Just when we start to figure out millennials, everyone starts looking ahead.
Don’t get me wrong: I still spend the majority of my time helping leaders think about millennials and the opportunities and challenges they bring to the workplace. But, more and more I’m getting questions about Gen Z, the generation that comes after millennials. I wrote about Gen Z earlier this year, but thought I’d revisit the topic since it seems to be on everyone’s mind.
It’s clear that the education and business worlds alike are preparing for this up-and-coming generation; I’ve recently given presentations to several universities, a group of college admissions counselors and a Fortune 500 firm about Generation Z.
If you’re looking for a good overview of research on what makes Gen Z tick, I recommend this presentation from Sparks & Honey. To home in on my area of interest — the workplace — I’ve identified five overarching characteristics I have noticed about Gen Z, who are now roughly aged 19 and under, and what this next generation will mean for our schools and workplaces.
Gen Zs are visual communicators.
This group has grown up on emoji, Snapchat and Instagram. Even the 140 characters of Twitter are too many for them! Words aren’t going away, but images are crucial to communicating with the youngest generation.
The takeaway: If a picture used to be worth 1,000 words, now it’s worth all the words — the images you use in recruiting, classroom teaching and your website will increasingly be the dominant way you communicate your message.
Gen Zs are mobile first.
We know they’re tech savvy, but what will change is where they access this tech: Everything they do is on their phones.
The takeaway: If you haven’t adopted a mobile-first strategy, the time is now. It is critically important that mobile not feel like an afterthought for your recruiting website, class assignments and ongoing communication and branding efforts.
Gen Zs are entrepreneurial.
We’ve discussed the entrepreneurial “myth” of millennials. With Gen Z, it’s no myth. Today, 61 percent of (Gen Z) high school students say they want to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee, while only 43 percent of (millennial) college students say the same.
The takeaway: Colleges will need to continue to develop educational programs that support Gen Z’s entrepreneurial drive, and companies will need to continue to evolve to provide the entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial experiences they crave. Successful companies will focus on offering frequent rotational assignments, early leadership experiences and frequent new opportunities for Gen Y workers to learn and engage with new ideas.
Gen Zs are cautious realists.
Since this group came of age during the recession, they are highly focused on economic realities. I would also suggest they have taken hard lessons from the unprecedented level of student debt so many millennials are struggling with today.
The takeaway: From the true cost of a college education to the importance of saving to salary negotiation, Gen Z will be focused on value vs. cost. The job of educators and managers will be to make sure the value message is implicit — from what their college degree will be worth, to why they should accept the compensation package you’ve offered.
Gen Zs are diverse.
This will be the first non-white generation in American history: The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2020, more than half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. Diversity for this generation also extends to updated definitions of gender identity, political affiliations, economic classes and more.
The takeaway: From languages to foods to experiences, blending cultures will be the norm for Gen Z. Companies and universities have already begun the quest to create more inclusive communities and policies and that theme is sure to continue.