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?
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.
“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
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.”
Speaking of recruitment and retention, Woodman-Holoubek says employers need to start by changing mindsets to expand their definition of what and how a job or a position is defined and described, and then they must market and brand that information in an online platform where the targeted candidate virtually lives.
“To generalize, influencers live on Twitter and LinkedIn, creatives and makers live on Instagram and Facebook [though less so Facebook for Gen Z],” says Woodman-Holoubek. “Make the information short and focused, maybe in video form, and change it often. Make the content relevant and the responses rapid. Do not wait to contact a candidate and set a meeting, probably at their convenience. In a week or less, be ready for the information to not be relevant anymore, and that they have moved on if they do not receive your response. Gen Zers want human connection in the form of virtual, ‘just-in-time’ experiences. Be ready to engage them then and there.”
“Gen Z is more pragmatic than millennials; Gen Z grew up during the recession.” — Ashlie B. Johnson, owner, Brooke Human Resource Solutions
Because Generation Z is so digitally savvy, companies need to have a digital presence to effectively recruit them, concurs Davis. HR and marketing will need to work together to align and take advantage of a company’s brand. Gen Z will judge how easy — or difficult — it is to do business with your company online, so HR should take advantage of video and YouTube channels to more effectively convey the brand message to audiences and recruits alike.
“From a recruiting standpoint, I think we have a preconceived concern about Gen Z job hopping, says Mary Moua, recruitment sourcing specialist for Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. “Because Generation Z expects instant results and knows we always have options in many aspects of life, we tend to move on to the next option if we are not pleased with service or other expectations. Same goes for employment — changing jobs within one to three years is more typical than it was 20 years ago. Employees expect more these days, like better benefits and perks, to work remotely, etc. If [those expectations are] not met, they may look elsewhere. Especially with the unemployment rate being so low, it works in their favor because talent is hard to find these days.”
Recruiting Gen Z requires much more effort than the generations that came before them, notes Johnson. Gen Z is much more independent and likely to investigate a potential employer prior to agreeing to an interview.
“For instance, use of apps such as Glassdoor is much more common for Gen Z,” explains Johnson. “It is very important for employers to look at their company as a brand and market it that way. Maintaining a social media presence and keeping up to date with changing trends is more important for the recruiting department than ever before.
“Gen Z is also more pragmatic than millennials,” continues Johnson. “While millennials were concerned with open office space, bean bag chairs, and collaborative/fun working environments, Gen Z grew up during the recession and are much more keenly aware of the value of a generous 401(k) match or stock options. Gen Z’s more aggressive attitude about advancement and increasing their wages over time also requires employers to acknowledge and put training and career development programs in place in order to retain this new generation over time.”
In terms of retention, the current trend for an employee to remain in a position is 2.2 years, notes Woodman-Holoubek. She recommends expecting less for Gen Z, unless you expand the employer mindset on the terms of employee and worker, as well as what is considered “work” and what is not work.
“Employers should focus on the outcomes they want to and what experience the worker should generate for the organization,” explains Woodman-Holoubek. “From there, organizations can begin to redesign ‘work’ and work descriptions. Pathways for individual employees can then be determined and Gen Zers can be supported. Gen Zers are not only multitaskers; they are also multifaceted. Expect a candidate for a position to also be a multimedia expert, an actor, or a musician, and want their organization to support all their pursuits and all their endeavors.”
Some ‘splainin to do
Both colleagues and managers will need to adjust their expectations when it comes to working with and managing Gen Z employees. Queue the eye rolls, right? Well, don’t worry because this is much less about babying Gen Z than it is about learning to work with a group whose idea of work is significantly different than the generations before.
Older generations of managers and leaders will need to up their technology game, says Johnson. It is no longer possible for managers to let knowledge of technology pass them by, she notes, and employers should take an active role in continued technology education for their aging workforce. Because Gen Z is always connected but also distracted at the same time, implementing productivity management and project management tools can be very beneficial for managers.
“The traditional top-down, command-and-control corporate structure has proven to be challenging for millennials and is likely to be even more so for members of Gen Z,” warns Johnson. “Managers will need to re-evaluate management tools such as performance reviews and ‘employee-of-the-month’ posters, and replace them with practices that are more effective for Gen Z.
“Another challenge with Gen Z is their sense of entitlement and the idea that they should challenge any practice that they perceive to be ‘unfair,’” Johnson adds. “Employers will have to do a better job of clearly defining job and professional behavior standards. While previous generations would never have challenged an employer with demands such as having the ability to work from home and flexible start/end times, Gen Z will not hesitate. Employers will need to review their business practices and be prepared to educate employees on the necessity for the practices and expectations that are in place.”
Moua agrees, noting managers need to have a level of understanding and empathy for their Gen Z employees, but that it goes both ways and the younger generation needs to be just as open minded about the older generations.
“From both a retention standpoint and from the perspective of getting the most out of Generation Z employees, businesses should be looking to encourage and empower this generation to come up with ideas rather than simply carry out management initiatives,” says Davis. “Managers and leaders will need to shift their mindset from providing all the vision and direction to supporting and guiding young employees to bring their ideas to fruition within the constructs of corporate rules and regulations. Basically, leaders need to help Gen Z figure out how to bring their solutions to life.”
Business leaders will also need to remember there is more than one way to accomplish a task and give Generation Z the freedom to find a path that might be different from the way we’ve always done it, notes Davis. This will require adjustments on both sides.
In addition, young workers will have to realize that most companies are small businesses, explains Davis. “We’re not all Google, Facebook, and Netflix. Small businesses tend to adopt technology at a slower pace than the big, national corporations. Again, this will take adjustments on both sides, with smaller companies needing to incorporate technology at a faster pace and Gen Zers needing to be patient with businesses adapting as fast as they can.”
Ultimately, managers and older co-workers will have to work hard to build authentic relationships with Gen Zers, building trust and focusing on the experience of the leadership relationship, says Woodman-Holoubek. This means changing styles to mentor, coach, and facilitate rather than supervise, manage, or even micro manage.
“Leaders will have to adjust to not always having their people present in the office, or in the city, or even the same country,” notes Woodman-Holoubek. “Managers will need to focus on acceptance and tolerance separate from diversity and inclusion as a new attitude toward the workplace code of conduct. Gen Z will be a spectrum of gender and identity and will be expecting managers and co-workers to treat them as non-binary. This requires work on removing unconscious bias and second generational bias from the work practices.
“There really will be zero tolerance of workplace abuses of power, of violence, bullying, and other forms of human discord,” says Woodman-Holoubek. “However, I think we will see a rise of leaders coaching people through anxiety and depression. This is not because the changes in our society and lifestyles are leading people to mental illness, it is because it is becoming less taboo and normalized to discuss in the workplace, and we will continue to become more personal with people.”
As has already been noted, Generation Z and technology go hand in hand, and companies need to make a conscious effort to upgrade their technology practices to keep up with their new hires.
“If there is a social media platform, regardless of what it is, you should be on it if you want to recruit Gen Z,” says Hanson. “Display absolutely everything and anything on your social media outlets that would draw ambitious young folks to your organization, especially any socially-conscious community outreach efforts. This has been discussed for years as a creative way to recruit people, but now it is a necessity, especially if your organization has a need for hard working young talent and wants to be in the game for the long haul.”
Before all else, employers should look at speed of hiring, notes Hanson. “Gen Z grew up with Google. They have not had to wait more than a few seconds for an answer to anything. While they are waiting for your job offer, they found 12 other open positions, sent in their resume, sent a Snapchat (#adulting) to their friends, and scrolled Instagram.”
Having the most talented people will mean having access to up-to-date technology and data, and technology will be part of an employer brand, notes Woodman-Holoubek. Primarily, organizations should invest in programs and systems that are compatible with and function best on mobile devices, social platforms for collaboration and connection, and virtual communication tools.
“Be ready to implement blockchain technology and bitcoin for payment for projects outside of payroll, and possibly moving away from the traditional bi-weekly payroll systems altogether,” says Woodman-Holoubek. “Gen Z will expect it now, and waiting for compensation might frustrate them.”
Davis says Generation Z might be able to use their ease with technology as a hiring point. “The young people we’re hiring are representative of the young consumers we’re courting. We want and need to hire people who understand these new consumer trends. If we can present this as an opportunity to encourage new hires to point out areas we need to improve and support the solutions they bring to the table, the technology gap can be a win-win for all involved.
“That said, we still need young job hunters to take our businesses seriously,” Davis adds. “This generation doesn’t tolerate inefficiency. Gen Z never had to sit through commercials or wait for dial-up internet. They will pay for upgrades to avoid waiting. Companies should make sure the application process is quick, efficient, and easy to use.”
Employers should take advantage of what they’ve learned in the process of integrating millennials into their workplace and apply it to the integration of Gen Z regarding technology, says Johnson. However, employers should also recognize some key differences in these two generations. While millennials are still protective of their work/life balance, Gen Z is “always on.”
“This generation grew up with 24/7 connection to the internet and the line between work time and personal time has continued to blur,” notes Johnson. “Employers will need to adjust expectations around hourly schedules and be sure that connectivity policies are clear.”
No more minimum qualifications?
This last point might be the hardest to swallow for some employers, but in order to recruit the best members of Generation Z, they don’t need to lower their minimum qualifications, they need to do away with them altogether.
“I do think employers will have to forego their reliance on minimum qualifications, especially a four-year degree, as a means to determine the suitability of candidates to a job or a work position,” says Woodman-Holoubek. “Most Gen Zers will have taught themselves what they want to learn via the internet. More emphasis will be placed on the emotional intelligence that a candidate has, and their ability to work as part of a team or as a leader of a team. The focus will be on human connection and performance and how soft skills can be translated into statistics and metrics to move the organization forward.”
“Any time we post an entry-level position, we should be asking what that position really needs from a skills and education standpoint, as well as why we need those prerequisites,” says Davis. “What are we hoping they learned from those education or experience requirements? What can we train? Certain levels of education and certain types of work experience help develop professional skills, such as the ability to agree to disagree with others respectfully. However, in this age of online businesses, we are going to see more young workers apply for jobs after starting their own virtual businesses. HR professionals need to value the types of problem-solving skills and initiative young workers may have developed during online experiences.”
Because Generation Z is viewed as the most entrepreneurial generation, Johnson says she’s found that many employers are removing the four-year-degree requirement from their job postings and re-writing their expectations to include language such as “bachelor’s degree or commensurate work experience desired.”
And if employers do indeed scale back on their minimum qualifications, they should seriously consider offering paid training or tuition reimbursement as a guaranteed part of their benefit package, says Hanson. “Not only does this ensure that the individual has the required skills, but it’s also a strong recruitment and retention tool.”
Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college, at least according to its authors, a trio of Beloit College professors — the youngest of whom was last an undergrad in the mid-1990s. In other words, take it with a grain of salt.
Still, with the 2018 list that looks at the college class of 2022 about to be released any day now, it’s a fun diversion to look back at previous year’s lists pertaining to for
the classes of 2018 through 2021 for a light-hearted glimpse at just a few of the generalizations about the early crop of Gen Zers about to make their way into your workforce ranks.
- They are the first generation for which a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.
- There have always been emojis to cheer us up.
- Donald Trump has always been a political figure, as a Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican.
- They never got to see Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Stein co-host a quiz show or Dennis Miller provide commentary for the NFL.
- Justin Timberlake has always been a solo act.
- There has always been a digital swap meet called eBay.
- The United States has always been at war.
- They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time.
- If you want to reach them, you’d better send a text—emails are oft ignored.
- They have no memory of Bob Dole promoting Viagra.
- Hybrid automobiles have always been mass-produced.
- They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
- The airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.
- Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.
- The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
- Meds have always been an option.
- Hard liquor has always been advertised on television.
- Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.
- The Unabomber has always been behind bars.
- They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser.
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