Five Things You Can Expect of Generation Z

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Sep 10, 2018

“Generation Z only knows a world that is hyper-connected, where by the tap of a smartphone, a pair of shoes can be delivered to their doorstep via Uber or a drone in less than an hour. To Generation Z, a phone will be broken if they cannot see the other person on the other end. It’s a brave new world that Generation Z is growing up in.” – Ryan Jenkins, American business writer.

Time for the generational Changing of the Guard! The first batch of kids born in Y2K are starting college in large numbers this fall (including my oldest son). Their slightly older siblings are nearing graduation or have graduated (including my daughter) — and the first few have already entered the workforce. Commonly called Generation Z or the iGeneration, by all indications they’ll prove themselves just as practical and capable as millennials.

This cohort (born from about 1996-2016), like the millennials, have recognized what many older workers can’t or won’t — that the old paradigm of employee loyalty doesn’t work in an “at-will” work environment, where companies sacrifice employees whenever necessary for the bottom line. (I just saw it happen this week to a friend who worked for a large corporation for 14 years.) What’s left is a kind of double-think, a cognitive dissonance in the upper ranks, who seem to think workers should be loyal no matter how they’re treated.

That may have worked for a few years when the World Wide Web and global village were young, and computers were mostly costly desk accessories. Nowadays, the technology is cheap and we can “reach out and touch someone” on the other side of the world in seconds — paying them or getting paid in an instant — so the playing field is level once again. Generation Z take high-speed communication technology for granted, and many start tech-based entrepreneurial enterprises in their mid-teens. I suspect they’ll have no problem going solo when they feel it’s beneficial for them, or think they’re being mistreated.

A few things you can expect of the iGeneration include:

  1. A penchant for stability — Having seen what happened with their parents, they want to ensure they won’t suffer from corporate indifference. They prefer their jobs to be stable touchstones they can rely on — but still, they want it to be on their own terms.
  2. Stubborn independence — Despite wanting stability, the iGeneration, like their millennial predecessors, are practical. They look after personal interests first, never expecting anyone else to bother because they’ve learned from recent history that it won’t happen. Therefore, they’ll want a greater say in all aspects their jobs. They aren’t afraid of hard work, but will expect to be appreciated for it, and will want to know they won’t be tossed aside at a whim when the road gets rocky.
  3. They understand technology intuitively — Generation Zers cut their teeth on cellphones (often literally) and are the first generation that grew from toddlerhood with electronics in their hands. They’re superbly connected. This may look like aimless anomie to older workers as they focus on their smartphones, but they thoroughly understand social media and computers in ways you never will. They quickly adopt new apps, tricks, and tech as they arrive. No doubt they’re well aware of the advantageous position this provides them. They prefer a knowledge-sharing work culture, and I predict they’ll instinctively see that de-siloing information and technology is key to business productivity and future success.
  4. They crave mobility not necessarily in the moving-from-job-to-job sense, but in their ability to use a wide variety of mobile technology, starting with laptops, tablets, and smartphones, to keep on the move when necessary or even just when they want. They may be the “New Kids on the Cube Farm,” but staying in one cubicle all day won’t do. They know mobile IT is as powerful as the kind that chains you to your desk, and they can get as much done at Starbucks as most other workers can get done in the office. It also frees them up to travel, for both work and fun.
  5. They want a decent work/life balance — Like millennials, time outside of work is important to Generation Z. They’re very aware of its necessity. Ironically, though, their greater connectivity may blur the line between work and home-life even more than millennials have. Furthermore, if their work is tech-related, they may enjoy it enough that they see it less as work than just another part of their life.

Generation Z or the iGeneration, no matter what you call it, stands ready to take the business world by storm. While the transition may prove a bit turbulent, I view their advent as a good thing. They’ll fit much better with the millennials than the previous generations have, and now that the millennials have proven themselves, and have become solidly ensconced in corporate culture, our shift toward all-tech, always-on workers should go much easier. Gen Z members are practical, independent, self-actualized, tech-savvy and smart—exactly what we need as we venture deeper into the Information Age. As the song says, the kids are all right.

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.

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