The new kids in the workplace – What to expect from Gen Z workers

Business 28th February 2023

It’s always an interesting time when a new generation of young people start to make an impression in the workplace. The Millennials are no longer the new kids on the block so what can we expect from the so called Zoomers, the Z Generation?

Meet the new generation

It’s always important to have perspective on what we mean when we are talking about a ‘generation’. The definition of what a generation is varies a little here and there, but in general, we are looking at people born within a specific period of time. A generation tends to be defined by around 20 years, or long enough to be considered adult from birth. This is then sometimes used to create a loose set of characteristics, a sort of spirit of the times.

The principle is that if you can look at what a generation went through and the times they grew up in, you can take an educated guess at how they will behave as a mass.

A word of caution here though is that this is generalising in a very big way. Individuals may well not behave in the expected ways, and we should be very wary of using these characteristics as anything but an overview.

So, who are the Gen-Z?

Well, looking at the cultural and social contexts they grew up in, you immediately see they are likely to be significantly different from any previous generation. The noteworthy events of their life-time, the pandemic, Brexit, war in Europe and so on, have all had an impact. The economic uncertainty they have seen, for example, differentiates them from the previous generation, the Millennials, in relation to their attitude to finances and career goals. Where previous generations were aware of climate change, Gen Z grew up experiencing the results in a first-hand way. Most importantly though is that this is the first generation to be truly digitally native. The technological leaps they witnessed during their formative years have been huge and frequent. In some ways the same could be said of the previous generation but there is a key difference between the Zoomer and the Millennial. The Gen Z worker grew up with almost constant access to online, social media and smart technology. Where Millennials adopted an online presence, the Gen Z worker was pretty much born with one.

So, what does this mean in terms of the aptitudes, skills, attitudes, and their expectations of the workplace and employers?

  • The most diverse and aware generation in history:

One of the defining characteristics of the Zoomer is their almost effortless inclusivity. Their approach to diversity in the workplace will potentially make for a more welcoming and inclusive environment. This acceptance of multiple viewpoints and awareness of the needs of others means they will be very mindful of an employer’s inclusivity policy. In fact, Generation Z will probably look to a diverse workplace as an indicator of a good career options.

  • Flexible, agile, and demanding of feedback:

When a generation grows up in such a fast moving and changeable environment, it is hardly surprising that they become more flexible and agile in their outlook. However, there is also a real need, probably generated by the financially unstable times they experienced, for stable positions and career growth to be a priority. This will probably lead to a desire for clear, consistent feedback to measure their success against. Hybrid working and other non-traditional work patterns will sit well with them as will multiple-projects.

  • Technologically adept and accepting of change:

Probably the most defining aspect of a Gen Z worker is their natural ability with technology. This is a group that cannot remember a world before there was instant access to the digital space. This has led to a group who see technological change, even potentially major changes such as the advent of Artificial Intelligence, as being a matter of daily life. They take change in their stride and can apply technology to their world instinctively.

This all sounds great but is there a downside?

Well, again we need to be careful of pigeon-holing individuals with generalised characteristics, but there could be some potential development points for employers to be aware of. Probably the top of these is the question of attention for extended periods. The life of a Zoomer is, appropriately, very fast. They are also quite different in how they absorb information. Second screening for example, such as a smart device being used while watching TV or performing another task, is a marker of Gen Z. The multitasking skills this has developed are a bonus, but it could lead to a lack of depth of attention in the workplace. Where the Millennials have a reputation for self-absorption and ‘the cult of me first’ mentality, Zoomers are acutely aware of diversity and political issues. Again, while this is generally a good thing, if out of balance it can lead to judgemental or reactionary behaviour. Only time will tell if these are actual areas of ongoing concern.

As the generations change, employers need to roll with that change and adjust their expectations accordingly. The Gen Z worker has a great deal to offer and, with careful nurturing, could well be one of the most productive and successful groups of workers for decades.

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