Building a New Workplace for Generation Z
I sit in awe of their problem-solving skills and tech savvy. I see them work hard to achieve their goals because they know nothing is going to be handed to them. At ages 17 and 20, they’re just a few years away from joining the workforce. When they do, I know they’ll be an asset to any employer. My question is – will their employer be ready for them?
I wish I could take total credit for the remarkable young adults they’re becoming, but the truth is that they’re also a product of their times. They’re part of Generation Z, people born in or after 1995, who experts say are poised to reshape the workplace in very different ways than their generational predecessors, millennials.
“When millennials entered the workforce, it was very much about building a community. But those in Generation Z are more interested in creating a response, to changing the system. They’re more serious, more pragmatic,” says Emily Viola, vice president and head of intelligence strategy at the cultural consultancy Sparks & Honey, which surveyed more than 1,000 teenagers for a 2015 report on Generation Z.
That maturity stems in part from growing up during a tumultuous economic era: Watching parents and neighbors lose jobs and homes during the 2008 financial crisis, experts note, was a formative experience for this generation. The fact that many Generation Zers have famously pragmatic Generation Xers as parents is also key, some say.
"Generation Xers are teaching this new generation to take their careers into their own hands, that not everyone gets a trophy, and to expect to work hard," says Ryan Jenkins, a generations expert and author of "The Millennial Manual."
For many Generation Zers, working hard doesn't mean getting a traditional corporate job — it means being entrepreneurial. Teenagers today are increasingly using online resources to build expertise in specific subjects and using that as a foundation for self-employment. According to the Sparks & Honey study, 47 percent of teens say they're an expert at something. "Today's teens are getting a completely different work experience than I did — and it's better preparing them to be innovators," executive coach Whitney Johnson writes in Harvard Business Review.
For many Generation Zers, working doesn't necessarily mean getting the traditional corporate job — it means being entrepreneurial.
So how do corporate HR departments attract the brightest minds to their businesses if those minds are more interested in working outside of the corporate mold? The situation isn't as dire as it might seem. Viola says young people may still be attracted to corporations as "training grounds" for their own ventures. Corporations, meanwhile, may be able to convince Generation Zers to stick around by giving them opportunities to initiate and lead projects.
"Give them something to own. Give them something to make," she says. "Let them bring their expertise to the business by empowering them to build something within the business."
That empowerment should happen quickly. As digital natives, Generation Z-ers are accustomed to a fast-paced world, with access to tools that help them convert their ideas to reality with unprecedented speed – for everything from DIY projects to full-fledged small businesses. Companies can meet this expectation by adopting better communication tools and flatter structures where initiatives don't get bogged down with red tape. Many large institutions are already trying to adopt a more “start-up” spirit, embracing lean or agile development, the fail fast model of the most successful tech companies and embracing design thinking to solve problems. Growing pains are inevitable as the transition is made, but hopefully by the time Gen Z enters the workforce companies will be well-adjusted to their new business models.
Preparing for the leaders of tomorrow is always a bit of a guessing game, especially when an entirely new generation is coming up the ranks. The most important thing current managers and leaders can do is work to understand what motivates Gen Z, what are their expectations for a job and how we can create an environment that those employees want to be a part of.
State Street is excited to see these young people bring their self-starter mentality and work ethic to our offices. When they do, we'll be ready to work hard right alongside them.
1. Sparks & Honey. (2015). Generation Z 2025: The Final Generation. Retrieved May 2, 2018, from https://reports.sparksandhoney.com/campaign/generation-z-2025-the-final-generation
2. Johnson, W. (2015, May 25). Why Today's Teens Are More Entrepreneurial than Their Parents. Retrieved April 2, 2018, from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-todays-teens-are-more-entrepreneurial-than-their-parents
Julie Haskell is a Managing Director at State Street and has recently assumed the role of Head of Employee Engagement, bringing to life what makes the company a great place to work for all of its 36,000 employees. In this role, Julie is responsible for working across myriad stakeholders to create and oversee a plan to align talent and reward strategies to State Street’s employee value proposition, including designing both a communications roadmap and clear metrics to support the effort. Julie has not been able to convince her family to watch anything but the World Cup lately.