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  • Writer's pictureJanice Otremba

Understanding younger generations in the workplace

Generation Z will soon surpass millennials as the most populous generation on earth, with more than one-third of the world counting themselves as Gen Zers. As our world swiftly changes around us, we must change the workplace along with it and find how the youngest adult generation mixes in-office with the ones that came before it.

To do this, we must understand who works for us, and understand which stereotypes about them are true or misunderstood.

Stereotype: Gen Zers are “lazy” or “distracted.”

Is it true?: While their short attention spans can be proven (the average millennial attention span is 12 seconds, while Gen Z is 8 seconds ... “SQUIRREL!”) their look of laziness may be something else. It could be a distaste for an in-office 9-to-5, which tastes yuckier than ever with higher gas prices and a pandemic-proven productivity rate that is faster for some at home.

Breaking the stereotype: Companies must consider flexible options in terms of working hours, which can be done more easily if your business is based on productivity instead of punching a clock. Shared-work arrangements and hybrid options have become more popular as younger generations seek autonomy. Moonlighting and contract work in this gig economy have become the norm.

Younger generations also may not feel as challenged, as workspaces aren’t being updated at a fast enough pace to support them, such as the slow, decades-long implementation of AI tools.

Stereotype: They have no morals.

Is it true?: Gen Z is also the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history: 1 in 4 is Hispanic, 14% are African American and 6% are Asian, according to studies led by the Pew Research Center. And their views on gender and identity are unprecedented: Gen Z refuses to turn ethnicity and race into checkboxes on an application or survey. A study by the Network of Executive Women, in part with Deloitte, a British multinational professional services network, found Gen Z no longer forms opinions of a company solely based on the quality of their products and services but on their ethics, practices and social impact.

In Canada, millennials are the generation that accounts for the largest share of the working-age population (33.2%), or those aged 15 to 64.

Breaking the stereotype: While government mandates are becoming more and more demanding of companies having proper environmental, social and corporate governance plans, our workplaces need to be ahead of it (think: loud and proud). While your company might have climate change policies or ethical standards in place on paper, knowing how it actually implements said plan is vital.

Other ethical practices to consider? Adding paid volunteer days throughout the year.

Stereotype: Gen Z is entitled. They’re all about money.

Is it true?: Surprisingly, Gen Z values salary less than every other generation: If given the choice of accepting a better-paying but boring job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Gen Z was fairly evenly split, according to the Deloitte study.

Breaking the stereotype: While pay may not be top of mind for younger generations, benefits may be. Companies must consider health care and wellness packages.

As many know, this can be just as spendy as setting high-paying salaries, however.

Flexible benefits could better support your workers and should depend on where a worker is in their life -- do they have a family, are they near retirement or are they still on mom’s and dad’s health insurance, while living at home?

Stereotype: They have no respect, they’re know-it-alls, and they act entitled.

Is it true?: Gen Zers have much more access to information than older generations did when they went into work. They are more educated on rights and employer responsibilities. They know what every job pays (as companies become more transparent). I used to go into jobs blind, negotiate my pay, and hope I came up with a good deal, later talking with a colleague and going, “WHAT?! You make how much compared to me?!”

With all the Cloud-based organizations that exist out there and virtual work opportunities, Gen Zers also have more work opportunities than ever before. Those kinds of opportunities didn’t exist for boomers back in the day. Older generations had to get out in the world and pound the pavement to find jobs. They learned leadership skills organically. While Gen Z may come across as entitled, sometimes it is simply a lack of learning leadership and communication skills.

Breaking the stereotype: While training younger generations, it would be wise to have a boomer or older millennial train them. This gives the youth invaluable institutional knowledge (and it can also help the older generations learn technology short-cuts along the way).

Boomers are the knowledge-keepers. They know the history behind why something is in place. It doesn’t necessarily have to stay that way, but it provides context for the younger workers. Insights from both sides could be eye-opening.

We think Gen Z will have the ability to demand greater personalization in how they move along their career journey, the Deloitte study noted. For organizations to attract and retain the best and brightest of the generation, it will require a different mindset. Much like my tips, here are some of their data-based ideas:

  • Establish internal apprenticeship programs, or hire smart, talented people and then match them with a role once inside the organization.

  • Create latticed career paths and multiple work formats.

  • Set up internal marketplaces to match projects with needed skill sets.

  • Leverage the expertise of Gen X, Gen Y, millennials and Boomers to help mentor Gen Z into strong leaders.

  • Consider the attractiveness of the industry you are in and the reputation of your company and plan accordingly.

One thing is for certain: Old or young, we can all learn something

Organically, we like hanging out with people who are like-minded. We already think and act in a similar way to those who are around our same age, so we don’t question their approach. We aren’t challenged to see a different perspective. If training and hiring cross-generationally, we are broadening our skills, our assets and our offerings -- and we’re getting out of our comfort zones.

To attract Gen Z, employers must be ready to adopt a speed of evolution that matches the world outside. It’s fast, and you might miss it ... in 8 seconds.

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