Heard the one about the millennial that couldn’t afford to buy a home because they spent all their money on Netflix, Starbucks Frappuccino’s and avocado toast?
Of course you have, it was impossible not to. According to that most unreliable of beasts, general consensus, millennials were the reason the workforce was faltering and were single-handedly bringing various industries to their knees.
Now that many millennials, myself included, are staring their 40th birthday in the face, have children and mortgages of their own and have risen to positions of responsibility at work, that narrative seems to have come to an end.
Partly this is down to the fact we’re now just part of the furniture and have been around long enough to have ‘earned’ our stripes in the workplace. Plus we’ve just stopped caring about silly stereotypes.
The bad news is that this typecasting has been passed on to Gen Z when it comes to the world of work.
The perceived weaknesses and defined strengths of Gen Z
Despite having been part of the workforce for the better part of a decade, the age ratios in most working environments are now starting to skew younger.
In fact, 2024 will be the first year that Gen Z outnumber Boomers in US workplaces.
Research from ResumeBuilder in April last year seemed to lend weight to the negative perceptions attached to the youngest workers; they were often rated as difficult to work with, easily offended and lacking technical skills and attitudes required.
The more studies like this that come to light, the worse it will become for Gen Z in the workplace as negative perceptions about their skills, work ethics and abilities compound in the same way they did for millennials.
What impact will this have on a hiring manager, even subconsciously?
Gen Z are generally recognized as possessing a strong focus on DEIB issues within the workplace and the wider world, prefer to work creatively and collaboratively, and are the first ‘digital generation’ – a broad skillset that can be applied within any number of roles.
They possess significant knowledge around technology and social media, however, it would be folly to make assumptions that every single one of them is an expert on using either at work.
Instead, understand that this speaks to skills based in innovation, creativity and communication.
The reality is that individuals belonging to Gen Z possess the same mix of skills that any other generation has, the only difference is they are yet to build the experience to gain new ones or refine existing ones.
The onus lies on HR leaders to identify how Gen Z workers can best flourish within their organizations – not the other way around.
The workplace needs to adapt the same way Gen Z do
The experience numerous millennials went through during their formative years in the workforce was that they were expected to mold themselves to what was required of them for both the role and the employer.
It was expected because that’s how it had always been done, despite the obvious drawbacks of such an approach. I just don’t see it working, even a little, when it comes to Gen Z.
Everything we see and read when it comes to this group tells us that they would rather find a new job than compromise their own sense of self and their values.
As such, employers and working environments will have to adapt to Gen Z. Research due to be published soon – we’ll have more on this on UNLEASH, of course – shows that managers are not doing enough to train and lead Gen Z effectively.
This is leading young workers to lose interest in their jobs or feel that they are unvalued; I mean, wouldn’t you if you felt that those above you at work couldn’t be bothered or were unable to bring out the best in you?
More than any other generation, employee experience (EX) will be a defining element for Gen Z.
While millennials may grumble and sulk over perceived slights or being handed onerous tasks, we’ll more often than not still get on with it.
Gen Z are more likely to outright refuse or just leave the job altogether.
Creating a working environment that speaks to the values that Gen Z hold dear and want to be affiliated with through their employer will become far more crucial the more of them that enter the workplace.
The savviest HR leaders will already be well along that path without alienating older workers at the same time.
It’s important to remember that learning and development is not a one-way street. Yes, employees – of any age – should be open to this but employers and HR leaders should also be willing to evolve and adapt.
Time will tell if Gen Z are the ones to truly move the dial on this dynamic, and greater flexibility on their part may well come with age and experience.
But attempting to fit square pegs into round holes didn’t work well with millennials and something tells me it will go down even worse among the next generation.
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John Brazier is an experienced and award-winning B2B journalist and editor. Prior to joining UNLEASH, John both led and wrote for a number of global and domestic financial services publications, covering markets such as asset management, trading, insurance, fintech and personal finance.