Connecting with Gen Z in the Workplace

Connecting With Gen Z in the Workplace

At a recent Virtual Whiskey Wednesday event, attendees enjoyed a presentation by Josh Miller, CEO of The Deciding Edge, on engaging with Gen Z members in the workforce. Josh brings a first-person perspective to his Gen Z findings: He’s 19 years old and a freshman at Northwestern University, as well as a very polished speaker and presenter.

Josh Miller, CEO of The Deciding Edge

Gen Z is defined as those born between 1996 and 2009, and they represent about 26% of the population of the United States, or 67 million people. Josh points out that a more memorable guideline is this: Gen Z can be delineated as those with no memory of the time before 9/11. They’ve come of age in a period of disruption in many forms (more on that in a moment).

While growing up in turbulent times has impacted the attitudes of Gen Z and the ways in which they get things done, Josh points out that the typical 19-year-old, for example, wants more or less the same things as any other generation: to fit in, do well in school and to take the first steps on the path to professional success.

The Age of Disruption

Disruption is the word that best describes both Gen Z and the times in which they grew up. They’ve lived through economic disruption in the form of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and an economy that, while healthier now, remains much less stable overall than in the 20th century. They’ve seen demographic disruption: Their predecessors, Millennials, are now the largest component of the workforce, which is getting both younger and less centralized. And it goes without saying that technological disruption has been a constant in their lives.

Add to all that the ultimate disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have a generation that has had to learn to roll with the punches in a big way. They are, as Josh points out, both resilient and realistic.

One quality that defines Gen Z is competitiveness. They have always had the ability to check their grades and accomplishments online in more or less real time. They always know the score and they need regular feedback on where they stand. They’re not ‘out to get’ older generations, to use Josh’s term, but looking for mentorship, guidance and a willingness to engage in dialogue.

Interestingly, Gen Z seems to share more qualities with their parents, the Gen X-ers, than with their immediate predecessors the Millennials. For one, they’re more interested in financial stability than in having work they’re passionate about (by approximately a two-to-one ratio in a finding Josh shared), and they don’t necessarily view work as their primary means to achieve their purpose in life.

Contrary to popular belief, they also prefer to communicate face to face, but a word of caution: The torrent of information to which they’ve been exposed has given the typical Gen Z member a very highly developed BS filter.

Don’t interpret all that to mean that Gen Z is not motivated. A few statistics:

  • 41 percent plan to launch their own business
  • 46 percent believe they’ll invent something world-changing
  • 77 percent between the ages of 14 and 21 are already earning their own money

How can your organization harness that entrepreneurial spirit?

Take a page from Google or 3M, both of which allow engineers and researchers to use 15 to 20 percent of their time on pet projects, things they’re passionate about. Fostering this kind of ‘intrapreneurship’ is often the way to a Gen Z-er’s heart.

And you can’t overestimate the value of a supportive and understanding environment. Even as they plan big dreams in big numbers, Gen Z is feeling the stress of the times. A staggering 91 percent report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, and they’re more likely than any other generation to self-report their mental health as fair or poor.

Finally, Gen Z is the most diverse generation in American history, and the first where Caucasians will make up less than 50% of the generation.

They’ve come of age in fast-paced and disruptive times, and those are good terms to describe Gen Z as well. They’re forward-looking, future-focused and with the right support, they’re ready to be the next generation of leaders in your organization.