Here's the Work Help Gen Z Really Needs From Its Parents

"Back in my day ..." workplace advice doesn't cut it any more. If it ever did.
Guest Writer

Ready or not, here they come: Generation Z. They’re about 82 million strong, and the eldest members of their cohort are turning 21 this year -- meaning they’re about to enter the workforce.

Gen Zers are the first generation to have grown up in a digital world, and that affects their behaviors. They overwhelmingly feel the best age to start the smartphone relationship is 13; they aren’t shy about using these gadgets in social situations, combining real-life and virtual collaboration; and they quickly adopt new media in all its forms. They are focused and aware of the world around them, building peer groups around the world (giving them more in common with their global peers than their parents’ generation had). Undeniably, they’re one of the most -- if not the very most -- connected generations alive.

As they enter the working world, their entrepreneurial parents are the perfect resource to help them begin working toward their career goals. But first, parents must understand what makes them unique: their interests and goals compared with those of previous generations.

Related: A CEO’s Tips for Raising Work-Smart Kids

What’s the next-gen scoop?

Without a doubt, Gen Zers will break into the workforce with fresh goals and a new perspective.

Previous generations have held traditional jobs. With advances in tech, Gen Zers can explore opportunities to make money doing whatever they love, anytime, from anywhere (according to “Freelancing in America: 2016,” an Upwork study, 47 percent of Gen Zers are already working for themselves through freelancing).

On average, they’re markedly different from their Millennial counterparts. While Millennials have been nicknamed the job-hopping generation, Gen Zers are more likely to stick around for a while. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 60 percent are willing to remain with a company for a decade or longer, indicating an opinion on company loyalty distinct from that of Millennials.

What motivates them at work differs from previous generations, too; about a third of them cite advancement -- not money -- as their biggest motivator. With that in mind, they’re more than interested in learning and developing themselves (and that’s where you can help now).

Related: 4 Ways Gen Z Will Change Company Culture

Fostering career passions and fueling entrepreneurialism.

For many Gen Zers, work life is just around the corner. Here’s how their entrepreneurial parents can help:

1. Let them stretch their wings.

All children deserve varied experiences, and Gen Zers are no exception. They crave knowledge from anywhere and will absorb what’s happening around them. Open the doors for them to explore subjects such as architecture, performing arts, nature, other cultures, culinary arts and more.

Let them try “adult” things, whether at home or with your business. For instance, my daughter, Sarah, helps with our furniture and home decor decisions, as her Pinterest and Instagram accounts give her tools and inspiration from top designers instantly. She’s able to apply her interests to decisions traditionally left to parents. In encouraging this, we’re letting her know we take her interests seriously (and, as an added bonus, our home is wonderfully decorated).

2. Allow them to learn in a relevant space.

The space in which kids reside and learn has changed. Gen Zers no longer have brick-and-mortar boundaries. Instead of heading to the library for information or the classifieds section to look for jobs, they’re turning to their smartphones (which a whopping 96 percent of them own and which is one reason the Google algorithm favors mobile sites).

Their existence includes social media and virtual engagements -- things their parents didn’t have growing up. Although reading news stories on Twitter or looking for work on Facebook’s job boards might not sound normal to parents, it’s important to allow children to find information in spaces they enjoy and thrive in, no matter how nontraditional it seems.

Don’t write off social media as a time waster. Alternatively, ask your children how they’re getting their information. What do they read, and what do they do with that information? You’ll be working to understand their world (and even learn alongside them) while granting them the freedom to learn in a way that works for them.

3. Let them fail. Please.

Risk-taking is essential, and many have worried that Millennials were too cushioned by so-called helicopter parents. Gen Zers need to make mistakes, and parents need to allow them that. If your child doesn’t make the soccer team, for instance, resist the urge to speak with the coach. Instead, let your Gen Zer speak to the coach himself to figure it out on his own.

It’s natural to worry that children will feel alone without a safety net, but helicopter parenting has been shown to have negative effects. Psychology Today reports that young adults with overly involved parents have greater chances of developing anxiety or depression. Kids crave independence, so grant them some -- even if it means they’ll hit setbacks.

4. Realize “When I was a kid …” falls flat now.

You likely have your own ideas about the issues your child is facing (especially when it comes to work), but try not to lean too heavily on your own experience to guide your parenting. Gen Zers don’t enjoy antiquated anecdotes. They want answers meaningful to their own realities, and that means accepting that their obstacles do not necessarily mirror yours.

Psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler agrees. She acknowledges that parents have good intentions when trying to connect with their children in this way, but that it often only causes communication problems.

“Teenagers are looking for proof that their parents don’t understand them,” she says, “and bringing up these examples only confirms that you’re not on the same wavelength.”

Instead, acknowledge that their world is different from yours when you were their age and listen to what’s troubling them without judgment. Entering the workforce (and adulthood in general) is both exciting and challenging; during this time, you want to ensure you’re helping your Gen Zers, not putting distance between you.

Related: How to Support Your Entrepreneurial Kids

Your children might live in a different age, but the reward of feeling happy and successful at work -- a reward you, as an entrepreneur, are well familiar with -- is one thing that won’t change from generation to generation. As Gen Z enters the workforce, you can share your knowledge with them, recognize the generational differences and help them set goals they can be proud of achieving.

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