Gen Z: Who Are They?

Posted on January 31, 2018

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You may be familiar with generational groups like Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials, but many are not aware that a new group, Generation Z (“Gen Z”), entered the workforce earlier this year. Gen Z is categorized as individuals who were born between the years of 1995 and 2012. 
While there has been an abundance of focus over the last several years around Millennials, the inverse is true so far for this new generation. You may be saying, why do we care that there’s now another generational group in the workforce? The reason is two-fold. First, Gen Z is unlike any other group we will have experienced. Second, they will be a strong influencer of how companies recruit, develop and retain talent in the future. What makes Gen Z so unique? David and Jonah Stillman, co-authors of Gen Z @ Work have conducted a significant amount of research around this generation and suggest that there are seven key traits that are contributing to their uniqueness.

Often referred to as the digital natives, Gen Z is the first generation that has never not known technology. Technology has been around them their entire lives, allowing them to create a customized personal brand to be shared at all times. In their world, every physical aspect has a digital equivalent. For example, Gen Z will often include emojis in their text messages to ensure the message not only includes content, but conveys emotion.
As mentioned, this group has spent their entire lives building their own personal brands. The impact of this is that they believe everything should be able to be customized. This trait has already begun to surface at work, as many individuals are wanting to create their own title or job description. While that might sound scary, research shows this will lead to higher employee engagement, as individuals will be able to choose how they utilize their strengths as a competitive advantage for their company. Managers will also be able to leverage this by coaching employees to deliver results based on their own strengths.

Gen Z has grown up in an era where they were exposed early on to serious world issues like recession, terrorism, violence, volatility, chaos and uncertainty. This has led them to be more pragmatic and serious than Millennials. This group is not “doom and gloom” but rather they have a more accurate view of real world challenges at a much younger age. 
This generation’s true-to-life viewpoint is also driving them as early as high school to focus on solving business and world issues by participating in immersion programs. These programs allow students to spend time in professional office environments, applying their classroom learnings to real business challenges. 
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
The fear of missing out (“FOMO”) is enormous for this group. Given they have always had access to information 24 hours a day, Gen Z has a real concern that if they disconnect from technology for any period of time, critical data may be missed. Social media also contributes to their FOMO, as they have the ability to see what others are doing in real-time. This fuels their competitive nature to want to participate or share what they are doing. With that being said, they do value privacy and will take precautions to ensure the content of their messages are kept within their trusted network.

Gen Z is going to take the term “we” to a new level with the sharing or “loaning” of their talents beyond their role and company and their passion for philanthropy. This group will want to loan their skills and talents to co-workers, friends and customers to support a shared economy philosophy. The desire to do this will be based on a need to find meaning in their work all while tying it to a higher purpose. Gen Z will be attracted to a company that has a broader, more personal strategy than just making a profit. It will be important for them to know how their role and their company, are making the world a better place.
Based on the unlimited access to technology, Gen Zs are a self-taught, do-it-yourself group. If they need to know how to do something, they just Google it. Their approach of “just figure it out” will benefit companies as they will learn the skills necessary to keep work in-house, saving organizations both time and money. Many of them will also freelance their skills or have “side hustles” outside of their full-time employment. 

Gen Z is a competitive generation that is motivated to win based on their individual contributions. They can be collaborative, yet unlike the stereotype for Millennials, they are not looking for a participation award. 
This group is also wired to make quick decisions and will want to be able to swiftly move onto the next task at hand. They will apply the same logic to their career progression and will expect to be promoted once they have mastered a role.
While all of this may be interesting, you may be asking what this has to do with Foundry. It is important for the growth of our company to understand what it will take for us to competitively attract, develop and retain future talent. Our benefits, performance management, compensation, recognition and talent development programs will all need to be continually evaluated to support the needs of Gen Z.
Additionally, our managers will need to learn new skills on how to engage, motivate and lead diverse teams. A one-size-fits-all approach will no longer work. Managers of Gen Z associates will need to customize their approach with each employee based on that individual’s strengths and talents. While we are still learning about Gen Z, it is clear that they are going to challenge and change how companies recruit, develop and retain talent in the 
future workplace.