Move over millennials there'z a new kid in town
Jamal White (Marketing & Management ’18) has faced the stereotypes before.
White, who started working at Procter & Gamble in July, is part of Generation Z, a cohort of individuals born between approximately 1995 and 2010.
While at school, on internships and in the workplace, White noticed that his superiors and peers associated him with Millennials, the generation directly before Generation Z, and all of the stereotypes that come with them.
“Some people have a preconceived notion of how I should behave because of my age,” said White, who served as the UNI student body president during the 2017-18 academic year. “I’ve experienced it. People expect a bit less. They feel they have to micromanage you more because that trust is lacking and there is that stereotype. I think it’s an adjustment to make in organizations. I’ve faced quite a bit of it, even if it has been more implicit.”
While people from Generation Z share many traits with Millennials, they do hold some different values. Gen Z’ers are driven by the greater good and are more independent workers. They like flexibility and knowing the work they do makes a difference.
“We value things differently than other generations,” said Julie Van Ee (Marketing), who interned at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines last summer. “I’m looking for something that’s going to provide me with skills and something I can do to help people. I want to be able to actually know that my work is providing benefit to more than just me.”
Van Ee’s passion for the greater good is just one defining characteristic of Gen Z, which grew up with information at their fingertips through computers and smartphones. Their lives have been hyper-customized and connected, molding their view of the world and the workplace.
A shift in outlook
While the majority of Gen Z’ers are still in college or high school, they account for a large chunk of the population. About 25 percent of the United States is made up of this generation, making it larger than either Millennials and Baby Boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Estimates have credited Generation Z with 61 million people.
Gen Z’ers don’t know a world without the internet, and it has shaped many of their skills and beliefs. They are the most connected generation, which has fueled their need for social experiences and customization in the workplace and their careers.
According to a Robert Half study, 64 percent of Generation Z survey respondents cited the importance of career opportunities in selecting a job. Fifty-six percent of Gen Z’ers want to write their own job descriptions and 62 percent want to customize their own career path, according to a study by generational expert David Stillman, who wrote the book, GenZ @ Work.
Generation Z is competitive, and because of that, it values individualization—more so than Millennials, who are notoriously collaborative in their approach. Gen Z’ers also desire and seek chances to let their skills shine, like managing projects or taking a lead role on a new initiative.
People from Generation Z typically don’t like to be micromanaged and prefer to work on their own.
“I have always been an independent worker,” White said. “If I need to, I’m the one who can figure things out on my own, develop things and then come back to you whenever I need something. I don’t like to have someone hovering over me, feeling like they have a magnifying glass over the work that I do.”
Because of hyper-customization, Generation Z expects the workplace to deliver in the same fashion and be flexible. In a 2015 study, 40 percent of Generation Z students cited “work-life balance” as one of their career goals, which isn’t a drastic change from Millennials, who have pushed for a better work-life balance in their own careers.
Many companies have turned to more lenient work hours and allow employees to work remotely.
“I really value work-life balance,” said Van Ee, who said she enjoyed Principal Financial Group’s unlimited paid time off policy. “As long as you are getting your work done and you are communicating, you can have some time off. Yes, we are passionate about our jobs, but I don’t want it to be all-consuming.”
One of the biggest traits of Generation Z is the desire to effect change, like many of the people featured in our previous issue of UNIBiz Magazine, which focused on UNIBusiness alumni who #MakeADifference.
According to a recent study by cultural research firm Sparks and Honey, 26 percent of Gen Z’ers between 16 and 19 years old are already volunteering. This generation views the workplace as a vehicle to give back and serve a greater cause.
“I think work for me is so much more than a paycheck,” White said. “It’s more so about what I can give back and how I can serve or how I can better someone’s experience. I get that fulfillment from helping others or making other people’s jobs easier. I’ve always thought my role is to make someone’s life, business or job better than how I found it.
Recruit and retain
While the tendencies and work habits of Millennials have been extensively studied by companies all over the world—it’s considered the most researched generation to date—Generation Z is knocking on the door, and in some instances they are already in the workplace.
Over the past few years, some of the first few groups of Generation Z have entered the workforce.
Chloe Basa (Management & MIS '15) leads the multicultural Employee Network Group (ENG) for the Iowa offices of RSM. She also leads the Generations ENG for the North Central region. These ENGs are part of the culture diversity and inclusion initiative at RSM, with a mission “to help leverage the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce to achieve corporate goals and objectives, and drive superior results.”
In her role with the Generations ENG, Basa leads a team of eight local leaders in the North Central region of RSM. The group’s goal is to bridge cross-generational community gaps while also understanding some of Generation Z’s preferences from an employer and workplace.
“We’ve educated our employees that Generation Z is not the same as Millennials,” Basa said. “They are not the same generation. It’s important to make that distinction because they are different. We need to make sure that we treat them as a separate group and give their demographic the due research, time and understanding so they can transition well into the workplace.”
When recruiting potential employees, Basa said RSM has placed a larger focus on displaying the organization’s passion for diversity and inclusion.
“Culture and diversity wasn’t something that I heard about when recruiters came to UNI and told us about RSM,” Basa said. “That’s something that we have been working on with our recruiting teams.”
Basa and RSM aren’t alone. Companies around the nation are researching and finding ways to recruit and retain Generation Z, and diversity is a key issue.
“Baby Boomers and Generation X were fairly homogeneous, with mostly men,” said Atul Mitra, professor of management. “As time passed, there was increasing diversity in the workforce. Current research suggests Generation Z is the most diverse in who they grew up with, and that might make them more comfortable to accept diversity in the workplace.”
Since Gen Z’ers are reliant on the internet and social media, employers have been shifting their recruiting efforts online. Meeting potential employees where they are is the key, and that’s why job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn have become more popular in the last few years.
It’s important for companies to maintain their brands online, as Generation Z is proficient at researching on the internet. About 52 percent of Gen Z’ers use social media as a research tool.
“Targeting potential employees through Facebook and other means is one way to look at recruiting and selection,” Mitra said. “They get their news in different ways. Their attention spans are different. They respond to different stimuli than previous generations, so workplaces can use that to get to them and hire them.”
Companies should also be aware of social responsibility and creating volunteer opportunities for employees. Research by Campus Intelligence suggests that Generation Z strives to solve a problem rather than fill a need. Gen Z’ers look at the bigger picture.
When deciding on an internship and full-time job, White said he looked for a company that displayed a positive culture and valued corporate and social responsibility.
“I love serving underprivileged areas,” White said. “That’s always been a big passion of mine. A big perk of working with Procter & Gamble is they have a lot of connections with underprivileged youth in Cincinnati, where I am based. I have the opportunity to do some work with that and collaborate with their community programs.”
Skylar Mayberry-Mayes (Finance '12), a business operations specialist for Midwest Region Community Outreach at Nationwide, isn’t a Gen Z’er, but he does have a deep passion for making a difference in his community. He knows firsthand how organizations can help people from Generation Z live out their desire to make an impact.
Mayberry-Mayes, who is also on the Young Alumni Advisory Board at UNIBusiness, said companies should be flexible when it comes to employees volunteering. He used to volunteer during lunch breaks, and while Nationwide is a big proponent of community service, other companies may not have the same outlook.
He also believes companies should sponsor and promote volunteer events, to give employees easier access to community involvement.
“Be willing and open to letting them do more than their jobs,” Mayberry-Mayes said. “They’re going to want to do well at their jobs and definitely take the time to make sure of that, but don’t be afraid to step out and do more. The ability to balance what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about does exist. They aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Training Gen Z at UNIBusiness
Colleges around the nation are now serving Generation Z students, and UNIBusiness has already taken the initiative to give its Gen Z'ers a leg up through a variety of experiences.
The Professional Readiness Program® (PRP) has been at the forefront of this educational shift. The program teaches the soft and hard skills needed in the real-world workplace. PRP has four levels, and the first two are required to graduate.
Since Generation Z values customization, PRP has focused on creating multiple training tracks to give students options.
“The way that we’ve structured level three in our program is to give students a variety of ways to enroll based on the topics they are interested in and how they want the material delivered,” said Katie Hillyer, director of PRP. “They can focus on personal development, hard and soft skills or learn about important, overarching topics like diversity and inclusion. It really gives them some flexibility and the ability to customize how they see fit.”
PRP has also taken the initiative to teach students about differences in generations.
In a required level-two class, trainers take students through world events that shaped the lives and outlook of each generation, whether that be the Vietnam War for Baby Boomers or 9/11 for Millennials.
Students are also educated on some of the stereotypes older generations have of both Millennials and Generation Z, since some may not be aware of the difference.
This training is part of a wider effort by UNIBusiness to educate students on some of the nuances in the real life workplace.
“I think UNI has done a great job,” White said. “They teach a lot about integration with other generations and how you all can bridge that gap. They also do a great job of engaging students in that conversation, and I think that’s important: having a conversation about expectations in the workplace.”
UNIBusiness has also kept up with Generation Z’s reliance on technology. A new classroom named the Transamerica® Business Intelligence and Analytics lab is a state-of-the-art, technology-driven, collaborative classroom. It’s designed for the next generation of students.
Students sit in tables of four to five, each with their own laptop. There’s a central area of the classroom where students can collaborate. The walls are covered in whiteboards for students to work on as teams.
Everything is connected. Instructors can see what students are doing on their laptops and can even pull up a student’s screen on a larger, centralized display to demonstrate something to the class.
“We have never had a technology-designed room around teamwork,” said Lisa Jepsen, associate dean and professor of economics. “It’s a workspace that spurs creativity.”
Matthew Wilson, an instructor in marketing, uses the room for his advanced digital advertising courses. His classes focus on real-world expectations, and he needed a space that was flexible and conducive to students moving around the room.
“I try to put them in charge of their own learning because that’s what Generation Z wants,” Wilson said. “This puts them in power. I give them all the tools, let them work, and I serve as the guide. It’s like a breath of fresh air for some students.”
The change is coming
Generation Z is still a new concept. The name itself wasn’t settled until recently. The forefront of Generation Z is just entering the workforce, and the youngest Gen Z’ers aren’t even in high school yet.
While research has uncovered some trends, there are still some unknowns in Generation Z. How will any drastic future events shape the younger part of the generation? Just how different are Gen Z’ers from their Millennial predecessors?
However it shakes out, it appears that Generation Z is motivated and driven to make a difference in the workplace and beyond.
“We know we have a broad array of skills, and we want to participate in the conversation,” Van Ee said. “Some people don’t like that, but we have a broader perspective on things. I want to be at the table for important discussions, and I want to understand how my role affects the whole company and the community around me.”