06/13/2016 01:53 EDT | Updated 06/14/2017 05:12 EDT

Observations On Gen Z In The Workplace

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Beautiful young woman with colleagues in the background

Like a flock of plovers, a host of high school- and college-aged students will be leaving the familiar environs of their educational institutions to return to the workforce as part of the annual summer job season. From camp counselling to business internships, the students will once again be integrating with the broader populations of Canadian workers.

This year, as the last of the Millennials (hopefully) age into permanent employment, a greater percentage of temporary summer jobs will be taken up by members of Generation Z. Millennials are perhaps the most discussed generation in the history of mankind--innumerable studies have documented exactly what they like, how they behave and who they respect.

Only recently has greater attention been paid to Generation Z. As more data is collected, what we are beginning to see is not so much a continuation of the trends we saw with Millennials, but the introduction of a new cohort with their own priorities, beliefs and abilities. With yet another generation (for a total of five!) entering the workforce, it's important to understand what makes them tick so that we can better understand how to make the most of them.

They're not lazy, but they might be bored

Generation Z grew up with near-universal access to the internet, ubiquitous on-demand content, and in the always-on era of the smartphone. They have never known a world in which interesting and compelling information and entertainment was not, literally, at their fingertips.

As such, they are experts at quickly and routinely switching tasks to concentrate on some new task. That makes them ideal for positions which require engaging in multiple issues. However, this non-stop stimulation may make engaging in longer, less immediate rewarding tasks more difficult. That's not to say that they aren't able to do it, but leaders may want to intersperse such tasks with other opportunities that will engage Gen Z workers differently.


According to Get Ready for Gen Z, one of the generations' greatest fears is that they won't be taken seriously by older generations, especially Boomers and Gen X. At their very core, they want to be respected by their colleagues. That may be challenging in companies that have an old school approach to onboarding entry-level employees--the "pay your dues" model in which entry-level employees are expected to serve, but never contribute their ideas is not going to fly.

However, contrary to some portrayals, Gen Z is hungry to learn and what they want more than anything from their leaders is honesty, guidance and support. They're open to and expect clear honest feedback, and have a strong desire to be better. While the shift away from the "pay your dues" model might ruffle some feathers among older employees, Gen Z's willingness to improve and grow could be invaluable to businesses.

Power of the People

According to McCrindle Research, Millennials and Generation Z have almost twice as many Facebook friends as older generations. And, as the most connected generation in history, those online peers play an increasingly important role in shaping their opinions. They are comfortable operating in more collaborative environments in which multiple people contribute their ideas and efforts. In general, they respond poorly to traditional "command and control" leadership styles. Members of Gen Z expect, at the very least, to be consulted as part of the decision-making process.!

Among their many differentiating characteristics, perhaps the most valuable to businesses is Gen Z's comfort with change. Having grown up in the chaos following 9/11 and in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Generation Z has lived their entire lives in the midst of catastrophic change. In fact, according to a survey by Universum, one of Generation Z's greatest fears is getting stuck in a job that they can't change.

As such, workers in that generation will seek out positions that will afford them the opportunity to grow and evolve as they work. They're not interested in "safe" jobs that favour routine over innovation. While that may create challenges in terms of keeping their interest, it also means that Gen Z workers will embrace new challenges that arise in the course of business.

It's important to remember that, although we talk about generational characteristics, each individual employee will have their own personality and traits. While it is helpful to consider the influences that have shaped Gen Z's outlook on life, there isn't a blanket approach to dealing with the newest addition to the workforce.

Understanding workers will help with motivation, but business leaders will ultimately continue using the same skills that have always made good leaders -- listening to employees, providing honest feedback, and being decisive. In the end, most employees are looking for the same thing: meaningful and challenging work that makes the world a better place.

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