Impacting Tomorrow’s Workforce: Gen Z Will Transform Your Organization
It’s simply not responsible for the modern organization to overlook Gen Z—we’re accountable today for the workplace of tomorrow, and that impacts all of us. By 2020, just over a year from now, roughly 20% of the workforce will be made up of Gen Z. While millennials forged a path for the adaptation of technology, Gen Z grew up alongside technology. Millennials worked with organizations to adopt new technologies, test and learn systems and introduce digital ways of working. Gen Z, on the other hand, expects organizations to have this all figured out. They expect technologies that will motivate them, recognize their achievements and allow them to do their jobs seamlessly. They don’t know a time when information wasn’t readily at their fingertips. This changes how they work, what they value in an organization and how they imagine their careers.
Unlike other reports and studies, this article isn’t about making your business “ready” for Gen Z— like a few decades ago when internet-savvy millennials were the talk of the town. Our take is that the entry of Gen Z into the workforce, and the sea change of Boomers entering retirement along with them, will have a far more profound and transformative effect on the entire organization. In a nutshell, leaders today have a choice: Empower and enable Gen Z to make your entire business better. Or stifle them with the wrong roles, systems and technologies, and risk becoming the next wave of corporate bureaucratic dinosaurs.
Plus or minus a few years for your preferred survey methodology, Gen Z is just now graduating college or grad school, and they’re anxious to orient themselves as professionals. They’re shaped not only by ubiquitous mobile technology and access to information; they’re shaped by the fleeting Snap, Instagram Heart and latest YouTube video. While big technology startups defined the prior generation, Gen Z lives in a world where anything is a business and anyone is an entrepreneur, no coding or MBA required. Being an influencer—just being yourself, in public, and on a bigger platform than ever—is a real, professional ambition. The consequence of all this is that they’re more entrepreneurial, competitive and excellent at multitasking.
Gen Z’s life as a digital-first worker started way before they earned a salary. Driven by social mechanics, the instantaneous feedback loop is a big part of their experience—whatever “work” they do, they expect to see an immediate social outcome. They course-correct the work they’re doing based on that outcome and optimize their lives to game the system and learn from their mistakes.
All this innovative industriousness is born out of necessity—the first time they really started thinking about money was in the wake of the 2008 recession. They’re less optimistic and live more cautiously than the previous generation. Self-reliance and pragmatism guided their choices about college, after-school gigs and their most recent side hustle. While millennials value more of a work-life balance, Gen Z is going to drive change in the substance of the work itself. Diversity is a big part of that and a major factor when they pursue new positions. Gen Z expects to be a part of the conversation, and when they feel change is necessary, they will drive the conversation. For instance, the students of Parkland, Florida, traveled across the country to talk to fellow Gen Zers about issues that resonate with them and encouraged them to vote to have their voices heard. They’ll work for a seat at the table, and this should inform the way brands define entry-level and junior roles.
In other words—Gen Zers are DREAM EMPLOYEES.
Also worth noting: When it comes to conversations, millennials rely more heavily on digital communication, while 53% of Gen Z prefer in-person discussion 1 . This is the tip of the spear on a broader cultural shift—Jeff Bezos banning PowerPoint at Amazon is a good example. The idea? Never let a tool get in the way of a constructive conversation.
Move toward an instantaneous review cycle.
Employees, not just Gen Z, want continuous and iterative feedback. Annual review cycles aren’t conducive to providing feedback that employees are craving. Additionally, they de-motivate individuals and negatively impact morale.
So, revamp the review cycle from annual to quarterly to weekly to daily to hourly (digitally) and ensure employees are getting quantitative assessments of their work, in addition to qualitative feedback. Break down large-scale projects into near-term actions—think about the way tech companies organize against release cycles, rather than the end product. That way, teams can focus directly on the tasks ahead of them and use the results to inform the next step in the chain. More importantly, build immediate feedback from both management and peer groups into your system.
Remember: Gen Z wants to game the system and see immediate progress. Structuring assessments (or even gamifying the progress) will give managers a clear understanding of how their employees are performing across the board, but also who in the organization is excelling. This will open the door to more effective motivational strategies, a better balance of rewards and opportunities for all employees (not just managers) and, ultimately, identify investment strategies that show real bottom-line impact.
Putting this theory to work, we recently worked with a public transportation system to help their customer service and front-line communicators provide more accurate and transparent information to customers, faster. Central to this strategy was developing new workflows and supporting technology that allowed managers to supply “tweet-length” tasks to frontline staff more frequently, then empowering employees to act on that information in their own way. More importantly, for every action, there was an immediate “social” response (e.g., a little recognition of what happened, what worked or what was next) and comprehensive tracking of every interaction. The result is a self-optimizing human system, where teams get better and better at handling complex scenarios. Customers now receive more helpful and timely information, and staff feel better about what they’re doing all day. Interestingly, what works for the youngest Gen Z staff also works for their older colleagues.
Transform new employees into consultants.
As research by our partner Kaleido Insights reveals, the number one innovation challenge large corporations face is the ability to foster an internal culture of experimentation and innovation. New employees can help by bringing outside thinking to your organization, but they often aren’t empowered to surface their ideas or make real changes. The solve? Add a period of insight-gathering into every employee onboarding and pair that with a lightweight idea tracking and categorization system so that there’s accountability and attribution in informing the way things work. Just note that a “digital suggestion box” needs to be backed up with a real commitment from the top to examine new ideas seriously and put money into the practice of helping people do their jobs. Ideally, there’s fair compensation for employees who proactively save the company money. Again—help Gen Z game the system.
It is also imperative that managers directly engage staff as problem-solvers in everything from day-to-day operations to overall product portfolio to ensuring there’s fair and diverse representation throughout the company. Employees who become familiar with an organization adopt bad habits and inefficient ways of working because they either accept the environment or are even taught bad practices. That cultural condition can be course-corrected, and Gen Z will likely become your biggest champions for change.
Feed self-directed self-improvement with strategic internal communications.
While often isolated into training programs or treated as non-business-critical, Gen Z expects to be learning every day then applying new skills and ideas in their work. Tapping into this passion for learning, employee communications should apply an outside-in mentality and focus on teaching people where the category is headed, what leaders are thinking about and what their colleagues could teach them about getting better results. This is a practical way to offer up a seat at the table at scale, while also opening the door to progressive, big-picture thinking from unexpected places. It also has the massive benefit of increasing diversity in decision making and laying the foundation for nimble innovation.
Segment internal communications—and empower a wider range of managers or even low-level employees to fuel these communications—through any number of internal communications platforms. Our team uses Workplace by Facebook, but we may recommend a range of alternatives or homegrown solutions based on client needs. Please note that mobile-first (not just mobile-optimized) is increasingly critical for younger, distributed workforces. Your current intranet configuration might not be up to the challenge.
Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit, competitiveness and ability to multitask will bring new challenges and opportunities to the workforce. Embracing Gen Z and fully integrating them into the organization will have multiple benefits. This generation will push your organization to use technology more efficiently, bring innovative approaches to problems, and challenge the organization to act more accountable.
1 “Seven Ways To Attract and Retain Gen Z Talent” Cushman Wakefield. June 2018. Source: http://www.cushmanwakefield.com/en/research-and-insight/2018/attract-gen-z-workplace-talent
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