There has been a lot of talk about millennials in the workplace over the past decade. And, it would be easy to assume that the next generation – Generation Z – has similar wants and needs. But you know what they say about assuming…. And as it turns out, the two generations are very different.
This is what father-son duo David Stillman and his now 18-year-old son and Gen Zer, Jonah, discovered after studying Gen Z – the generation born somewhere between 1995 and 2012 – for over a year. Some of their findings include that Gen Z is more independent and competitive than their millennial counterparts, less enthusiastic about collaborating, and actually prefer communicating with co-workers face-to-face.
They compiled their findings in their book Gen Z @ Work and one of their main conclusions is the collision of millennials and Gen Z at the office could be hugely disruptive. In the latest episode of Talent on Tap, David and Jonah spoke with LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting, Brendan Browne, about how these two generations differ and how companies should be preparing to work successfully with Gen Z. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Do your homework to learn how Gen Z is different from earlier generations
The oldest Gen Zers have turned 23 and, diplomas in hand, are now entering the workforce. They have not been widely studied but early research indicates they are more money-conscious, entrepreneurial, individualistic than their millennial predecessors but less focused and likely to be less educated.
Of course, the Stillmans’ book is a rich source of information, and it details the seven traits that they believe most differentiate Gen Zers and millennials. One of those traits is realism: They note that pragmatic Gen Zers have grown up in a period of upheaval that includes both 9/11 and the Great Recession.
Gen Zers will also be the first true digital natives, completely comfortable with both the online and physical worlds. David and Jonah call this fluency “phigital.” The five other traits are driven, DIY, FOMO (fear of missing out), weconomic (believers in a shared economy), and hypercustom (56% want to write their own job descriptions).
“The differences between millennials and Gen Z are so vast,” David says, “that I would be putting a lot of my attention in training the frontline managers.”
2. Tweak your hiring process to ensure that Gen Zers have a chance to show their personality
One of the traits that David and Jonah identified in Gen Z is a desire for hypercustomization—personalized playlists, clothing, even education, with one-off courses and majors. “Because of our hypercustomized attitude,” Jonah says, “you’re going to see more and more Gen Zers applying for the same job with a huge range of degrees. It’s not going to be as easy to compare candidates anymore.”
He suggests companies spend less time looking at GPA and experience and instead get to know candidates through, say, video resumes and in-person meetings, where hiring teams can connect with the Gen Zer as a person and see how she’ll fit into their culture. “Really give them a chance to show who they are,” Jonah says, “not what they can do on paper.”
3. Communicate with them face-to-face and be straightforward
Jonah and David did three national studies for the book and nothing that came out of those may be quite as stunning as the finding that, when asked what is the No. 1 way they want to communicate with bosses and co-workers, 84% of phone-loving Gen Zers said they prefer face-to-face over other channels.
The best way to give Gen Zers feedback? “If you’re my boss,” Jonah answers, “and we’re sitting in the same office, instead of maybe going back and forth on 10 emails, maybe just walk over to my desk, ask a question, reconvene at the end of the day and then we can both go about our business.”
David says Gen Xers raised the Zs to be tough. In contrast to millennials, whose Baby Boomer parents told them that they could be anyone and do anything, Gen Zers have heard repeatedly that the world is actually made up of both winners and losers.
“You can deliver feedback to them straightforward, to the point, no sugarcoating,” David tells Brendan. “That’s what they’re going to want.”
4. Give Gen Zers independence when you can and encourage them to collaborate when it’s needed
The most pronounced gap between millennials and Gen Zers is their respective attitudes toward collaboration. “Millennials are by far the most collaborative generation,” Jonah says. “It shows up in the way they socialize, the way they work, the way they interact with social media platforms.” It’s no accident that Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram were all started by millennials, who seemingly want to share everything.
Gen Zers, on the other hand, “don’t want anybody’s nose in our business,” Jonah says. “Shockingly, we don’t really necessarily like open office concepts.” He says Gen Zers would rather have their own spaces where they can work—on their own—without distractions.
Millennials, on the other hand, tend to thrive on teamwork. “The millennial mentality,” Jonah says, “obviously is that if two heads are better than one, they think, oh well, 12 may be better than two.” The research he and his dad did, however, found that over 70 percent of Gen Zers believe in the saying “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”
Both Jonah and David say it would be a mistake to conclude Gen Zers won’t be good team members. “They’re just a little bit more independent and competitive,” David says. Adds Jonah: “It’s really important that managers in the workplace encourage us to work with groups, encourage us on the value of collaboration because it won’t necessarily come natural to us.”
5. Know that Gen Z employees will have a “side hustle” and figure out how to make it work
David notes that side hustles—part-time work you get paid for on top of your main job—have been around for a long time but they were called moonlighting and people didn’t talk about them. David observes: “Now there are a lot of people who will say, ‘Hey, Jonah, if you work for me and I walk by your desk at 12 noon and I see you uploading pictures to a website selling stuff, no way.’ And that’s a fair statement, until Jonah comes back with, ‘Well, then why is it okay for you to email me at 8 o’clock at night and expect an answer?’”
David says companies should consider adding noncompete clauses back to their employment contracts. “If Jonah’s working at LinkedIn and he’s got a cookie company, it probably doesn’t matter,” David says. “But if he’s inventing a new social media platform, you probably have an issue.” His suggestion? Get it out on the table and talk about it because it’s going to be a fact of Gen Z life.
Smart companies are preparing millennial managers for the coming Gen Z wave
The differences between millennials and Gen Zers are significant and could spell trouble for companies that aren’t braced for the challenges they’ll present.
“The aha is to realize that not everyone under 30 is the same,” David says. “Smart companies that we’re working with around the world right now are saying, Wow, we need to prepare our millennials. These are going to be the frontline managers.
“We see these differences. Huge collisions are on the horizon between millennials and Gen Z.”
But you can turn that potential conflagration into a productive new stream of talent by learning about Gen Z and preparing for its distinctive traits and surprising workplace preferences.