Six ways Generation Z differs from other generations in workplace

Aaditya Tangri

  • Sunday 02, February 2020 08:53 AM
  • Six ways Generation Z differs from other generations in workplace
Generation Z is the demographic cohort following the Millennials born between 1996 and 2015, meaning they are no longer the ‘future’ workforce - they are the present and among us. There are various ways in which Generation Z differ from Millenials and the generations who have come before them, not least with regards to their attitude and traits in the workplace. The workplace is still coming to grips with and adapting to Millennials, and now there is a new Generation on the rise, aptly named Z. People still poke fun at the millennial generation with idiosyncratic jokes, but the Generation Z will be at the workplace in about a decade's time.
With that said, the questions companies must ask themselves include: What drives this newest generation of young workers? What is required to keep them engaged in the workplace? Understanding how to adapt the workplace culture to the needs of Generation Z will help give companies a competitive edge. Importantly, Generation Z must also consider how they themselves must adapt. It will not be about them solely shaping the future workplace, but also how the future workplace will shape them. As Generation Z will be required to respond to new problems, opportunities and unknowns presented by the digital economy, read on to discover six key ways Generation Z differs from other generations in the workplace and what to consider when recruiting them into an organization.

1. Challenged attention spans

Owing to their high level of engagement on a vast array of digital platforms and the volume of digital noise they field on a day-to-day basis, some research suggests Generation Z is growing up with shorter attention spans than its predecessors. Research has pointed to the hypothesis that exposure to the constant distraction of multi-channel notifications across digital platforms is potentially re-wiring the cognitive pathways of those born and raised in the digital age. For instance, a study by Stanford University showed that heavy use of social media may have interfered with our brains' ability to successfully multitask. The research found that higher media users were "more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory." Other schools of thought suggest that it isn't that attention spans are being shortened, rather, Generation Z is simply much more savvy with filtering and selecting which content they choose to consume.

With this in mind, employers must consider what organisational measures to put in place to optimize workflow and well-being amongst employees of this generation. This phenomenon further presents business owners and product developers with previously unforeseen opportunities to cater to this shift through new and innovative products and technologies. Take, for example, AdBlocker, of which 51 percent of Americans now utilise to stop unwanted ads popping up whilst they surf the net - a product which 50 years ago was probably inconceivable to most. In conjunction with mental health experts and organizations, Facebook and Instagram have also introduced tools that restrict the amount of time people spend on apps. Users can monitor just how long they've spent scrolling and swiping away the hours, set a reminder for when they've reached their allocated time, and limit notifications. Additionally, Generation Z's experience in filtering through high volumes of content means they are uniquely positioned to help their organisations evolve their approach to more effective marketing strategies to both internal and external stakeholders because they are easily distracted.

2. Second-Nature Digital Literacy (and Distraction)

Another spin-off of Generation Z's aptitude and experience with managing multiple devices, digital platforms and information streams, is that this cohort has consequently trained themselves to become professional digital multi-taskers. They can be listening to a podcast, reading an email, flicking through Instagram and rearranging their desktop in a separate window, all at the same time. While it may sound grand, multi-tasking doesn't necessarily equate to focus, and a distracted workforce can have a negative impact on a business’s ability to value-add to the society. If employees aren’t fully engaged by content that is critical to doing their jobs well, their overall productivity and performance will suffer. That, in turn, could undermine business innovation and well-being. There are many schools of thought regarding the attention span of the younger generations. Significantly, findings from Prezi's 2018 State of Attention report demonstrated that today’s workers are "definitely distracted", with "ninety-five percent of all business professionals surveyed say they multitask during meetings".

The study also found evidence that attention spans were not only "intact" across generations, but also expanding in younger generations due to the requirement to juggle a lot of “noise”. (above we are talking about how they are not expanding - generation z’s attention span is getting less is the general conversation above so this statement is a contradiction). That’s important information for businesses as many organisations struggle to communicate effectively with and develop engaging content for all groups in their multigenerational workforce - ringing especially true with Generation Z. Catering to this more selective attention span is difficult, but not impossible. Based on findings in the State of Attention report, success will hinge on developing content that features "a compelling narrative combined with stimulating visuals and dialogue".

The top two most important factors Generation Z expert Ryan Jenkins cites for Generation Z at work are "supportive leadership" and "positive relationships at work." This also reflects the skills that must be taught to future proof the young for a world we don’t yet know. "For Generation Z, technology is a must, but it's not enough. Serve up the technology they expect while delivering the human element they crave," says Jenkins.

Finally, though Generation Z is the first generation boasting complete digital literacy, studies conducted by Ryan Jenkins suggest they seek human interactions in their place of work. In fact, 72 percent of Generation Z want to communicate face-to-face in a workplace setting..

3. Made up of "early-starters"

Studies have revealed that Generation Z greatly values independence and efficiency, and the prediction is that more 16 to 18-year-olds will go straight into the workforce or educate themselves online, rather than seek out higher education if it isn't necessary for their chosen career path or passion. While employers in mainstream industries have traditionally examined CVs and candidate applications for the citation of relevant university degrees, increasingly some of the most talented self-directed learners in creative fields of the digital economy, such as web developers, hardware engineers and programmers, will be entirely educated online.

This means organisations must be prepared for a potentially younger set entering organisations well ahead of the traditional "higher education to first job" timeline, and the entrance of a cohort of self-educated, self-starters who are for the most part independent and creative, having built their knowledge, skills and technical credentials outside of the traditional walls of tertiary education. More early-starters in the workplace means a more significant age gap within teams that will also comprise of the many baby boomers working beyond traditional retirement age. Generation Z will, therefore, need to focus on developing relational and interpersonal skills so that they can work effectively with older colleagues and learn from their knowledge and experience. Equally, older generations will need to adapt to new ways of working, embrace new technologies and accept that they may be reporting to people from a less experienced, younger generation.

4. More Entrepreneurial

In short, Generation Z desires more independent work environments. According to Generation Z marketing strategist Deep Patel, “the newly developing high tech and highly networked world has resulted in an entire generation thinking and acting more entrepreneurially.” In fact, global surveys have revealed that 72 percent of teens say they want to start a business someday. It is suggested that many of Generation Z's identifying traits can be traced back to the recession in 2008, from their frugality, to their value of experiences, and increased likelihood to become entrepreneurs.

5. Prefer the Gig Economy

Studies conducted by Deloitte in Australia suggested Generation Z were more agile and desired greater job movement than their predecessors. According to research, the "gig economy" (work that is contract-based or freelance) has become an attractive employment option for Generation Z, with 81 percent considering working in a contract or freelance capacity, rather than going down the full-time job route. While for many years the gig economy was considered to be ‘alternative work’, supplementary to full-time jobs, today, this segment of the workforce is mainstream. Smart businesses are recognising that this is how Generation Z want to work and are looking strategically at all types of work arrangements in their plans for growth. Think cross-functional, multicultural and virtual teams which will form and then disband rapidly as per project demand.


6. More impatient / higher expectations

This generation values information on-demand; and you can't exactly blame them. Generation Z was born into a world effectively entwined with technology. Innovations and inventions that were once viewed as incredible and inspiring are now taken as a given for Generation Z. Bank transactions and new friends can be made with the swipe of a screen, movies can be downloaded with the click of a button, and uber and home food delivery can be ordered with the tap of a finger. Most of life's "admin" which once took time and effort can now be managed within a mere few seconds, and all from the palm of our hand. For this reason, when things don't happen fast, members of Generation Z are likely to believe something is "wrong" and will grow impatient and frustrated. How does this translate to the workplace? Generation Z is more likely to expect high functioning and seamless IT systems and fluid physical work environments, in order to feel enabled, productive and satisfied.

Both the challenges and strengths presented by Generation Z, if managed and harnessed effectively, can transform teams and organisations into powerhouses, and therefore organisations must observe, listen, and adapt their corporate culture and systems to the varied needs of this group. For companies who wish to succeed, it is imperative to rethink strategies to best leverage the new age ideas, knowledge, independence, and ambition of this tech savvy generation of digital natives, and organisation who facilitate this evolution so will reap the rewards.