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As the oldest millennials hurtle towards their late thirties, there is a new group coming of age and entering the workplace in their droves: step forward, generation Z. With both millennials and gen Z growing up in a digital age, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they have similar approach to work. However, gen Zers have already set themselves apart from their predecessors in terms of their expectations from the workplace, the way they work and how they interact with their colleagues.

The differences

While millennials enjoyed some of the peace and prosperity of the 1990s before the world was turned upside down by 9/11 and the recession, the oldest gen Zers were only entering their teen years at the time of the credit crunch. This means from an early age they have been under no illusions that a knight in shining armour is going to save them from the realities of the modern world!

Another key difference is attitude. Millennials paved the way for the digital age, inventing social media platforms, normalising online shopping and streaming music and movies. To gen Z, this is the norm. The same can be applied to the job market with millennials coming of age during a time of great prosperity and being shocked to find out the job market wasn’t what they expected it to be, versus a generation shaped by negative world events who enter higher education already knowing they have to fight hard to create a stable future for themselves.

With what we know about gen Zers, what can employers expect from this cohort in the workplace and what current practices and operations need to be re-evaluated in order for them to prosper?

Act fast

Terrifyingly, a 2015 American study found a young person’s average attention span is 8.25 seconds. Need context? A goldfish comes in at 9 seconds. Gen Z can access whatever information and entertainment they want instantly. This ability to find exactly what they’re looking for without the help of an intermediary such as a manager means they tend to be more independent and self-directed than the generations before them.

This also means they can grow impatient if they are presented with delays. This could range from something as simple as getting sign-off on a piece of work right through to waiting for a decision on a pay rise. Business owners and managers need to be aware that once they commit to something with their gen Z staff, they not only need to ensure they see it through, but do so in a timely manner.

Who’s afraid of the big bad boss?

Gen Z are said to be closer to their parents than any other generation, and because they’ve grown up with a healthy respect for their elders they have an expectation of a close relationship with their boss too. The relationship they are trying to cultivate with their higher-ups enables them to gain feedback and input more easily – something gen Zers place a high value on.

So, whereas the management culture you’re used to may involve polite emails from staff asking to grab five minutes of their manager’s time, don’t be surprised if members of your generation Z workforce stroll right up to the boss’s door and rap loudly upon it. Managers and, to some extent, business owners should make every effort to connect with these employees and support them in whatever tasks they are undertaking. A good manager should want their team to challenge them and present new ideas and ways of working, so if you embrace the openness of gen Z, it may well encourage older members of your workforce to come forward and share their thoughts and ideas too.

In it for the long haul

A lot of employers have resided themselves to the fact that young people don’t stay very long in jobs. In fact, a recent Gallup report revealed that 21 per cent of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, more than three times the number of non-millennials who reported the same. However, having grown up in a period of extreme economic uncertainty, where they’ve potentially seen their parents lose their jobs and even their homes, gen Z sees value in loyalty and professional development from a more long-term standpoint. With this in mind, it’s a mistake for employers to write-off junior members of the team and instead they should spend time with them and embrace their ideas. It also means that offering low salary packages is not the way to win gen Z hearts and minds. They may see themselves as playing an integral part in your business and, as such, expect to be rewarded in the same way you would reward a person more senior.

Hiring the best of generation Z

Generation Z is a much smaller demographic than the preceding generation, meaning that competition for the brightest young stars is going to be fierce between businesses. What can you do to make sure this group choose your business over your competitors? Here are our three recommendations:

  1. Present benefits that will actually make a difference

Traditional benefits, such as pension schemes, are not necessarily going to win over gen Zers who are mistrustful of putting their money into a scheme that could collapse or that they won’t see a benefit from for decades. Instead, think about benefits that you can offer them in the next few years. This doesn’t have to be purely financial. For example, do you have a medical scheme where they can get free eye tests or dental work? What about a holiday initiative whereby they get a day off on their birthday, or the opportunity to earn extra holidays throughout the year? How about a scheme to help students pay their student loan back quicker? All of these are viable options you can look into that won’t cost your business the earth and may well help you stand out from the crowd.

  1. Offer tailored career paths

Gen Zers have grown up expecting personalised experiences everywhere they turn, whether it’s playlists on Spotify, shopping recommendations from Amazon or their own TV packages from the likes of Netflix and Hulu. This extends to the workplace, and if you’re able to communicate that you are willing and able to develop a career path that suits their strength and aspirations, you’ll go a long way in hiring top gen Z talent. Think about the careers page on your website (or consider adding one if it isn’t there already) where you can communicate these messages to potential gen Z employees.