Bashing the Stereotypes: What You Need to Know About Gen Z

Just as business leaders were finally getting comfortable with millennials, Generation Z arrived.
Bashing the Stereotypes: What You Need to Know About Gen Z
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Just as business leaders were finally getting comfortable with millennials, Generation Z candidates (born mid-1990s to early 2000s) began to slowly make their way into the workforce.

Related: Why 'Gen Z' May Be More Entrepreneurial Than 'Gen Y'

Considering that it took years for employers to adjust to millennials' specific traits and expectations, it's crucial now that they take a step back to understand how they can adapt to this younger wave of talent.

"We must seek to understand Gen Z in order to maximize their talents," Jennifer Kochilaris, regional vice president of Adecco Staffing in Sarasota, Fla. told me via email. "Not long ago, I hired a Gen Z-er and had her desk all decked out with goodies for her first day at work. The first thing she said was, 'Is this laptop for me? I prefer a tablet.'"

How would most leaders react to this?

Many would have formed a bad first impression, with low hopes for this Gen Z-er's future at the company. However, knowing she showed positive potential, Kochilaris said, she decided to give her new employee a chance to redeem herself.

"Today, she's a top performer and one of the most creative brains on my team," Kochilaris continued. "She sees technology differently than I do, but there's no progress if we only hire people like ourselves."

Employers who take the time to understand how Gen Z's perspectives, perceptions and expectations differ from those of their slightly older millennial peers will be the first to find and keep this valuable new talent.

Here's how millennials and Gen Z differ in the workplace:

1. Independence

Millennials are known for being more independent. They always want feedback about their performance, but they prefer to work alone. Generation Z, on the other hand, is used to "crowdsourcing" problems, so they are more at home working in an environment centered on community.

Related: 10 Ways to Appeal to the Next Wave of Workers: Generation Z

Liz DelSignore, CEO and developer at LD Productions in Las Vegas, said she was surprised when she found a Gen Z-er taking the initiative to crowdsource.

As DelSignore told me, "I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed when I encountered someone who was only 19. He wanted input from business owners and executives on his resume, so I decided to respond. With someone like that showing so much leadership and change potential, it made my heart happy that I got to influence him just a little bit."

DelSignore's encounter perfectly describes the way Gen Z will affect the workplace. As a result, Haril Pandya, principal and director of Asset Strategy and Repositioning CBT in Boston, envisions a not-so-distant future of community-based working spaces with no cube or corner offices.

"They will want more 'huddle rooms' and 'touchdown spaces' where there is an element of pop-up team gathering; and they are able to gain everyone's knowledge first before taking on a project," said Pandya.

Takeaway: Gen Z is new to the real world, so give them space to discover who they want to become as employees. Keep collaboration open, and offer mentors willing to stay connected with them, both in person and through texting, intra-office messaging or video chat.

2. True digital natives

Whether they want to admit it or not, most millennials remember a time when they called their friends from land line phones and when social media didn't even exist. The same can't be said for Gen Z, whose first baby steps were documented on Facebook.

Bryan Yackulic, assistant director of the Chartered Leadership Fellow (CLF) Program and adjunct professor of management at The American College of Financial Services in Philadelphia, told me: "Understanding the most effective way to communicate and interact with this new generation will be a major challenge for organizations. By the time Gen Z is given an official nickname, they may very well be known as 'The Notification Generation.'"

With so many forms of workplace communication being thrown at employers every day, it's challenging to know what will work best for Gen Z.

Jeff Corbin, CEO and founder of APPrise Mobile in New York, suggested, "You need to think about the nature of the content you are creating and distributing. Think picture and video, think short; and think about how the content and messages you want to get across to your employees will be rendered on a small screen."

Takeaway: To know how new employees communicate best, simply ask them. Perform trial-and-error tests with various apps and processes until you find that certain something that makes them more productive and motivated.

3. Impact, not dreams

Millennials are all about following their individual professional dreams. Generation Z, on the other hand, wants to make an impact for the greater good. They want to know they are contributing to something besides their personal ambition.

In order to retain millennials, company leaders have shown them how they can reach their personal goals and where they can grow within the company. But Cristina Hermida, co-founder of InsideCrowd in Miami,said she sees Gen Z employees as having a different outlook. "It's important to show [Gen Z] that their work creates an impact for your organization or a mission in general," Hermida said. "They are not necessarily driven by financial gain, but more often want to see what they are capable of."

Hermida continued her observations, noting that Gen Z needs to feel empowered, but that micromanaging isn't necessary.

Takeaway: Offer clear goals that tie directly back to your company's mission and values, then let Gen Z-ers take it from there. However, for employers who are unsure if Gen Z's personalities will fit into a company's pre-existing culture, use an assessment tool like Tratify to gauge how these young people will work with the current team.

4. Flexibility vs. freedom

Millennials love flexible work options that allow them to choose between going to the office or working from home. Gen Z-ers, on the other hand, who are used to having access to the internet wherever they are, don't see the reason for being tied down to an office. They want complete freedom, not just flexibility.

Ajay Chopra, founding principal of Echo Design + Architecture in New York, said he's observed that Gen Z can get work done anywhere with just a wifi password and pair of headphones.

As Chopra told me in an email, "In the design industry, we've found that that difference has opened the door for more dynamic workplaces that sacrifice actual office space for library nooks, small group seating arrangements and private phone booths for heads-down work."

Takeaway: Have areas where employees can put on their headphones and focus, as well as places where everyone can join in on brainstorming and helping one another.

Related: 6 Ways Gen Z Will Change the Tech World

Something more: Gen Z employees like taking a breaks to work from coffee shops or the library, so set aside a few hours a day where they can branch off and work in their preferred environment.

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