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Millennials vs Gen Z: Key differences in workplace dynamics

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While Millennials still account for significant proportion of our overall workforce, Generation Z is now upon us. What trends are emerging with this new age workforce and how should organisations adapt to attract and retain them?

Over the last 50 years, the workforce has welcomed “Baby Boomers”, “Gen X,” “Gen Y” and more recently “Millennials”, the characteristics and trends of the latter dominating employment studies. However, times are changing and with many Millennials now approaching their mid-30’s and taking on leadership positions within organisations, attention is turning to the next age group to enter the work force – “Gen  Z”. With this, employers are presented with new obstacles and challenges to adjust their work environment and culture to welcome and accommodate this new generation.

An introduction to Millennial and Gen Z

The Millennial generation are the most studied group in history and according to The Pew Research Centre definition are those born between 1981 and 1996. They are considered the first generation of ‘digital natives’ and in the workplace are confident, ambitious, driven by high achievement and have equally high expectations of their employers. With this they take an assignment-based approach to employment and seek out new challenges more often than previous generations many of whom were brought up ina culture where job tenure was encouraged and comparatively more common.

Gen Z – broadly similar to Millennials in their characteristics – are those born between the mid 1990’s and 2010 and with a population of 2.4 billion they represent 32% of the population globally. Further, with rising education costs and workplaces offering training programmes to educate, many younger Gen Z’s are starting to bypass further education and we can expect a surge of new employees in the workplace sooner rather than later.

Trends and characteristics of Gen Z

True ‘digital natives’, Gen Z’s have been exposed to technology in many forms from a very early age. They are comfortable with consuming information across a range of platforms (mobile, tablets and games consoles), leading to them being hyper-cognitive and the best informed across any age group. As well as being technologically savvy, Gen Z are creators, innovators and entrepreneurs with strong opinions and a desire to be heard. 

In the workplace, they bring loyalty, ambition and a willingness and desire to improve the world they live in but while their work ethic is strong, like Millennials, they expect employers to address their cultural and environmental needs at work. In a recent study by Forbes, 77% of Gen Z participants said that a company’s commitment to diversity would be a deciding factor in  choosing a role and according to another study by Dynamic Signal, they care more about work-life balance and personal well-being, with income holding less importance.

How a company markets and brands itself is also of real importance for Gen Z with 70% of prospective employees looking at online reviews on sites such as Glassdoor before applying for a role and according to Forbes they will be 69% more likely to apply for a job if the company manages its brand well.

In contrast to their fresh views of  the world of work, Gen Z are considered to be more impatient, focussing on shorter time frames, challenged with self-esteem issues and are considered indecisive – characteristics employers should be aware of.

Next Generation recruitment

Modern life experiences and technology influences of Gen Z are changing and impacting the jobs they will choose and how they will choose them. While their attributes make for a very flexible and dynamic workforce, ready to take on challenges that previous generations might struggle with; this flexibility comes with expectation and engaging with these workers requires a different approach.

Consider the following tips for attracting and retaining Gen Z talent

Position yourself as a technology-savvy company – Gen Z are using multiple online platforms to assess prospective job opportunities and when employed they look to appropriate technology to support their working practices (laptops, tablets, social platforms and even gamification of their work targets and objectives).

Invest in real-time development and feedback – Gen Z want to know what is expected of them and where they stand. This feedback can be used to offer new challenges and vary role characteristics to create opportunity and discourage role hopping. Growing up in a post financial crisis culture, Gen Z lack trust in employers so it is important to bear this in mind and built trust through care and support.

Focus on your brand – The experience of working in a positive environment and a culture that promotes diversity is important to Gen Z. Consider how culture is represented through social media channels, websites, interview processes and once hired through the environment and working practices.

Offer benefits that encourage a balanced lifestyle – Gen Z are loyal and will work hard when they feel supported and when their work life balance is considered. Be aware of working hours and demands and reward people in a way that caters towards a balance life style (for example through healthcare benefits or additional holidays).

Listen well, listen often - Gen Z employees might treat their managers more like peers than generations before and may not work tirelessly to serve your needs, but if you listen and engage them, they will be productive and work hard to achieve their objectives.

Looking to the future…

While some studies suggest that the cutting-edge tech firms like Apple, Google and Microsoft appear to have it sussed – engaging Gen Z is not all about easy generalisations of providing free fruit and bean bags. It’s making small changes that puts the employee experience front and centre. It’s looking more broadly at diversity and inclusion and it’s listening to the voices of the people you’re bringing in and shaping recruitment strategy accordingly.

By 2025, 75 percent of the global workplace will be Millennials and Generation Z, it’s of utmost important for organisations to adapt their engagement strategy in a way that’s consistent with how these new generations communicate and work. If a company has not yet faced the challenges that the Millennials brought over the last five years, it is time to further develop their workforce strategy – Gen Z’s are coming and in much bigger numbers!  It won’t be long before we’re here again talking about Generation Alpha (the children of the Millennial and those born 2011 - 2025), right now they are children, but if employees are entering the workplace as school leavers and by-passing further education then in 2027, Gen Z will be old news and Alpha will be the new Gen on the block…


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