When it comes to talent, practice management and impacting forces, the buzzword heard round the leadership table has been “Millennial” for quite some time. Now, we’re beginning to hear murmurs about Generation Z and the impact they’ll make. As a Millennial myself, I’m hyperaware of the various stereotypes of my age cohort, so I’ll admit I’ll be relieved to have the focus shift away from my generation and onto the next.
The most puzzling aspect of talking about and preparing for this new generation is how to define the ages of Generation Z (Gen Z). In my research, I found a multitude of various articles and sources pinning different birth years for the start and end of this generation. One article said Gen Z consisted of individuals born in the mid- to late-90’s. Another said those born in 2000, another in 1997, another in 1995 and yet another as early as 1993. We’ve known for some time that the definitive end year for the Millennial population was ill-defined, with most sources claiming the year 2000 as the end mark (which is what we reference in our content, too). For our purposes, we’ll presume that Generation Z includes individuals born in 2001 or after. The commonly agreed upon workplace statistic for Millennials had been that by 2025, 75% of the workforce would be Millennial. While we can’t identify the exact number, we now know that Millennials may not account for as large of the workforce as originally expected, because a portion of that group could potentially be labeled as Gen Z going forward.
It can be safely assumed that you will begin seeing Gen Z professionals – and their impact – in your firm within the next five years. Millennials have been the center of many firm’s talent strategies to improve their ability to attract and retain younger talent. It’s time to begin understanding the needs and drivers of the next generation to come.
Many characteristics attributed to Millennials are also shared by their Gen Z sisters and brothers, but on hyper drive. It should be of no surprise that Gen Z is expected to be the most tech-savvy and media literate group to date. I distinctly remember being at a family get together last year and my 5-year old nephew was playing a game on his mom’s iPad that had him sort blocks. He wasn’t sorting the blocks by their color, he was sorting them by the text that was written on each one – text that either referred to HTML or CSS coding language. My husband had turned to me in amusement and half-jokingly, half-seriously asked, “What do we need to start doing now to stay competitive amidst this new generation?” He makes a good point – take note, fellow Millennials.
Unlike the Millennials, Gen Z hasn’t known a day without high-speed internet, apps, DVDs or smartphones. These individuals are the most apt to complex multitask – writing a paper on their laptop, headphones playing music from their tablet, the TV on in the background on mute, and maybe taking a quick break to send back a Snapchat to their friend. Gen Z has different social media preferences, too. Large users of apps like Snapchat and Instagram, they’re visual-heavy and also prefer more private, instant means of communication. Many worry that this fully digitalized generation will yield short attention spans. Whether that’s true or not, one benefit of this orientation is that these individuals are able to process a great amount of information in a short amount of time. With immediate access to such a vast amount of information, they have grown up adept at being able to find answers and solutions to their questions or problems and filtering out inauthentic messages from authentic ones.
Another characteristic of this digital generation is their understanding of personal brand. Social media is a means for these individuals to portray the best version of themselves and to begin embracing the concept of personal branding, which will likely translate well into the professional world when it’s time to enter the workforce – although their early, pre-employment personal brand experimentation could also get them into trouble with future employers. Gen Z members use their social media profiles to share their interests and connect with people all over the world. Geographical boundaries are shrinking and this generation will be the most diverse and diversity-accepting group yet.
In addition, Gen Z members want to have an impact on their society and to make a contribution. Right now this is mostly seen in their support of social causes and open discussion about issues in today’s global economy, political systems and overall market. Gen Z are mostly the children of Gen X’ers who started the work-life balance movement but were burned by the Great Recession. As a result, Gen Z members appear to be more hardworking, loyal and risk-averse than the preceding Millennials. They’re said to be entrepreneurial. While that might seem like a risk-tolerant trait, it’s likely that such a career option is viewed as a practical – even cynical -- approach to warding off the chance of being let go buy a long-time employer during an economic downturn.
What do we take away from this initial insight into Generation Z? We see that it’s more important than ever to continue making the changes we’ve been discussing to engage the Millennial generation. Gen Z will demand greater Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW) environments. They are used to working on projects and on teams, so the latest technology will be imperative for supporting the ATAWW environment and simultaneous collaboration. While Gen Z members are digitalized, they value face-to-face interaction and desire to gain personal development. This will likely show up in your firm as an interest to have a direct relationship with firm leaders and for ongoing feedback on performance and ways to progress in their careers. Gen Z is expected to continue and possibly increase the job-hopping trend that Millennials exhibited early on. Firms will benefit most by including their young professionals in firm-wide planning and idea generation groups early on and encouraging deep relationships between leaders and new hires early on, too.
Your Millennials likely have friends, brothers or sisters who are Gen Z. Start the discussion now about what Gen Z values most and what small changes your firm can take to prepare for this incoming wave of new talent.