We’ve made our Gen Z bed, now we must lie in it.

employees working

Here’s some interesting insights into Gen Z that hopefully go some way to explain what’s going on with this generation and their relationship with the workplace.

Let’s look back at the period 1996 – 2010 (when Gen Z were born), as reported by Management is a Journey.

Gen Z has grown up in a time of turbulence and instability mixed with hope for a better future. Disruption and change have been the norm.

15 influential events that shaped Gen Z are the following:

– Terrorism and War

– Social Networking

– Smart Phones/Mobile First

– Barack Obama Elected

– Global Financial Crisis (with little to no repercussions for the banks that caused it)

– Text Messaging

– Gun Violence

– Shared Family Responsibilities

– Climate Change

– Always Wired Connectivity

– Volunteerism

– Corporate Social Responsibility

– Arab Spring Democracy Movements

– Gender Equality

– Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

And in the year’s since 2010, in their formative adult years…

– Occupy Wall Street

– Donald Trump

– Brexit

– Black Lives Matter

– Me Too

– Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, drought, forest fires, icecaps melting, extinction (rebellion)

– Edward Snowden

– Russia invades Ukraine and threatens nuclear war

– Countless wars in Africa, Asia, South America that are hardly reported

– Malaysia Airlines flight disappearance

– Coronavirus, Zika, Ebola

– Mass-tech layoffs

– Rise of wellbeing

– North Korea missile testing

– Charlie Hebdo

– Challenges on freedom of speech and journalism

– Digital Nomads

– Unicorns (the business type)

– TikTok, Twitter, Meta

– Crypto currency

– Cost of living crisis

One could argue that all generations face their trials, tribulations, and evolutions. What’s important to acknowledge here is the frequency, the diversity, the intensity, and the global nature of Gen Z’s experience, which amplifies the levels of instability quite significantly.

So, Gen Z, unsurprisingly are the absolute product of their time. A time that has changed quicker, seen more instability from an increasing number of sources, and whilst the future could be bright, Gen Z also knows it could be very, very dark if things don’t change. They simply aren’t changing fast enough.

The result is a generation who don’t trust business, don’t trust politicians, are anxious about the climate, are driven by a sense of fairness and justice, and are exceptionally independent and self-serving when it comes to their development and ambitions. ‘The most entrepreneurial generation in history’, according to In the US, they make $40 billion a year through side-hustles. They are also highly efficient and somewhat inpatient; if Millennials are the ‘always on’ generation, maybe Gen Z are the ‘get it now’ generation.

As Deloitte pointed out, many are looking at their parents and thinking that is not a life they wish to copy. They understand that life is for living TODAY because tomorrow is so unpredictable.

So, here we have a generation for whom the traditional rules of engagement in work have little relevance or interest.

They have the shortest average tenure at just 2.3 years because we’ve taught them that not only does loyalty count for diddly-squat when redundancies come around, but also because staying in the same company is proven not to be the fastest way to be developed or to earn more income. It pays to job hop and in between roles they can ‘live’ and travel, something they do more than any other previous generation. They don’t expect your loyalty and they are unlikely to give you theirs.

Another indication that they are here for a good time not a long-time is found in a report by Kantar which indicates that Gen Z are equally as likely to rent as own their home. This partly has to do with their ability to get onto the housing market, but also an increasingly unstable, unpredictable life, where mobility and a lifestyle that can be scaled down on demand, offers a big advantage. Indeed, according to the same report, 39% of Gen Z and Millennials moved to “accommodate a job,” during the year of the study.

This is also a generation that is wondering why companies are so desperately inefficient and are highly frustrated by the degree to which these inefficiencies slow them down and prevent them doing what they really want to be doing – living. They are often met with weak responses like “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, “we don’t have capacity to change it now”, or “don’t question Phil’s system, he’s not going to like that!”. What they hear is “we don’t respect your personal time and we are happy to waste it, because Phil isn’t a team player and we’d rather perpetuate the issues causing us to have no time, than fix them! Oh, but here’s our stress management webinar to help you cope!”.

They have also been raised with a declining sense of family hierarchy in which they were either equals or maybe more important (helicopter parenting) than anyone else in the family. They don’t have any sense of what it means to “earn your stripes”, “do your time”, or “play the game”. And yet this controlling, ego-centric, patronising, and illogical waffle is getting in their way. Their tolerance for this is zero, and so it should be! This is a generation that cares deeply about their wellbeing.

They want to come to work at 10am, do what they need to do, and get out by 4pm latest. They are the 4-day week, the 5-hour day, and the 15-minute meeting, because that’s what the latest influencers AND research is telling them they should be. The rest is just noise to them. They don’t care about Valerie’s birthday or that Ahmed is leaving. They don’t have the time to waste on such fripperies when their time is already be wasted unnecessarily by their dinosaur of an employer.

One more thing…they don’t need the organization’s L&D department either. They can pick any topic, any qualification, and any learning speed, at any time they choose, in the latest medium, for little to no investment. So, talking to them about your LinkedIn Learning fuelled LMS is frankly, a little embarrassing!

Maybe I’m being harsh, but I am genuinely concerned about how poorly organizations are receiving this generation. Even Millennials are struggling to effectively manage or lead Gen Z. We are far too busy working out how we can shove these square pegs into our very round holes. We should be working out how we can benefit from their independence, eagerness to grow, and their understanding of tech, as well as their desperate desire (and need) to make the world fairer, healthier, and more sustainable? Why, oh why, are we resisting this? One could even argue that the world of business needs them, more that they need business.

The study of Gen Z in work is fundamentally a study of logic, efficiency, and wellbeing, and that’s where organizations should be investing. Not simply to adapt to this new generation, but because it is both the sensible and the right thing to do.

Gen Z represent both 26% of the global population and the direction of travel for our future.

We can either get on the train or be run over by it, but they don’t have time to wait for us to catch up. Their future world needs them now.

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