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Talking ‘bout your generation: Gen Zs in the workplace

Taylor Setterfield
1 May, 2024

This blog explores the dynamics between different generations, focusing particularly on Generation Z.

It delves into the stereotypes and perceptions surrounding each generation, emphasising Gen Z’s unique characteristics, such as their digital upbringing and pragmatic outlook. The blog discusses the implications of these traits in the workplace, highlighting Gen Z’s preferences for flexibility, learning, sustainability, and transparency. Understanding and embracing Gen Z’s perspectives can lead to positive changes in workplace culture.

Here’s a familiar tale. You might call it, a tale of received wisdom, passed down from generation to generation. Chances are you’ve already played a part in its telling. It goes like this…

After WWII, western countries enjoyed a boom, with a long period of prosperity. Those born at the time took full advantage, and their parents, the so-called silent generation, quietly bemoaned the excesses of their offspring – The Baby Boomers – whose freedoms they had fought for.

The boomers in turn looked at their kids and wondered why they were so individualistic – focused, entrepreneurial and fundamentally unchilled. Generation X thought the boomers had no idea how lucky they were. And they had a similar take on their millennial kids, complacently enjoying the fruits of the new digital age Gen X pioneers had kickstarted.

But what united all these generations was the judgement that the latest cohort to come of age, Generation Z, were snowflakes. Fragile, doom-scrolling souls ill-equipped for the harsh realities of the world.

How this story ends depends largely where you’re perched on the generational ladder. But while their forebears fret over what’s gone wrong with Generation Z, Gen Zers themselves are probably the most clear-eyed, self-aware and pragmatic individuals for, well, generations.

Of course, no generational group fits all the stereotypes that popularly describe it…

…but getting beneath the intricacies, motivations and misunderstandings of different age groups is vital to the work we do as Employer Brand makers.

Generation Z makes up over a fifth of the UK population. The eldest Gen Zers  are already well established in the workforce (hi if you’re reading!) and employers will increasingly be seeking them, relying on them, and being shaped and led by them. It’s long past time to drop the lazy woke tropes.

Lucy Kemp spoke to over 2000 Gen Zers and 50 of their managers while researching her White Paper “The Gen Z Blueprint.” For her the bottom line is simple:

 

“Companies that can effectively tap into Gen Z’s potential are likely to witness increased innovation, better brand loyalty, and a workforce that’s engaged and motivated.”

 

So, what shapes a Gen Z outlook?

  1. Gen Z are the first generation to grow up in an entirely digital environment. Analogue cultural references that may hold nostalgic resonance for millennials and Gen Xers, are simply alien (see for eg. the title of this blog). The first Gen Zers were only ten when the iPhone was released. This is very much the smartphone generation.
  2. While studies have concluded that Gen Z suffer unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression, it is arguable that this is an entirely rational response to the world they find themselves in. Financial crashes, a global pandemic and climate change have marked their formative years. And while geopolitical conflicts are nothing new, the connectivity which streams these directly to us in near real time is.
  3. Remarkably, given that they are carrying the can for the pollution of previous generations, Gen Z are far from resigned, or apathetic. They are motivated to make change and expect fast results and returns on their activism. In a fragile world, they have little time for playing a long game.
  4. Gen Z are global, connected and open. The pandemic placed them indoors, but their online lives made them uniquely resourceful in dealing with lockdowns.
  5. Change is a given, as Lucy Kemp says: “Having grown up in a time of profound technological leaps, political shifts and social changes, Gen Z recognise the impermanence of today’s skills for tomorrow’s world. For them a static skill set equates to stagnation – or even regression.”

And what does this mean for Gen Zers in the workplace?

  1. Access trumps ownership. From streaming entertainment to cashless transactions the Gen Z world is less interested in holding on to things. In the office this can mean… no office. No group is as adjusted to or expectant of flexible working and location freedom.
  2. Given the above, it may surprise you that the top surveyed priority for Gen Z is good old fashioned remuneration. It makes a lot more sense when you consider that they are the first generation predicted to be less well off than their parents. For Gen Z,  good salary does not equal a focus on money, but a desire not to have to think about money.
  3. No surprise here. Flexibility is key. But not just in terms of working arrangements. Gen Zers want to learn and develop new skills, absorb different perspectives, and shape their own development. They are also more likely to run side hustles and divide their time.
  4. Gen Z is not willing to let the world burn, and it expects employers to make more than gestures towards sustainability. It also has watched previous generations burn out though overwork, and has a far healthier sense of appropriate work life balance.
  5. At the core of much of today’s fabricated culture war nonsense is hostility to Gen Z’s determination to be themselves, openly and unapologetically, and afford the same right to others. Gen Z’s simple demand for openness and transparency has the potential to revolutionise our work places and practices.

In conclusion

Gen Zers sit at the end of an alphabet, but the beginning of an era. Generation A are still teething, toddling and teening, and the direction they take will be dictated to a large degree by their response to Gen Z’s impact.

If we to listen to our Gen Z colleagues now and allow ourselves to be influenced by their insights and instincts, who knows, maybe Generation Alpha will build on proudly on their legacy rather than write another chapter in the ongoing cycle of generational misunderstanding.