Fewer Trophies, More Responsibility: How Gen Z Will Change Universities and the Workplace

by Lindsey Pollak

Just when we finally feel as though we have a handle on what millennials want in the workplace, along comes Generation Z (those born around the turn of the millennium and later) with its fresh perspective. To follow up on my presentation at NACE in June, I wanted to share some insights that will help savvy career centers and employers adapt as this generation heads toward your offices.

Gen Z Is Entrepreneurial

There is a persistent myth about “entrepreneurial millennials.” The fact is that millennials as a group are not all that entrepreneurial, but their younger siblings are: While 43 percent of college students (i.e., millennials) say they want to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee, 61 percent of high-school students (i.e., Gen Zers) say the same. More than half of Gen Zers say they were encouraged by their parents to seek early employment, and many responded by starting their own companies. They sell crafts on Etsy, build websites for small businesses and rake in cash for clever YouTube videos.

Key Takeaway

In order to attract and retain Gen Z employees, companies need to be cognizant of the need to feed this spirit by offering frequent rotational assignments and early leadership experiences. Universities will need to offer entrepreneurial training along with coaching for entrepreneurial career paths.

Gen Z Is Resourceful

These digital natives have grown up with the ability to answer their own questions — fast. They’ve always had a smartphone in their pocket, so they don’t sit around wondering what time spin class is or what’s trending on Instagram; they just look it up. They are also a generation that hasn’t experienced widespread “helicopter” parenting, since their Gen X parents have a different parenting philosophy than many millennials’ baby boomer parents. According to research, Generation Z places heavy emphasis on being “mature and in control.”

Key Takeaway

Employers need to expect that Gen Z employees might take assignments into their own hands, without waiting for explicit directions. On the one hand, these self-starters may inject a new energy into the workplace; on the other, you might have to make sure there are safeguards in place so they stay on track when needed. For example, make sure they are clear on communication protocols so they don’t just fire off questions to clients if you’d prefer they check with you first.

Gen Z Is Visual

The fewer words the better for the emoticon and Snapchat generation. This cohort responds to images rather than text—think Instagram versus Twitter—and is most at home juggling multiple screens.

Key Takeaway

Recycle your existing employee manuals, recruitment brochures and training materials. If a picture used to be worth 1,000 words, with Generation Z it’s worth ALL the words. This generation expects to absorb your message visually and instantly, and in a wide variety of mediums. (Note: This doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t read books or longer form content; but more visual messages are best when you want to catch their attention.)

Gen Z Is Financially Cautious

Gen Z grew up in the painful aftermath of 9/11 and the financial crisis. Since this group didn’t experience the boom years of peace and prosperity that the millennials did, they have a more similar worldview to Gen X, who came of age during the uncertainty and change of the recessionary 1970s and Cold War 1980s. They are more apt to avoid school debt and be avid savers.

Key Takeaway

Show them the money. Gen Z will be more focused on value vs. cost and perhaps less on passion over profit. Companies will need to offer solid compensation packages and universities will have to justify the cost of high tuition.

Gen Z Fully Embraces Diversity

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2020, more than half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group, making Gen Z the first majority non-white generation in American history. But diversity involves much more than race. Gen Z is the first cohort to come of age with same-sex marriage as the law of the land, with our first African-American president and with gender identity as a common conversation.

Key Takeaway

Most members of Gen Z expect diversity. As a group, they tend to have an inclusive perspective about gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. I have high hopes that this more open-minded view of the world means they will be better able to relate to their colleagues, customers, and clients than any generation in the past. Universities and workplaces will have to continue their path of creating more inclusive communities and policies.

Of course, since many in the Gen Z age group are still in their formative years, it’s hard to know exactly how they will evolve. But the more I have learned about general traits held by Gen Z, the more I am encouraged about the spirit and drive they will bring to the workplace.

Lindsey pollak

Lindsey Pollak is a nationally recognized keynote speaker on the subject of millennials in the workplace and the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.

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