyone wants workplace practices to change; however, giving up the control organizations have with the generations of employees will be difficult to prepare for the largest generation of workers.”

“I’m a late Gen Xer, and there wasn’t much discussion about what we wanted when we entered the workforce,” notes Kari Davis, vice president – human resources director for State Bank of Cross Plains. “We were basically expected to conform to the existing business culture. By the time millennials came of age, the nation was starting to realize there weren’t enough workers coming into the workforce to fill the vacancies left by retiring baby boomers. Millennials had bargaining power and used that power to enable change. They brought flexibility to when and where they could get their jobs done, claiming they can do their jobs from anywhere, including from home, for example.

“Going through that process was important and will make the adjustments needed for hiring and assimilating Generation Z easier because employers never thought about that give-and-take process before,” Davis adds. “The fact that employers now have a mindset that asks what young adults want from an employer will make hiring this new generation of workers simpler and result in a better process from the start.”

As with every new generation, Davis says Gen Z will need some help developing skills to communicate with professionalism. Gen Z grew up texting and using shortcuts and abbreviations. They communicate directly and don’t necessarily have the patience to sit through longer conversations, and Gen Zers aren’t used to reading body language or understanding their own body language. According to Davis, employers will likely need to train, encourage, and reinforce these communication skills and other similar “soft skills.”

One of the concerns that clients of Ashlie B. Johnson, owner of Brooke Human Resource Solutions, express is that this new generation does not communicate in the same way as older generations. They have shorter attention spans and are more inclined to communicate digitally.

“Gen Z is the largest generation, and they will be the largest group of influencers.” — Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek, CHRO and co-founder, Contracted Leadership

“For those businesses where customer service and interaction are still a priority, this lack of social skills can be perceived as a barrier to success,” says Johnson. “Like millennials, Generation Z is also perceived as being more ‘sensitive’ than some of the generations that came before them. Employers are concerned that managing these employees will be difficult as disciplinary actions and criticism is internalized more intensely.

“My clients also express concerns about the blurring of lines between personal and professional life,” Johnson adds. “When an employee tries to connect with their boss via social media, it can be difficult for the manager to keep professional boundaries, but not accepting friend requests is generally unheard of in the Gen Z crowd.”

“On the flip side,” counters Davis, “I believe Generation Z brings a lot of good
to the workplace, as well. They are the most inclusive generation we’ve ever seen. This level of open-mindedness enables them to find out-of-the-box solutions and encourages questions and acceptance of other perspectives. Generation Z’s innate use of technology makes them adept at change at a much faster pace than ever before. They are constantly learning, and their impatience also makes them incredibly efficient and effective.”

Brittany Hanson, human resources manager for Senior Helpers in Madison, notes Gen Zers come across as more mature and serious, especially for their young age, than generations past. “I’ve read articles about how Gen Zers are not partaking in ‘rebellious teenage’ things like partying or underage drinking, and they are proving to be more financially responsible, so we’ve got a very serious and head-strong group of young folks entering the workforce.

“I’d say my biggest concern as an employer regarding Generation Z is the increased appearance of depression and other mental health issues in these young folks, which has been attributed to the constant immediate gratification of social media that they’ve been immersed in their entire lives,” says Hanson. “As millennials were growing up — myself being one — things like texting, email, Facebook, etcetera were developing right along with us. Gen Z has had this technology since day one, and it is tied to their sense of self and identity.”

In Woodman-Holoubek’s view, among the main concerns around Gen Z are that they will have very high, perhaps unrealistically high expectations, they will have more control in the working relationship than employers, and that they will expect constant support.

“This will drastically change the way HR and businesses recruit, retain, develop, and gauge employee commitment,” explains Woodman-Holoubek. “HR should expect to hire without a resume, maybe without even an application. Candidates will come to the table interviewing the organization, expecting an immediate feel-good experience to be their first impression, and to be catered to. Candidates will expect that a career pathway is offered to them, and that it will be individualized. They will also expect that they can have a job, a gig, and a passion project, and the employer will be okay with that.

“I do think these concerns are justified,” Woodman-Holoubek adds. “Gen Z is the largest generation, and they will be the largest population of the workforce, and they will be the largest group of influencers. That means that they will ‘rule,’ and the older generations will be dependent upon Gen Z to contribute to the workplace to support the large amount of baby boomers in retirement.”


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