Written by
Stephanie Garforth

26 Jan 2016

A guide to preparing for generation Z

26 Jan 2016 • by Stephanie Garforth

Generation Z are arriving

Every organisation is faced with the challenge of managing a multi-generational workforce. Looking ahead, many of the blue chip companies that we are working with at OE Cam recognise that adapting to the needs of gen Z (those born after 1995) is the imminent task.  Indeed Universum’s research* of 49,000 gen Z members across 47 countries suggests that this new generation already makes up 3% of the workforce.

Against pre-conceptions, gen Z is not simply an amplification of gen Y and its traits - but is significantly different in many ways. Not only are they the first truly digital natives, but they have been raised in an environment where they have been given leadership opportunities throughout their schooling, encouraged to challenge and think independently. They have grown up through uncertainty, observed the difficulties their parents faced through tough economic times and seen more radical differences than other generations e.g. with digital advancement. As a result they bring new values to the workplace. 

So, what are the implications for organisations? There are four ways in which leaders can prepare for gen Z:

1. Create a learning culture

Members of gen Z are entrepreneurial and want to be their own boss. However, they desire security, value predictability and work-life balance, and have a strong work ethic. Therefore they can be easily convinced to enter into employment if offered the right environment in which they can learn and acquire experience and skills. Research suggests that they are likely to have four careers in their lifetime and are interested in entering the workforce early, thus they desire the development of practical life skills. 

Organisations firstly need leaders who have the humility to recognise their imperfections and willingness to be challenged, who have an interest in teaching and provide leadership opportunities, and who are able to work with flatter hierarchies to provide individuals with the space and autonomy to grow and develop. Secondly, leaders need to ensure they communicate a clear offering of opportunities and support to develop such skills, whether through training e.g. Pixar’s famous academy, through individual learning budgets, or other means.

2. Build digital mindsets and capability

Gen Z are the first true ‘digital natives’ and heavily reliant on social media. They are used to, and want, lots of information and have strong multitasking skills - but also short attention spans. They tend to be willing to share information and thus are less concerned about privacy. They are also conditioned to question the lines, think outside the box and challenge the status quo.

Organisations have the opportunity to capitalise on gen Z’s collaborative nature and to mine ideas by developing innovative social media environments to provide gen Z with the chance to be creative together. Secondly by ensuring leaders are willing to share knowledge and information openly, have the capability to connect in a digital world, communicate rationally e.g. with information delivered in short bursts at speed, and create the open culture that supports free thinking.

3. Develop relational skills

Members of gen Z are empowered and have little patience for command-and-control hierarchy. They are aware of their value and feel they deserve to be treated seriously.

Organisations need to be more accepting of flatter hierarchies and blurred boundaries, facilitate connectivity and challenge vertically, horizontally and diagonally. Leaders need to have high EI, understand emotion and be able to connect relationally. Gen Z necessitates leaders who can inspire, engage, motivate, coach and empower.

4. Engrain corporate citizenship

Curiosity and the chance to help people are significant motivators leading gen Z to follow their interests and be drawn to organisations dedicated to a cause. It is likely that converse to assumptions of their desire to work for high tech innovative companies such as Google or Apple, technology is part of their everyday being taken for granted and they are in fact drawn towards organisations showing real corporate social responsibility such as the NHS.

Organisations need to develop a multigenerational leadership style that takes this new generation into account and create a new approach and system for attracting, influencing, maximising the potential and retaining gen Z. If they don’t, organisations will become disconnected, disengaged and disjointed as veteran leaders exit and the next generation of leaders enter.