The next generation of workers is upon us: Generation Z, or the iGeneration, has begun to enter the workforce, and the first class of college degree-holders will graduate this spring. So what does this mean for the future of work? Researcher and Generation Xer David Stillman and his son, member of Generation Z Jonah Stillman, have studied this cohort and explain who this generation is, what has shaped them and what they will expect from work.
What is Generation Z, and what are some of its defining characteristics?
David: Gen Z is the generation that comes after the Millennial generation. They were born between the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, so roughly 1995 to 2010. Many are surprised to hear that the leading edge of the cohort is already graduating college this spring and heading to work. They are 72.8 million strong. Like all generations, Gen Z has its own unique events and conditions that have shaped them, resulting in a different outlook.
Jonah: As my dad said, we have our own conditions that have shaped us, plus our parents. Where Millennials were raised by self-esteem-building, optimistic Boomers, we were raised by tough-love, skeptical Gen Xers. At a young age, we were told by our Xer parents that there are winners and losers, and that more often than not, you lose. In addition, we grew up during the Great Recession, so we’re pragmatic, independent and in survival mode when it comes to looking at our future careers. We’re also the first true digital natives. We have only known phones that are smart and have been able to get our hands on any bit of information 24/7. While this makes us very resourceful, it also creates challenges in that we suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out)—big time. Gen Z is always worried whether we are moving ahead fast enough in comparison to everyone else. We are definitely not the most patient generation!
Why is it important that organizations and leaders begin thinking about Generation Z now?
David: We have a golden opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive. The leading edge is just starting to enter the workplace. If leaders get to know what makes Gen Z tick today, then they can better prepare to recruit and retain them. It’s not about “out with the old and in with the new;” it’s about anticipating where the conflicts might be and how best to prepare. In the 90s, leaders were not ready for Gen X when they showed up, and they paid a serious price for it. For example, Gen X entered the workplace skeptical and wanted to keep close tabs on their performance. Once-a-year formal feedback that worked for the Boomers was not enough for Gen X. Many Xers left their workplaces in search of companies that would give them more information more often.
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