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Gen Z is radically different from the hyper-connected, ambitious demographic of millennials (Gen Y). Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint
Gen Z is radically different from the hyper-connected, ambitious demographic of millennials (Gen Y). Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint

Make way for Generation Z

With the entry of a new generation mean more rules will change at the workplace?

Just when the workforce thought it had started understanding the millennial mindset (okay, maybe a little), along comes a new tribe ready to jump into the working world: Gen Z, or post-millennials. 

Born between 1996 and 2010, Gen Z is radically different from the hyper-connected, ambitious demographic of millennials (Gen Y). This new group doesn’t know life without a smartphone in hand. “Millennials were digital pioneers when it came to embracing technology to help make things happen fast. Gen Z, on the other hand, are more than that. They are always connected, they know what kind of future they want, they know which route to take to create that future, and if they want to learn or find something they do that instantly using the Net (think the zillion YouTube tutorials)," says David Stillman, who has spent two decades writing and speaking to companies on the topic of generations and has co-written Gen Z @ Work: How The Next Generation Is Transforming The Workplace with his 17-year-old son Jonah. “But that doesn’t mean they broadcast each and every part of their life. They are actually more concerned with privacy than millennials; they carefully curate what they share and who they share it with," adds David.

Pointing out another crucial difference between the two generations, Pradnya Parasher, an executive coach and founder-chief executive of Mumbai-based ThreeFish Consulting, says: “Millennials want work that has meaning. They want to change the world. While Gen Z wants to create change in the world, they want to be able to survive first and earn well. They are far more ambitious, realistic, entrepreneurial and comfortable with social media (and hence know how to use it to their advantage) than Gen Y."

How then should entrepreneurs, executives or even middle managers look at hiring, managing and retaining Gen Z? Experts say the answer lies in understanding their mindset and how their career attitude will differ from those of their predecessors. 

Let’s be realistic

Gen Z are the children of Gen X (born between 1961 and 1980), who were raised with the belief that the world is tough and hard work is the only way to succeed.

“Gen X has seen tough economic times during their formative years (in the late 1980s) so they ensured their kids know what the real world is like. As a result, Gen Z is independent, competitive and even willing to start at the bottom of the ladder. Unlike their sceptical parents, Gen Z doesn’t feel that everything is as ‘doom and gloom’," says Jonah. Gen Y, on the other hand, witnessed economic prosperity in their formative years and came to work feeling the company was lucky to have them, says Chaitali Mukherjee, partner (people and organization) at consulting firm PwC India. “They didn’t necessarily want to start at the bottom." 

Tip: “Since Gen Z is more entrepreneurial and self-focused, they need to feel there’s a purpose behind their activities and they can have a say in how these activities should happen. It would be a good idea to involve them in diverse activities (think marketing and accounts, or social media manager and writer)," says Santhosh Babu, an executive coach and founder of Organization Development Alternatives Consultants Pvt. Ltd.

Concurs David: “Gen Z grew up with the ability to customize everything from Twitter handles to their college degrees; they expect to be able to customize their careers. They would be interested in a place of employment where they can have multiple jobs at the same time. They see no reason why they can’t work in one department for a few days a week and a different section the other days." 

Let’s not overthink

When it comes to innovation, Gens X and Y believe the process has to be a long one—you think of it, do a prototype, test it, budget, do another prototype, test again…. Gen Z follows two simple steps: Think of it, and make it. “Gen Z members are natural collaborators who will drive ease in decision making. However, Gen Z can be self-involved and possibly the ‘challenging’ type, who may ask and critique far more than past generations. So that is one area managers need to watch out for," says Mukherjee. 

Tip: Gen Z is more willing to experiment than previous generations. They want quick results so that they can start work on a new assignment. But they are also likely to be more individual focused, with shorter attention spans, explains Mukherjee.

“This is going to create challenges for aligned teamwork and disciplined execution. I believe the Gen-Xers will have to shoulder the responsibility of being the ‘adults’ who will supervise all this frenzied, fast-paced action and drive towards an overall goal," says Parasher. 

Let’s be free

Flexibility in terms of working hours and places is a way to attract Gen Z. Both Gens Y and Z rate work flexibility higher than healthcare, says a global survey by human resource consulting firm Randstad. The survey of 4,066 employees was conducted over June-July 2016 in 10 countries, including the US, UK, China and India. “They don’t want to do the 9-to-5 ritual in the office. They like their freedom, but don’t worry, it won’t happen at the cost of their work," says Babu.

Tip: This demand for freedom shouldn’t be confused with absence of values, says David. “This is the do-it-yourself generation. It’s not that they don’t respect the role of a boss, it’s just that they are used to doing things at a self-directed pace. They will want to be handed assignments, be given a deadline, and then be left alone to get it done. This will also play out with training—they will want training to be like YouTube, where they can log on when they need to learn something. They would rather jump into a job and go at it until they hit an obstacle, stop and learn by themselves, and then dive back into the job," he explains.

Let’s talk face-to-face

Contrary to popular belief, Gens Y and Z prefer face-to-face conversations over the virtual medium. The Randstad survey found that 39% of the respondents believed that the most effective way of communicating with co-workers was in person; 6% vouched for videoconferencing, 7% each for text messaging and social media, 10% for instant messaging, 11% for the phone and 4% for company collaboration portals. 

“Though they are characterized as technology savvy, both these generations look out for more face-to-face conversations and regular feedback on their performance. They want to look their bosses in the eye, they want to know where they are falling short, and they want to feel appreciated if they are working in the right direction. They look for instant gratification," says Achal Khanna, chief executive officer, SHRM India, the local arm of the Society for Human Resource Management, an alliance of HR managers from more than 165 countries. 

Tip: “Managers have to provide their new employee regular feedback," says Parasher, adding, “Though they don’t like to be micro-managed, they are all for open conversations. They like to feel assured in their roles and discuss openly their personal development."

Let’s talk technology

This goes without saying: Gen Z has digital in its DNA. A study by business research organization IBM Institute for Business Value says 74% of Gen Z spends free time online, with 25% online for 5 hours or more each day. The study, which was released in January, had more than 15,000 respondents aged 13-21 from 16 countries.

Tip: “They prefer high-end technologies and learning management systems to be adequately utilized for delivering business. Organizations need to keep a constant lookout for such technologies and quickly adopt them," says Khanna. 

Agrees Mukherjee, “Deep use of digital and futuristic approaches is vital for attracting and retaining Gen Z. There’s one thing though that managers need to keep in mind: While Gen Y may accept aberration in terms of their aspirations, Gen Z will quickly exit the system and create their own world. This may spur the growth of freelancers in the future. Gen Z’s ability to connect the dots and collaborate with others will ensure that they are far more successful in exploiting the digital world to drive their own interests." 

However, “now is not the time to take the attention off millennials. Companies need to train them on how to be managers. They will be the front-line managers for Gen Z. One of the best things companies can do is educate them on Gen Z," says David.

As for the game plan with Gen Z, Parasher says, “Companies need to strike a good balance between giving them the freedom to innovate and remaining involved enough to help them get back on track when they falter."

Meet the three generations

Some of the distinct behavioural differences between Gens X, Y and Z

Gen X (born 1961-80)

■ Digital immigrant

■ Preserves the past

■The seamless implementer

■Values individual contribution

Gen Y (born 1981-95)

■ Digital native

■ Aspirant

■Values collaboration

■ Keen to do things differently

Gen Z (born 1996-2010)

■ Digitally overloaded

■ Realist

■The dot connector

■ Challenges tradition

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