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The permanently discontented, avocado-eating millennial has dominated the discourse over the changing nature of work for the past decade, as they struggled to get a foot on a career ladder still dominated by baby-boomers. But a new cohort of younger, sprightlier workers is about to enter the talent pool, and they might just be the most disruptive generation yet. Generation Z – those born from 1997 onwards, according to the Pew Foundation – are starting to graduate from university and hit the job market in earnest, presenting a unique set of challenges and opportunities for employers. “This generation will be very entrepreneurial,” explains Cary Cooper, director and founder of Robertson Cooper, and professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at MBS Manchester University. “They have the tech savvy, they want to make a difference.”
According to analysis by Bloomberg of United Nations data, Gen Z will account for 32 per cent of the global population in 2019. It’s estimated that by 2020 they will account for 20 per cent of the workforce – and they bring unique baggage to the job market. “They experienced the worst recession in decades,” says Professor Cooper. “This generation saw people who committed to the workplace in the recession lose their jobs, or saw parents so job-insecure they stuck with jobs that they didn’t like. They want to feel valued, they want to be trusted, they want to feel that they have a sense of purpose. And they know that workplaces spit people out when times get tough.”
This is the first generation born into a post-9/11 world and raised during a time of economic uncertainty, dwindling global resources and a growing concern for the environment. Gen Z never experienced dial-up internet and grew up with instant access to information and social media connectivity on their smartphones. This has created a generation to whom a diverse workplace is non-negotiable, and research suggests they tend to be more socially conscious and less driven by money. “There has been a change in leadership dynamics as a result of a more genuine approach to the diversity agenda, for example,” explains Tom Hadley, Director of Policy and Professional Services at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. “In the past two and a half years employers are actually putting measures in place to really reach and appeal to the representative groups.”
Gen Zers are looking for ‘future-proof jobs.
A study carried out by Deloitte in 2018 claimed that millennials are professionally disloyal, with nearly half of the 10,455 surveyed saying they plan to leave a job within two years. It’s too soon to tell if Gen Z workers will share this trait, but research carried out in the US by Indeed.com suggests that Gen Zers are looking for ‘future-proof jobs’, perhaps because of having grown up in an uncertain economy. “What it means for employers is that they need to create the right kind of culture,” says Cooper. “Value them and they will stay with you a long time. But if not, they’re gone.”
These are all potentially attractive traits for employers, but there are also challenges. “They’re a generation that is prepared to talk about mental health issues,” adds Cooper. Rates of depression and anxiety stand at around 25 per cent of the population and are not increasing significantly, but research shows that in the UK 57 per cent of all sick days were taken for mental health issues. While previous generations would have stayed quiet about this struggle out of fear of jeopardising their positions, Gen Zers are prepared to demand improvements. “Changing workplaces mean there are going to be fewer people in the workplace doing more work, feeling more stress and pressure, and they’re going to need support from employers.”
This willingness to demand more from employers can be a double-edged sword. While it’s largely driving change for the better, employers have reported very young employees with large sense of entitlement, and that it can be hard to balance against the realities of work. “A lot of people realise it’s a candidate-driven market at the moment,” Hadley says. “We get feedback recognising that recruits are full of aspirations, and of needs, but we also need to make sure that there’s not an entitlement feeling to it, that people understand we are trying to run a business, which is not always easy.”
“Generation Z is tech-savvy, they want connectivity, but they don’t want just virtual connectivity.” – Cary Cooper, MBS Manchester University
This imbalance is leading to workplaces starting to restructure themselves from hierarchical silos to offering more project-based work. “It gives people that variety, that feeling of moving on and doing new things,” says Hadley. “That’s an interesting response to that need for continuous progression and evolution in work.”
This openness is leading to a looming generation gap between senior management and new hires, particularly when it comes to use of technology and progressivism, potentially pitting digital-native, socially liberal Generation Z workers against their older, more conservative bosses for whom the internet will always be a second language. “Generation Z is tech-savvy, they want connectivity, but they don’t want just virtual connectivity,” says Cooper. “They want more authentic relationships, but they use social media as a vehicle to maintain distant relationships.”
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