Preparing for a Generation Z workforce

The words I hear most when I talk with experienced managers about young people, perhaps those who have just finished their student life and are now joining the workforce, are striking:  “I do not know how control them!” The generation we are talking about is Generation Z, writes Dmitry Leus

Generation Z (or the generation of ‘social individualists’, as the media sometimes refers to them) are young people born between 1995 and 2015.  The oldest of them are now starting work and they bring with them a new set of abilities and challenges.  The first huge strength that this set of young people has is the fact that for them, the availability of information and the development of digital technologies is a common and natural thing.  For a 22 year-old today, they do not see this as a fourth industrial revolution.  It has always been their reality.  They are adept at assessing and sorting a large volume of information and quickly extracting what is of value.  The same applies to all of the modern devices they use to explore the world and communicate with each other.

Our generation, who has to learn to manage Generation Z, and get the best from them, can sometimes react from a default position of fear.  Even with my own son, I catch myself wanting to say: “That’s enough time on your devices – do something useful!”  Like many parents, I have worried about ‘device-dependence’  What really goes to the heart of this issue is that the older generation can have difficulty in realising and accepting the fact that Generation Z perceives information and the world in a different way. Moreover, they do everything faster: they process large amounts of data and quickly identify the “grains”.  They think, react, evaluate and make decisions in a different way to us.  This is facilitated by so-called “clip-on” thinking, which is inherent to their generation and allows them to speedily orientate (they need only ten seconds to make a decision) and  take proper decisions in a crisis or non-standard situation.  Given that for the past ten years, our world has been facing constant crisis situations, this ability is invaluable.

Another distinguishing feature of Generation Z is their hyperactivity and their striving to get a quick result. If they start doing something in the morning, they want to get the result by the evening.  They want to “feel” it and experience it.  This affects their choice: they choose actively developing segments of the market and they need novelty and constant progress, as they are very attracted by progress.

However, at the same time, Generation Z is deeply concerned about their inner world, which they actively protect from an uncoordinated invasion. Their high level of individualization and their ability to concentrate on specific tasks allow them to keep their goals in focus all the time, which they try to keep away from the outside world. Instead, they prefer to act “fast”, even impulsively.   So even if managers find this difficult to manage at first, I remind them that these tendencies can make for star power in their workforce.

Another important part of the picture of these young employees is that this generation actively invests time and money in their development and training. They prefer to attend expensive courses and learn from the best trainers (and not always in their own country), rather than plan big purchases, such as cars or apartments.  They feel like ‘world citizens’ and so are comfortable in different countries and love to travel.

I frequently get asked how to ‘control’ Generation Z.  The worry for many is that they are individualists who find it difficult to work in a team. But I tell people they will be pleasantly surprised to see that this generation copes perfectly with a task, sometimes even a difficult one, by himself. Yet he can mess up the simple task that you set for the young team. This is about their individuality – we see that Generation Z uses their individuality to build around themselves an autonomous, safe and controlled world. Therefore, if you want Generation Z to work together as a team, then you need to set a task that will be interesting to all team members, and determine the boundaries of everyone’s responsibility. In addition, you need to show that their borders are slightly contiguous, but do not intersect a lot.

I also emphasis their inner focus.  Comparisons do not work with Generation Z. If you give them examples of how a colleague easily coped with this task before and you expect this young expert to do it even better, then you just shoot in the dark. This generation’s picture of the world is built on the principles of the Self-position, on their own values and principles. If you want to motivate a person from Generation Z, appeal to her uniqueness.

For this generation, personal experience is very important. They do not strongly trust and listen to the experience of others.  They prefer to quickly get their own bumps and, through their own experience, come up with a solution. Therefore, you should be prepared for mistakes and take it for granted.  Refrain from saying: “I warned you”. Let them make mistakes and do not criticize them and you will be pleasantly surprised by their rapid growth and development. Use a constructive approach in the analysis of both failures and victories instead of criticism.

Your dialogue with Generation Z needs to be on an equal footing.  They do not respond well to an assertive or aggressive management style.  It frightens them and they run away from it. A leader, who has authority in the company due to his knowledge and experience (rather than a loud voice and boss status) will find a common language with this generation very quickly.  This generation appreciates it when you hear, listen, communicate and understand them.   They want to be valued just as they are.

They will not respond well to monotony.  Thanks to their “clip-on” thinking and hyperactivity, this generation is eager to respond to the simultaneous fulfillment of diverse and simple tasks in a short period. But, do not overdo it – the optimal number of tasks is in the range of three to five. This way you make their workload seem diverse and not monotonous.

The keywords for this generation, which naturally we take from social media, are: Like. Like. Like.  Generation Z is indeed a wave of social individualists.   As well as on social networks, where they spend a great deal of time, in real life they expect “likes” from you. Find the good reasons to praise them.  Notice their small victories.  Reward them with movie tickets or certificates.  In short, stimulate them for constant development, and you will be pleasantly surprised by their results.

In an article in Forbes magazine, writer Deep Patel was clear about what Generation Z wants to see from their employees.  He details how they are inspired by managers who demonstrate the values that they themselves prize: they want to see self-motivation, curiosity, inclusivity and generosity in their employers, as they are they qualities that they value in themselves and want to develop.