Generation Z and the Work World: 5 Trends to Watch
Generation Z: Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You
So Much Has Changed Since the Year 2000
Along with 4 million other American kids, my daughter was born in early 2000 to a world that she would barely recognize today. What a different world it was when ...
- green was just a color
- the cloud was something you needed an umbrella for
- Forbes named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company"...again
- cell phones were just for talking
- we rented movies on VHS tapes from the neighborhood Blockbuster store
- we hadn't yet heard of hanging chads, Al Qaeda, or ISIS
- the top search engine was Excite.com
- we could board a plane without removing our shoes, being patted down, or getting felt up by TSA agents
- Donald Trump ran for President on the Reform Party ticket but failed bigly
- we navigated streets using paper maps
- our 35 mm cameras required rolls of film, and
- having "followers" meant you were a leader.
We don't live in this world any longer.
The Generations at a Glance
1925 - 1945
2000 - ?
How Will These Social and Technological Changes Impact the Generation Z Workforce?
Kids born in 2000 and after comprise Generation Z, and they have grown up in a much different world than their predecessors. As they march steadily towards the work world, how will the world they've grown up in affect the type of employees will they become?
Here are five trends that will impact how Gen Z shapes the workforce.
This Is Generation Z's Reality: Rapid Change
Trend #1: Always On -- Hyperavailability and Instant Communication
True downtime is harder than ever to achieve, given the availability of 24/7 communication. Responses are expected instantly. As in "immediate." Yester-now.
Generation Z is the most connected, available, and instantly gratified generation yet, and they'll carry those habits into the workforce. However, their increased reliance on devices for connection carries with it some associated costs, including the erosion of some basic and "soft" skills.
The Cell Phone: Digital Umbilical Cord?
About 82% of American teens ages 12-17 now own a cell phone, and they tend to keep it within reach at all times. Eighty-seven percent of teens sleep with their phones.1
Unfortunately, however, sleeping with an electronic device is associated with not only taking longer to fall asleep but also spending less time in REM.2 Deep sleep is necessary to restore and refresh the body. Heavy cell phone use is also related to stress and depression.3
Teens who fail to practice good sleep hygiene habits now may be setting themselves up for chronic sleep deprivation and associated health problems as they enter the workforce. So while tomorrow's bosses will appreciate their employees being constantly accessible, this hyperavailability may prove detrimental to Generation Z workers themselves. In particular, they may be at risk of early job burnout.
Texting Means Hyperavailability
Text messages are more likely to be read and responded to.
- American teens send an average of 60 texts a day, with girls sending twice as many as boys.
- Over 97% of text messages are opened, whereas the majority of emails (78%) are not.
- Texts are responded to in an average of 90 seconds, compared with 90 minutes for an email.4
The Slow, Painful Death of Grammar
While convenient, hyperavailable modes of communication have a downside: overall communication quality.
Text messaging, the essence of hyperavailability, is limited to 160 characters. Teens have adapted to these character limits by using "text speak" to abbreviate words and phrases.
The result of this creativity is that the grammar police have all but given up. Punctuation, the use of capital letters, proper spelling ... it is a slow, painful death, and difficult to watch for some of us. Generation Z will likely take these skill challenges into the workforce.
Educators already see detectable differences in written language skills and link the decline to texting and the use of social media (e.g., Twitter has a character limit of 280). With short, quick messages, sentence structure takes too much time, and periods, commas, and apostrophes just take up space. Text speak often discards capital letters and truncates words and phrases using abbreviations ("c u l8r") and dropped letters (would = "wud").
Tweens and teens, however, are still learning how to express themselves through language. Teachers are noticing that students experience difficulties switching back and forth between proper grammar and text speak. Teachers also notice gaps in teens' attention spans, communication skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence.5
To accommodate changes, teachers report having to adjust their teaching styles to include more showmanship or entertainment. Generation Z will expect employers to do the same. (Is it any wonder why we're having so much trouble recruiting people into the STEM occupations of science, technology, engineering and math?)
Trend #2: Digital Overexposure -- The Erosion of Personal Privacy Meets Oversharing
Personal Privacy Is Crumbling
What did we even do before social media?
The statistics are mind-boggling:
- There are more than 600 million Instagrammers, and almost one-third of American teens indicate that Instagram is their most important social network6
- Since its launch, more than 1 billion Facebook users have posted over 250 billion photos, registered over 1 trillion "likes," and created 150 billion digital "friendships."7
- More than 40 million people use Foursquare, which encourages "checking in" to locations, earning badges, mayorships and promotions all the while broadcasting your physical location and biographical information to others.
On the internet you can post an opinion, share a common interest, gather news, seek attention, and connect with strangers. You can also learn the value of personal boundaries the hard way.
Before Posting or Sending, Consider: What Would Grandma Say?
Personal Boundaries On-line
Personal boundaries are about self-imposed limits that each of us sets regarding how we expect and deserve to be treated. They are about who we are and what we want from others.
Young people face digital overexposure at the same time they are learning what personal boundaries are. Almost 40 percent of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages.8
They accept friend requests regardless of whether they personally know the individual. They "follow" rock stars, politicians, people famous for being famous ... as well as their pretenders. They have on-line friends half-way around the world that they've never met.
On-line data is forever, thus some shared images and information may prove damaging when teens apply for college and start careers. Bright futures can be harmed, for example, by on-line evidence of hate speech, tasteless "jokes," suggestive photos, and images that depict drug use or underage drinking.
While still children, Generation Z is learning adult lessons about digital overexposure, and the consequences of these lessons can impact them for years.
Oversharing and Employer Concerns About Business Discretion
For employers, the upside of Generation Z's habit of oversharing is this: it will be easier to know who you are hiring when an applicant has left digital footprints all over cyberspace.
However, as work life and personal life blur further, employers may face several problems. Too much personal information distracts from the business purpose. (Ask anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle!)
Additionally, employers may be concerned that Generation Z employees—who are accustomed to oversharing their own personal information—may fail to exercise proper discretion with business data. Even when unintentional, workers can compromise competitive business information with their on-line comments and social media friendships.
Expect employers to therefore monitor employees even more tightly than they do today. Bummer.
So Much to Share
Trend #3: Crowdsourcing -- Expertise Meets Common Experience
It used to be that expertise resided in individuals who spent 10 years, or roughly 10,000 hours, painstakingly honing their craft.9 Their journey to world-class performance was fueled by:
- devoted coaches
- enthusiastic family support, and
- consistent and deliberate, structured practice that was designed to improve their performance.
Then the realization hit us: some of the work reserved for experts could be handed over to crowds. Volunteers and freelancers could be trusted to do the work. The notion of crowdsourcing took root.
How Connected Are You Really?
Expertise Becomes the Wisdom of Crowds
Crowdsourcing refers to assigning large-scale projects to the general public, often across a wide range of geographies, expertise levels, and interests.10 Individuals accomplish micro-tasks such as writing reviews or submitting suggestions, photos, and ideas for products.
Wikipedia is the most prominent example of crowdsourcing, comprised of over 20 million contributors who research, write, edit, and verify over 4 million encyclopedia articles.11 Other examples include:
- TripAdvisor, a website that offers member-generated travel reviews
- American Idol, a television singing competition using viewer voting to select the winner
- Justin Bieber, a teen pop idol who asked Twitter followers to select the cover of his single, "Boyfriend"12
- photo sharing sites that offer creative commons licensed images for students, bloggers, and others
- Indiegogo, a site which raises money from users for projects ranging from the arts to charity to small business, and
- teen novel competitions in which fans comment and vote on book manuscripts. (The winning author lands a publishing contract.)13
Crowdsourcing is thus firmly entrenched in popular culture.
Trust Without Scrutiny
Generation Z is growing up with the democratized expertise of Wikipedia and YouTube, where anyone can contribute, regardless of qualifications or intent. As a result, Generation Z defines expertise more loosely than we have in the past. They trust without scrutiny. As they enter college and the workforce, however, young people will need to hone their skills at assessing the reliability of sources they use.
Uber-Specialists and Freelancers
Expect Generation Z to be a workforce of uber-specialists. They will also be the most digitally collaborative generation yet. In order to compete successfully, they will need to develop personal expertise in areas that are deeper and narrower. Successful consultants, for example, often develop a focused niche and endeavor to "own the space."
In the workforce, this will mean more work-life balance options, as telecommuting and freelancing opportunities grow. By 2020, it is expected that 40% of American workers will be freelancers.14
To gain leverage in competing with large companies, freelancers will increasingly band together for visibility via crowdsourced platforms. (These are the "managed, focused crowds" referred to in the video below).
Great VIDEO: The Key To Crowdsourcing Is Managed, Focused Crowds
Career Success Starts Now: Tips for Teens and Their Parents
- Develop good sleep hygiene habits now. Let the cell phone charge in another room while you use an alarm clock to wake up.
- Practice the art of disconnecting from technology to spend uninterrupted, focused time on other pursuits.
- Avoid health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Get moving!
- On-line data is forever. Never share photos or information that you wouldn't want your grandma, a future employer, or your preacher to see—because they might!
- Consider everything you "like" on social media and everything you enter on partnered websites to be public information.
- Periodically Google yourself and check your privacy settings, especially on Facebook.
- Consider the potential consequences of information that you share. If in doubt, keep it confidential.
- If you want to develop expertise, go narrow and go deep into a subject area.
- Scrutinize the validity of any source. As appropriate, consider the author's purpose, credibility, objectivity, sources used, and how recent the material is.
- Pay attention to developing your soft skills, such as communication and negotiation. Look at conflict as an opportunity to build interpersonal skills. No matter what career you choose, connecting with people (in non-digital realms) will still be essential.
Trend #4: Overscheduling and Struggles with Structure
Today's children have about half as much unstructured play time outside as they did three decades ago. Instead, Generation Z will have spent more time in front of a television set than in the classroom by the time they graduate from high school.15 As a result, Generation Z will face health issues associated with their sedentary lifestyles.
Also, many kids of Generation Z have their schedules tightly packed with college-résumé building activities. Their parents shuttle them from after school sports to art lessons to karate. What is falling by the wayside in our fast-paced world is a lack of unstructured time spent playing with other children.
Unstructured play promotes socialization and emotional intelligence. Children must negotiate which games to play, determine their rules of engagement, and resolve interpersonal conflicts. Such child's "work" promotes the development of self-awareness, empathy, emotional and behavioral self-regulation, and flexibility.
Because they will have had fewer opportunities to develop these skills growing up, as employees, Generation Z will face challenges with soft-skills such as interpersonal communication (the non-digital kind) and conflict resolution.
Unstructured Time Outside Is Important
Trend #5: Informality -- Dude, We're Like, You Know, Equals
Generation Z has integrated the informality of digital communication into their lifestyle.
They declare "YOLO" (You Only Live Once). They wear skinny jeans for nearly any occasion. They know the familiar details of celebrities' lives. They connect with people of diverse backgrounds and prefer to address people by first names and nicknames like "dude." Informality is the name of their game.
As they enter the work world, Generation Z workers will need to be selective on how they address others. Titles convey respect and are often earned. Also, dressing professionally communicates a common focus on the job and promotes an image of competence.
On the positive side, however, informality often confers egalitarianism and familiarity. It is inclusive and can break down communication barriers that would otherwise separate people.
Generation Z's ability to treat others inclusively—as peers—will be an advantage for both themselves and business. America is rapidly becoming more diverse so that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the American labor force.
By this time, Generation Z will attain key organizational leadership roles. Thus, they will finally bring to the boardroom the inclusiveness that helps define their generation.
And what a contribution that will be!
5 Key Changes That Affect Generation Z: Old Reality Meets New
Availability & Instant Access
People owned phones due to safety concerns. If the person you were calling was not at home, you left a message on their answering machine. Bosses didn't call on weekends and at night unless it was an emergency. If you were really important, you wore a pager.
We use a variety of digital devices to "stay connected" to friends and virtual friends. We expect immediate responses. We "check in" to restaurants and other businesses to broadcast our location. We can be reached practically anytime, anywhere without even picking up the phone.
Social Security Numbers were commonly used identifiers. We openly provided and even printed them on our checks. Embarrassing information was limited to word-of-mouth or the local newspaper. You could tear a photo up or destroy its negative if you didn't want it to be circulated.
All of our personal data (financial, medical, biographical information) is potentially available. Identities can be easily stolen and our data could be used for illegitimate purposes. Photos and information that we intended only for a certain audience could be floating in cyberspace ... forever.
Experts were mainly people with formal degrees and experience, and they shared their knowledge through books and academic journals available in print in your local library. You were expected to automatically know how to do the simple stuff like laundry.
An expert can be anyone with a story to tell. Blogs, Youtube how-tos, and crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia rock the internet. There is an audience for basic skills instruction, and we crave time-saving, money-saving tips from someone with the same concerns.
Hobbies, sports, and other extracurriculars were for enjoyment. You could schedule your life using a day planner or desk calendar.
We are often tightly scheduled, overbooked, and eat on the run. We use electronic devices and apps to help us keep track of priorities, calendars, and goals. When we meet with others face-to-face, we're often multitasking (e.g., texting).
Adults were often addressed with "Mr.," "Mrs.," or a similar title. Dress codes governed the shoulds and shouldn'ts.
We often dress for comfort and individuality, including at work (e.g., casual Fridays). Even CEOs may be called by their first names.
What Will Be Their Impact? Upsides and Downsides of 5 Generation Z Trends
It's easier to know who you're hiring when an applicant has left digital footprints all over cyberspace. Employee monitoring will increase.
Increasingly blurred lines between work and personal lives. Excess personal information distracts from the business purpose. Shared comments and social media friendships may compromise business interests, even when unintentional. Businesses will increase monitoring of employees.
Hyperaccessibility & Instant Access
In a competitive global climate, it's convenient to have quick access to employees even when they are on vacation or not at work. Such access allows more flexible work arrangements (e.g., working from home).
Chronic sleep deprivation from sleeping with cell phones. Risk of early job burnout. Skills gaps in communication, self-awareness, emotional intelligence. Shorter attention spans.
Expertise comes in different forms and from different sources (e.g., education, life experience). Freelancers can provide a valuable, unique perspective and can perform the job efficiently.
Expertise needs to be scrutinized for reliability, no matter the source.
Overscheduling & Overstructured
Companies want employees who can contribute their ideas and efforts in a variety of ways. They want employees who "can do more with less." Companies assume busy employees are productive employees.
Gaps in soft skills such as interpersonal communication (the non-digital kind) and conflict resolution. Health problems associated with sedentary lifestyles.
Informality often confers egalitarianism and familiarity. It can breaks down communication barriers between people.
Not everyone wants to be called "dude" or by their first names. Titles convey respect and are often earned. Dressing professionally communicates a common focus on the job.
Reader Opinion Poll
As Generation Z marches steadily towards the work world, how do you feel about them?
Generation Z: They Won't Be Stereotyped
For all the statistics and generalities presented here, make no mistake—Generation Z embraces their individual differences. They can be described but not stereotyped.
They're talented, connected, and for any challenges they may have, there have the ability to push beyond any limitations. They'll work in jobs that don't even exist now and invent solutions we haven't yet imagined.
They won't just change the future of the work world. They are the future.
Are you ready?
The Path Ahead Is Bright for Generation Z
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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