Catching up on Z’s…And We’re Not Talking About Sleep

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Attention all Millennials: Gen Z is coming up fast behind you. Gen Z currently makes up a quarter of the U.S. population, and more that 20 million of them are about to enter the workforce. It seems we are always preparing for those that will follow, going beyond the in-power generation at the helm. That’s what’s expected, that’s what’s healthy – for both sides of any work equation.

So it’s worth asking what we know about Gen Z. They are still young, after all. Gen Z includes those born between the mid-1990s and 2010, give or take a year. That would make the oldest about 20 years old and the youngest only five. The oldest are just starting to make their way out into the world to find and define themselves. Many are still checking the “undecided” box about their plans.

So it makes sense to be humble when it comes to making broad generalizations about this group. Just ask the millennials. They increasingly resist being labeled, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, and don’t much like or identify with the stereotypes they’ve been tagged with. New research from Carat makes it clear that millennials are a diverse lot and aren’t all the “hyper-connected optimistic digital extroverts” they’ve been made out to be.

There’s little reason to think Gen Z’ers will differ much in this regard. What’s clearly unique about them as a group, though, is this: “We are the first true digital natives,” says Hannah Payne, an 18-year-old UCLA student and lifestyle blogger recently quoted in the New York Times. Think about it – the technology and social media world in which today’s 15-year olds swim like fish was new when many millennials were in their age…and it wasn’t that long ago, either.

The outside world that Gen Z’s inhabit is radically different, too, shaped by post-9/11 trauma, hyper-vigilance, and economic shock. This is probably why surveys are consistently finding that Gen Z’ers tend to be conservative about the future, mature, self-directed and resourceful. They have an entrepreneurial (or is it more a self-reliant?) spirit. A Sparks & Honey survey found 72% of high school students want to start their own business someday. They are “do gooders” who want their jobs to impact the world. However, they are also “practical pragmatists” concerned about career and financial stability.

Recruiting and retaining the best and brightest that Gen Z has to offer confronts employers with the challenge of resolving some of these basic tensions. Offering opportunities for growth and a friendly and flexible work environment is just a start. Gen Z’s will look closely for engagement and meaning in the work itself. They may be charitable…but don’t expect them to donate their careers to you.