The Generation Game

Gethin Nadin

08/07/2016
Categories: Culture

There’s been a lot of debate and research into the different generations currently in the workplace, and how their attitudes to work are shaping and evolving HR.  So how do you accommodate the newest generations with very different wants and needs to their predecessors?

The phrase “Generation X” was actually coined in the 1950s, and popularised by Douglas Coupland in his 1991 book, appropriately titled Generation X.  The naming convention that began with “X” – as the generation that supposedly lacked direction and definition – and then continued on to “Y” and “Z”, was essentially an accident.

So, the term ‘Millennial’ is the collective name for the Generations that currently succeed Generation X.  So, if you were born after 1980, you’re considered a Millennial.  Generation Y are now well into their careers and there’s a Next Generation coming.  Cue Kirk vs. Picard debate.

As we look back, we can see that the youngest of the Traditionalists are now 72 years old and are retired or retiring, although there are 300,000 over-70s still working in the UK – a figure which is unlikely to decrease in the future.  So the three remaining generations are Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.   But there’s one more en route…

Generation Z

Generation Z have quietly come of age while Millennials have enjoyed significant media attention.  Described as independent, stubborn, pragmatic, always in a rush, and always on their phones, Generation Z are also described as Centennials.  Born post-1995, this generation has never known a world without the internet.  In fact, their lives are so entwined with tech, that some academics have (affectionately) dubbed them ‘Mutants’.  Although some older generations may revel in being dismissive of ‘youngsters’, Generation Z are set to become the largest generation ever – reaching 2.52 billion – and by 2025 they will account for 30% of the workforce.  Therefore, it’d be remiss to not take their wants and needs seriously.  Their existence was rocked by terrorist attacks, and two economic crashes; Generation Z came into this world with their eyes wide open in the aftermath of these great events.

Who Influences Generation Z?

Changes in technology dominate each generation, and how they like to be communicated with changed rapidly over time.  Generation Z have billions in spending power and feel it’s their responsibility to fix the economy and change the world.  As strange as it sounds, 15-year-olds in 2016 grew up in a very different world to Millennials in 2006.  Millennials were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, until all-of-a-sudden their existence was rocked by terror attacks and two economic crashes.  Generation Z came into the world at that point.  They are influenced by online bloggers, web-based comedians and Vines.  Ever heard of Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known as ‘PewDiePie’? Me neither.

So, Who Are Generation Z?

  • They find it easier to talk online than in person.
  • 8 out of 10 say they are hooked on social media.  CBS says that 42% of this generation said that social media has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves.
  • They’re self-educators.  They will look for instructions on YouTube. They’ve spawned the term ‘internet star’.
  • They were born mobile native.  They have always had and used mobile phones.  They think 13 is the appropriate age to get your first smart phone.
  • They suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out).
  • Their favourite brands are Nike, Michael Kors and Amazon.
  • They spend money on experiences over ‘stuff’.
  • They shop online, but they do prefer online retailers who still have a high street presence.
  • They want access not ownership. DVDs and CDs are almost obsolete, but Generation Z want access to services. This explains the popularity of Spotify, Airbnb, Uber etc.

Generation Z in the Workplace

  • They’re not passive. They feel they have a voice – they’ve grown up with the internet and the world as their stage.
  • They believe success comes from their network.  Social links are more important than qualifications.  They grew up at a time when “there are no jobs” was the common phrase.  They also have more severe higher education debt.
  • 76% want their hobby to be their career.  They’ve seen PewDiePie do it…
  • They have a social conscience.  They’ve grown up with terrorism and environmental issues in mind.  They will choose to work with and buy from companies who match their social conscience.
  • They spend three hours a day in front of a screen.  They digest a huge amount of electronic communications every hour via computers, mobiles and tablets.  Employers need to consider whether adding more to this will just become white noise.  The National Trust and Arsenal Football Club have experimented with offline communications to engage this generation and both have reported excellent results.
  • Career development is an important factor.  They want clear career paths and long-term goals. 

Generation Z and Employee Benefits

PwC’s ‘Future of Work’ research shows that after career progression, salary, and development, employee benefits is the 4th most important factor when choosing an employer.

“Flexibility is more important than salary.”- Cusumono, Head of HR at Linked In

58% of 18-24-year-old employees say additional benefits boost their loyalty. – MetLife

56% of employees reported a significant improvement in their engagement as a result of having flexible benefits. – HR Voice

The Impact of Generation Z

  • They will finally kill off the 9-to-5 job.
  • They will accept nothing less than full transparency. You will not be able to lie to Generation Z.  All aspects of work will start to become something we can talk about (including salary).
  • They will not accept anything less than the best technology.  The tech of the workplace will need to match and beat that of the consumer space.
  • They crave a career they can actually love. More than any other generation, they are born with an entrepreneurial spirit.  If you are looking to keep them on your team, offer them a position with a purpose and clear path to leadership.
  • Their social conscience is strong and they have a mission. This will affect who they work for, and in which sectors…

The Challenge of Generation Z

The biggest challenge is how to retain them:

  • 71% of UK Millennials are expected to leave their current employer in the next 4 years.
  • 46% are worried about student debt
  • 47% of Millennials spend half their pay on debts.
  • 48% of young people aged 18-25 have debts other than student loans and/or mortgages.
  • The average debt owed by Generation Z is £3,109.  Remember they’re only 21 years old – barely into work, and yet have already accumulated debt.

Preparing for Generation Z

Firstly, take all of this with a pinch of salt! The research tells us a lot about how a group of people thinks in general, but this doesn’t always translate to real life.  You will have Millennials working for you who already own their own home, or have a child.  However, there are some ways you can prepare for this generation:

  • Prepare your Millennials for Generation Z. As your Millennials hit their early and mid-30s, they are beginning to manage the first members of generation Z, which will create an interesting dynamic.
  • Detox your workplace of one-size-fits-all solutions.  Companies need to create purposeful spaces designed to support various work modes.
  • Encourage collaboration and flexibility. More than any other previous generation, Gen Z will put pressure on organisations to provide flexible work environments.
  • Embrace integration.  Technology is an integral part of Gen Z’s lives and they will expect it to be seamless in their work experience.
  • Revamp your corporate responsibility.  Gen Z expects organisations to care about their energy use and carbon footprint, and have an interest in helping.
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