Gen Zers Are Coming! Here’s How Leaders Must Adapt

The oldest Gen Zers are now about 22, and they’re just beginning to enter the professional workforce. Within the next five years, they’re expected to comprise 20% of it, according to a Robert Half report. The typical Gen Zer expects to work for at least four companies within their lifetime, and they’re not afraid to jump ship if they’re not satisfied. This means that to recruit and retain them, you must adapt your leadership strategy to their distinct needs.

What Motivates Them

Gen Zers have an intrinsic need for financial security because they grew up during the Great Recession. They witnessed Gen Xers, possibly their parents, lose nearly half of their savings. Those with late Boomers for parents saw their parents take a hit as well, losing 25-28% of their median net worth.

Thus, they’re often quite pragmatic about careers. “For Gen Z, one-third (34%) are most motivated by opportunities for advancement, followed by more money (27%) and meaningful work (23%),” report research firms Millennial Branding and Randstad U.S. However, 60% do care about having a positive influence on the world.

Getting a good job, completing school, and saving money are their top priorities, ranking above time with family and friends, travel, and leisure. They want work-life balance, but setting themselves up for professional success comes first, as was the case with the generation that came after the Great Depression, says Fast Company.

They have high expectations for their own success and what a job should offer them, from vacation time and paid tuition to career advancement.

Many are postponing advanced degrees and going into the workforce faster than previous generations. They often strive to graduate from college early, earning their degree with single-minded focus rather than taking time off for a gap year or semester.

Gen Zers often feel nervous that they’ll be seen as having little to contribute because of their age and lack of experience, meaning they need positive affirmation from managers and fellow employees. Affirming what you value about candidates you’re seriously considering will help them see themselves as part of your team.

This generation is also very accepting of difference, having grown up in an era of expanding gay rights and the election of an African American president. The generation itself is more diverse than any previous one. As a result, Gen Zers are likely to expect a company to have a commitment to diversity.

More competitive and independent than Millennials, 77% of Gen Zers believe they’ll have to work harder than the generations before them. They’re psyching themselves up for this task.


Common Misconceptions and Stereotypes

The aptitude of Gen Zers for navigating electronic platforms – after all, they’re the first generation of native Internet users – has led to many misconceptions about how they work best. While they learn new technologies easily, they don’t necessarily prefer using them all the time.

While Gen Zers are often portrayed as wanting to stay connected through technology, they prefer in-person communication with managers by a wide margin, according to Millennial Branding and Randstad U.S.

Similarly, multitasking comes naturally to Gen Zers as they grew up with apps that kept them constantly connected to the outside world. However, they shouldn’t be stereotyped as always thriving on multitasking. Nearly half of Gen Zers do not prefer to multitask, although they may text or use social media without losing focus.

Gen Zers often like to direct their own projects; they enjoy having a high level of independence.

They have a slightly higher desire than previous generations to have the option to telecommute if they choose, but the difference is slim. Only 3% want to work on a fully virtual team, which testifies to the generation’s need for face-to-face communication.

Gen Zers do enjoy staying connected virtually; they benefit from using a virtual platform to touch base with coworkers about a project. However, this shouldn’t serve as the sole or primary way of communicating. Avoid stereotyping them as mainly wanting to talk through a screen.

Many (45%) would like a private office with a door that closes. However, they don’t want to be fully isolated – 64% prefer working in a small group within a workplace setting. They thrive on working with a team of people from diverse backgrounds.

An entry-level Gen Zer might thrive on taking responsibility for a small project, having a virtual platform for staying connected with other team members, and working from a quiet space in close proximity to their team. Knowing a promotion might bring them into a private office would be a definite job perk.

Does Corporate Structure Need to Change?

With the emergence of Gen Z interns and entry-level employees, managers might wonder if centralized managerial structures and traditional advancement processes need to change.

Gen Zers prefer a horizontal power structure to a hierarchy in their workplace. However, as they thrive on competition, that doesn’t mean status levels need to break down.

Rather, the specific roles of managers may need to shift. A manager might motivate Gen Zers more when he facilitates decision-making by team members – or even pitches an idea to them – instead of telling them what’s been decided.

Likewise, they want a manager who’s a coach as opposed to one with an authoritative style.

Gen Zers look forward to breaking into the next pay tier and having a role with more responsibility – and they expect to work for it. Implementing a horizontal communication structure while maintaining existing roles may be crucial to keeping them motivated and thriving.

Centralized management itself isn’t necessarily a problem for Gen Zers. Rather, managers should ensure they have a measure of independence within the work they do – they don’t want to feel micromanaged or mistrusted (not that anyone does!). In fact, 32% of the Gen Z students surveyed by Robert Half expect to manage other employees after five years on the job.

As they acquire skills and experience, Gen Zers want the opportunity to transition into a new role. That new role might not exist on the next rung on the traditional ladder. A skilled mentor can help an entry-level Gen Zer figure out their next steps. To ensure they feel satisfied and supported, managers should communicate with Gen Zers about their career plans rather than assuming they follow a traditional trajectory.

Additionally, open communication channels are vital in the multigenerational workforce. This might mean upper-level managers or execs need to have a more direct line of communication to newer employees. Gen Zers’ desire for fast gratification might also mean they expect to have the ear of upper-level execs much sooner than Gen Xers or Boomers do.

By the same token, they want transparency in their organization. When they ask questions, they expect clear answers.


Training Gen Zers

Gen Zers’ need for a measure of autonomy does not make them resistant to coaching. They tend to do well with mentoring and often expect it. They want ongoing training and feedback, knowing it empowers their growth. They also appreciate the face-to-face communication it provides and the commitment to their success it affirms.

Additionally, having a mentor can help build up Gen Zers’ sense of security, which is key to their job satisfaction.

Launching a training plan for developing Gen Zers’ project management skills early on will help them thrive in their work.

In many cases, they need to develop a set of specific “soft” skills. Such skills include the ability to self-evaluate, take responsibility for their actions, care for their health, keep a positive attitude, and present themselves well to others. A patient manager or mentor can help them grow in these areas.

Furthermore, Gen Zers’ desire to think outside the box can lead them to reinvent the wheel. A skilled mentor can teach them that to think outside the box effectively, they first need to learn to think inside the box so they know what’s already been done.

Many also need coaching to develop their writing skills as they are used to writing in an abbreviated, informal style on social media and text messages.

Igniting Their Entrepreneurial Spirit

Gen Zers tend to be more entrepreneurial than Millennials; they’re more likely to be interested in starting their own business.

They’re inspired when they’re empowered to think creatively and take risks that can contribute to a company’s success. They love being asked to help problem-solve – it taps into their entrepreneurial spirit.

Gen Zers have a stronger desire than Millennials for managers to consider their ideas (61%). They expect to start contributing in a meaningful way early on instead of spending months or years getting their feet wet. Managers should work to harness their passion and conviction rather than letting them grow frustrated from feeling unheard.

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Where They’re Gravitating

Gen Zers are most likely to gravitate toward midsize companies (41%), and 38% are most drawn to big international corporations, according to Robert Half.

Still, if they don’t receive opportunities for advancement, their entrepreneurial spirit will quickly lead them to turn to startups or even create their own business. Twenty percent of Gen Z college students want to start their own business. Others relish the idea of working for a startup or making their passion into their job, according to Accounting Principals.

Small businesses that have existed for a while are probably least likely to work with Gen Zers, who are more inclined to start or join a newer ventures. Instead, they’re more likely to compete with Gen Zers, so they should stay attuned to emerging trends created by this generation.

First and foremost, managers should get to know Gen Z employees as individuals without presuming all of the qualities above fit them – which goes for any generation. As people who tend to prefer one-on-one conversations and personal attention, Gen Zers will appreciate the effort.

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