Say Hello to Gen Z
Almost two years ago, I wrote a post taking apart the ‘Millennial Question’. And as the world and workforce continue to adjust to the changes and expectations of my generation, we can now welcome Generation Z to the table. This year, our first Gen Z-ers (also known fondly as Digital Natives, iGen, or The Founders) are gainfully employed, off to college, joining the military, and many will be able to vote for the first time in the upcoming midterm elections. A recent Bloomberg analysis projects that Generation Z will soon outnumber Millennials as the world’s largest cohort. What this means is that organizations are scrambling to figure out what makes these new kids on the block tick – how do they spend their time, money, and attention.
We love to make generalizations about generations in an effort to understand these things. While Millennials have been characterized as self-centered and idealistic, Gen Z is known for their self-awareness and pragmatism. Much of this is believed to be a result of their upbringing in the digital age, the war on terror, and the global recession. Millennials experienced all of these things in their own way, but they also knew life as it was before them. So Gen Z is different – they mark a new era that is generally technologically savvy, socially responsible, and fiscally frugal.
Generally is the key term in that last sentence. The dangers of trusting these trends too quickly are that we can make false assumptions that disengage, or even exclude, valuable and talented people from our organizations. Let’s use Millennials as an example, I can’t tell you how many blog posts and articles I have read in the last few years about how my generation feels misunderstood, disengaged and mocked by their elders because of the language that has been used to describe us. It’s hard to feel like a valuable team member when you feel like you are perceived by your superiors as entitled or narcissistic.
So, what can we actually do to effectively work across generations?
Check our assumptions – Positive or negative generalizations about generations can have harmful consequences for the individuals that are a part of them. They create overly simplistic and unrealistic expectations for entire groups of people that are truly complex and diverse. Instead of making assumptions, let’s ask good questions. What do you need to be successful? What motivates you? How do you hope to grow? If we make the mistake of answering these questions for others then we miss out on what actually matters most to them.
Get the complete picture – Generation is only one dimension of individual diversity. When working with or trying to engage others we have to resist the urge to reduce people to one quality or trait. Group dynamics are affected by our personalities, our culture, our backgrounds, our fears, our aspirations, and so much more. The solution to working better together isn’t in any one thing. To improve our relationships with all of our group members we have to remember that they are all unique individuals and then provide them with individualized consideration.
Be willing to learn from each other – Regardless of age or experience, there will always be opportunities to learn from one another. If we aren’t willing to do that, then we are essentially forgoing innovation and progress. When we can recognize everyone’s contributions as valuable then we are able to fully capitalize and benefit from them. We can create safe, collaborative workspaces with the proper groundrules, inclusive language, and meaningful offers.
My generation may feel misunderstood in the working world but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be welcoming and understanding to the next. Let’s not think about these kinds of shifts as problems that need to be solved, but instead, as opportunities to grow and develop alongside others. Welcome to the (professional) world Gen Z, we’re happy you’re here!
You can get to know more about all of the members of your team, regardless of what generation they are a part of, with an activity like Needs and Offers. Have everyone consider 2-3 things that they need from the other members of their team to be successful. Then think about 2-3 things that they can offer others so that they can be successful. You may have them write everything down so it can be shared and discussed. The most important part of an activity like this is follow through, make sure to refer back to this information, use it to help set groundrules, agree on goals, discuss feedback or resolve conflict.
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.