*Guest Article* Understanding Generation Z – Alex Atherton
Gen Z is the most important generational shift so far, but their experiences and outlook are not understood well enough by those who have come before them. Gen Z has huge, yet mostly untapped, potential to meet the challenges of today.
It is a significant topic for me. Gen Z is the generation which attended the secondary schools I led from 2006 to 2018. Their years of birth are from 1995 to 2009.
By 2025 Gen Z will form over a quarter of the UK workforce. The older ones are already in management positions in large companies or ripping up the rulebook on their own. Their importance in the workplace will grow with every passing year.
Key characteristics of Gen Z include:
- Diligent – their academic outcomes are significantly higher than any which have come before. No generation has worked harder at school or university.
- Prudent – they have inherited poor economic circumstances. Their education was affected by austerity and as soon as they got to the workplace there was a pandemic.
- Patient – key life milestones such as buying property and retiring will either happen much later on average should they happen at all. This has an impact on their attitudes towards working life.
Too often the literature, and media reporting, around Generation Z is glass half-empty material or outright negative. References to ‘snowflakes’ have become a trope.
There can also be a real reluctance amongst the older generations to see the world through Gen Z’s eyes. Attempts to make them ‘more like us’ and help them to get their ‘heads around the real world’ are not helpful and will only backfire.
There is a need to take some time to understand.
Researching the key characteristics of Generation Z reveals a whole host of challenges for leaders and their organisations. The key ones will come as no surprise. They are recruitment, retention, motivation, engagement and training.
So how to overcome these challenges? A number of solutions are recommended below.
Be clear, be thorough
There are significant challenges in attracting Gen Z candidates for any organisation. It is easier than it has ever been to set up your own, or several times if you so choose.
Trust in traditional organisations is not what it used to be. This includes employers, many of whom had a ‘last in, first out’ approach when cuts were made around the pandemic.
I advise organisations to spell out the specifics of the role they wish to recruit for in more detail than they might ever consider reasonable. Your documentation needs to be crystal clear and therefore go for maximum transparency.
Not only does this avoid surprises down the line, but it also inspires confidence that you have thought it all through. This gives the impression you are more likely to survive when the next economic crisis or pandemic hits.
Be who you say you are
Authenticity is everything to a generation who have lived with clickbait throughout their formative years. Gen Z has highly developed filtering skills. The fact that something is said in black and white neither means it is true, nor that it was even put together by a human in the first place.
Text is not enough in this day and age. Video has become the expectation. There are good reasons why TikTok has become the search engine of choice amongst Gen Z, rather than Google. Videos are harder to fake and allows your potential applicants to make an informed choice.
It is also not enough to state your key values and principles on your website, and once at the start of employment or a recruitment process. Gen Z is very used to the repetition of messages, and if they stop hearing something it may make them wonder why.
Regular feedback on performance
Part of the reason for the stellar academic outcomes of Gen Z is that they are used to having granular feedback on their performance.
I am often told by employers that their younger staff do not want to hear ‘bad news’ about their work. My experience is very different. Gen Z absolutely does want to know how well they are doing, but platitudes do not help them.
They have come to expect not only a breakdown of how they are doing aspect by aspect, but also to be directed to resources which can help them with each of them. If they are shown how to improve their A level and degree results they will make the most of it more than any previous generation.
Make Professional Development Personal
This aspect has two meanings. The first is personal in the sense of ‘bespoke’. For example, induction to your organisation may have some core features but also some optional elements according to specialism and interest.
The second aspect refers to Gen Z’s development as young adults. As schools have become increasingly focused on examination outcomes over time, there has not been a commensurate increase in the focus on personal development. Work experience has not been a common feature of their education.
Consequently, there is gap between the quality of their qualifications and the wider skills needed for success in the workplace. Savvy employers ensure their new employees have to the opportunity to fill the gaps.
Finally, the fact that it has become harder to recruit and retain has led some employers to adopt a ‘we need to take what we can get’ approach. Gen Z did not work as hard as they did to work for an employer with that level of ambition. It is absolutely possible to recruit and retain the best of this generation with a shift in mindset and a new approach.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Atherton is a leadership coach and team coach. He is also a former secondary school headteacher who worked with Gen Z in their formative years. He blogs, vlogs, talks and consults on how organisations can recruit, retain, engage and motivate them.