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Gen Z Hits The Workforce: Are You Ready?

A new generation of talent is following Millennials into the workplace, bringing with it a fresh set of values and challenges to enterprise IT. Whether you're involved in hiring Gen Z employees for your own IT team or looking for ways to make sure your IT strategy accommodates their expectations across your enterprise, knowing more about this generation's needs and wants is the first step.
11 Tech Jobs That Pay The Most: Glassdoor
11 Tech Jobs That Pay The Most: Glassdoor
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Move over, Millennials. The incoming Generation Z is bringing a new set of values and challenges to the workplace.

Whether you're involved in hiring Gen Z employees for your own IT team, or looking for ways to make sure your IT strategy accommodates their expectations across your enterprise, knowing more about this generation's needs and wants is the first step.

Employers have struggled for years to figure out how to work with Millennials, a generation widely perceived as entitled and digitally connected. Now, as Gen Y is moving up the ranks, businesses are starting to welcome Gen Z.

There are several opinions on which years separate the two generations. Broadly defined, Gen Z includes people born between the early-to-mid 1990s and mid-2000s. Its oldest members are society's youngest new employees.

[Stop the guessing game: This is what top IT employees really want.]

"By 2020, this generation of workers, what we're calling Generation Z, will be 20% of the workforce," said Ester Frey, VP of technology staffing services at Robert Half Technology. "It seems time to be speaking about retention, hiring, and expectations for them."

[Editor's note: Frey is leading a session on the topic of Gen Z and the multigenerational workforce during the IT Leadership Track at Interop 2016 in Las Vegas. Interop is produced by InformationWeek parent company UBM.]

Gen Z Values and Work Habits

Several studies have pinpointed key differences between Gen Z and Millennials. One assessment, conducted by Robert Half and nonprofit Enactus, surveyed Gen Z college students born between 1990 and 1999 to learn about their priorities and workplace expectations. More than 770 18- to 25-year-old career-minded college and university students responded to the survey. Respondents are members of nonprofit Enactus in the US and Canada. Enactus aims to bring together business leaders, academics, and students to inspire entrepreneurship.

The results indicated Gen Z is more pragmatic and focused on stability than the generation before it. Nearly 80% of respondents said they would prefer to work at a midsize or large business after graduation, as opposed to the minority who would prefer a startup.

"They've grown up in a time when there's been more economic instability, so they crave more workplace security than Gen Y," Frey said. "They're more focused on earning good wages, and working in stable work environments, than folks who may be a little older."

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Gen Z demonstrates an intensive work ethic, Frey said, and they don't expect to hold managerial positions upon starting a new role. Survey respondents said they expect to work harder than their parents did.

"They're forced into this model where you have to get work experience as early as you can in life," said Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at Future Workplace, echoing the study's findings.

Schawbel cited economic pressure, parental pressure, and peer pressure as three forces driving Gen Z. Members of Gen Z saw how a poor economy affected millennials, he said, and have begun to get professional internship experience as early as high school.

New Technology, Old Communication

Gen Z will be the most digitally connected group of workers to date. "We need to take everything we know about Millennials, and multiply it by the next generation," Schawbel said.

Digital communication remains popular with Gen Z, which still uses Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter heavily, he continued. They are increasingly connected, they use technology to accomplish tasks, and they will be inclined to use collaboration tools for work.

Businesses no longer have excuses for holding back on new technologies when they're trying to attract Gen Z workers. People who grew up with smartphones will expect their future employers to have the latest technologies and a strong online presence, simply because it's all they've known.

Tweeting and texting aside, these workers also value in-person interaction, said Frey. Face-to-face communication was highly valued among survey respondents, despite their lifelong connection to digital technologies.

If this seems strange, bear in mind members of this generation still heavily rely on parents for advice and support. Young employees are accustomed to receiving honest and immediate feedback on their work from coaches, teachers, and parents. They anticipate their future managers will continue to provide it.

Bridging the Generation Gap

According to Burrus, a large generational divide within the workplace may cause tension. Younger workers often believe their older managers don't get technology, and older employees think their new colleagues are poor communicators who are using technology the wrong way.

"There's a lack of understanding and a lack of trust because of this," said futurist Daniel Burrus, founder and CEO of Burrus Research. "What we have, in reality, is a perfect fit."

Older employees may have experience and wisdom, Burrus explained, but it's often hard for them to get out of the box and be innovative. Their awareness of new technologies is not as great, nor is their experience using them.

In contrast, younger employees have meager experience and wisdom. While this could be perceived as negative, their fresh perspective can help seasoned workers take a new approach to innovation.

"One of the best skills of all is learning how to unlearn the things you learned in your past, because they are no longer [relevant]," he noted.

As more members of Gen Z enter the workforce, businesses need to recognize the complementary strengths of young and old generations. Pairing the two, whether in team projects or mentorship programs, can help them learn from one another.