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How to understand and manage Generation Z

Alexandre Diard

While you have only just managed to integrate Generation Y workers into your teams, Generation Z will soon be entering the world of work and integrating your business. While these young people of Generation Z look like their Generation Y predecessors, they are even more uninhibited, independent and ambitious. Learn how to manage Generation Z in order to avoid any issues or misunderstandings.

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What is Generation Z?

Generation Z - also known as iGeneration, Homeland Generation, Centennials and Post-Millennials - comes after Generation Y. There is debate about when the boundaries of this generation start and finish but it is mainly made up of people born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. Gen Z made up 25.9% of the United States population in 2016. This is the largest percentage and it contributes $44 billion to the USA economy. It is estimated that Gen Z will make up one third of the US population by 2020, something which is worth taking into consideration and paying attention to since it is from Gen Z that the country's future cultural and political leaders will emerge.

Generation Z has pretty much used the internet since a young age, if not all their lives, and is particularly comfortable with technology and social media. In fact, Gen Z was born completely within the technological age, war on terror and multiculturalism and only know the world with these elements in it. Generation Z is therefore more open-minded than generations that came before it and is the first true global culture as their trend and characteristics is more uniform across the globe.

Generation Z has grown up in an era which has witnessed a reduction in moral, traditional values. Indeed, values that were still valued just several years before the birth of Gen Z have disintegrated or becomes a lot less important. 

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Why "Generation Z"?

There are different theories as to why this generation was names “Generation Z”. One idea is that the name comes from "horiZontal". That is to say, this generation sees management as equal to them and not their superiors. However, it is hard to say where the term Generation Z was termed and why.

What is Generation Z like?

It has been said that Generation Z is like Generation Y, just more. That is to say, their opinions and beliefs tend to be the same but Generation Z's are stronger. The young people of Gen Z  declare that they will respect their superior, not according to his diploma or his authority but rather according to his capacities, confidence and listening skills. Employers need to know how to manage Generation Z with their radical new views of company hierarchy.

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Gen Z tends to get a bad rap, being labeled "screen addicts" by media and market research companies, with no attention span. The suggestion is that Generation Z is unable to focus for extended amounts of time. But another idea is that, growing up in a technological age, they have just adapted to receiving a great amount of information that they need to process quickly and add a filter to their attention so useless information gets rejected in favour of the important stuff. For example, when looking things up on the internet, they are faced with thousands of possible sites to choose from to need to filter and rely heavily on trending pages within apps to collect the most popular recent content.

When Generation Z detects something worthy of their attention, it can become intensely committed and focused. Thanks to the explosion in e-commerce, Gen Z has carefully tuned its radar for being sold to and can filter in the area as well to briefly skim available offers and zoom in on the ones they are interested in, in a very short space of time.

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In the United States 47% of Gen Z are worried about student debt, while 36% are concerned about whether they can afford to go to college at all. Generation Z faces an income gap that is growing and a middle-class that is shrinking, which has led to an increasing amount of stress for families. 

 Generation Z students describe themselves as being thoughtful, compassionate, loyal, open-minded, determined and responsible. But they see their Generation Z peers quite differently from their own self-image: they view them as spontaneous, competitive, curious and adventuresome; characteristics that they do not see readily in themselves. In addition, some experts consider that some of their skills, like reading, are being altered because of digital devices, texts and platforms.

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In general, Gen Z is more wary of risk when it comes to certain activities than previous generations. 66% of teenagers in 2013 (older members of Gen Z) had tried alcohol, which is a decrease from 82% who had tried it in 1991. Also in 2013, 8% of teenagers never or rarely wear a seat belt when riding in a car with someone else, as opposed to 26% in 1991. They are more conscious of what could happen, what could go wrong and what the danger is.

A 2016 survey revealed that Generation Z has a lower rate of teenage pregnancy and substance abuse, but a higher rate of on-time high school graduation compared with Millennials. The survey compared teens from the years 2008 and 2014 and found a 40% decrease in teenage pregnancy, a 28% decrease in the number of teenagers who did not graduate on time from high school and a 38% decrease in alcohol and drug abuse.

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Is Generation Z really made up of screen addicts?

In a way, yes, as it is difficult to imagine any young people without a cell phone glued to their hand. But living in the age of social media, there is a certain pressure to put oneself out there on various sites and promote oneself and they need to make sure their "brand image" is always on point. 

Generation Z is the first generation to have ready access to internet technology at a young age. While growing up, Gen Z has witnessed an unprecedented amount of technology that previous generations did not witness, in particular due to the web revolution that occurred throughout the 1990s. Generation Z has been described as having a digital bond to the Internet and that the internet and smart phones may help Generation Z to escape from mental and emotional struggles they face offline.

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Owning a smart phone is now the norm with at least three quarters of Generation Z owning one. Over a quarter of teens go online constantly and as a result, Generation Z is more likely to share different types of information than teenagers in 2006 were. Gen Z is very active on social media as well, especially on sites like Instagram and Snapchat that their parents are less likely to use.

On a personal level, Gen Z seems immediate validation and acceptance through social media and many of their important conversations in life take place there. Whole friendships can take place almost 100% online. They filter their social media personality according to the audience. 

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Although Gen Z uses the internet as a way to access information and communicate with others, very few are changed by what they access online.  Most are using the internet as a way to gain social skills, that they can then apply to real life, and learn about things they find interesting. Gen Z spends most of its time online in communicating with people they regularly interact with in everyday life. Although social media is used for keeping up-to-date with world news and connections, it is mainly used for developing relationships with people they are close to.

The parents of Gen Z worry about their children overusing the internet as it is all too easy to access inappropriate image and information and people don't always know who they are talking to online and if the person on the other end is genuine. Generation Z members, however, can often feel irritated with their parents and complain about them being too controlling about their internet usage. 

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Generation Z in business 

According to various experts, Generation Z will be better future employees than previous generations. With the skills needed to take advantage of advanced technologies, they will be significantly more helpful to the typical company in today's high tech world. What makes them valuable in business is their acceptance of new ideas and a different concept of freedom from the previous generation.

Surprisingly, despite their technological proficiency, Gen Z-ers actually prefer person-to-person contact as opposed to online interaction. Because of their being used to social media and technology, Generation Z is well prepared for a global business environment. 

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Generation Z is not content with just having a job: it seeks more than that. Gen Z wants a feeling of fulfillment and excitement in a job that helps improve the world. Many members of Gen Z take advantage of online tools to research possible future professional ideas and opportunities, even before finishing school. Before college, Generation Z is already out in their world searching how to take advantage.

Generation Z-ers have more of a start-up mentality. As previously mentioned, they are very independent and creative in the way they approach their work. They are not so focused on traditional career steps (graduating from a four-year college, obtaining a degree and finding a job). They may start a small business in high school, then find employment, and then obtain a degree online. The traditional order of doing things is changing. 

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The lines between home and private life are becoming increasingly blurred because of communication technology as it is all too easy to answer professional e-mails in the evening and at the weekend and similarly, the unlimited access to the internet that can be found in many companies can entice workers to work on private matters or just surf the net during working hours.

Beware, Generation Z is very independant and wary of the corporate world as for them, it is synonymous with stress, bad atmosphere and pressure from managers. It is not for nothing that 53% of Generation Z would rather embark on entrepreneurship than evolve as a company employee, especially as they have witnessed their parents struggle in the workforce. A company that wants to change this trend and integrate and manage its Generation Z employees should know that Gen Z will choose companies that are fun (25%), innovative (23%), ethical (22%) and international (20%).

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Generation Z is a lonelier generation than its predecessors

One out of five Americans admit to having no-one to talk to and nearly half report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out. And Generation Z is the loneliest generation (the least lonely being aged 72 and older). While it is tempting to blame Generation Z's reliance on smart phones and social media, there is no significant difference in the level of loneliness between those who used social media often and those who don't.

This loneliness is worrying when you think that it can have the same impact on health and mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It can be put down to certain factors, such as the erosion of neighbourhood communities and the breaking up of many families. The youth of today spends more time indoors than its predecessors, and less time talking to people face-to-face, and it can be harder to make real friends and have meaningful friendships. A lot of friendships take place over the internet and this is not the same as actually meeting a person for a coffee or a trip to the cinema. It is far too easy to communicate with a smart phone and a lot less effort than actually going out and doing something. 

Cell phone technology is constantly being improved and upgraded and the result is that Generation Z wants to constantly discover these new ways of communicating with friends. Heck, they can even text some friends with a smart phone and message others over, say, Facebook. 

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How to manage Generation Z

Think up different and more modern ways to lead
Obviously there are tried and tested methods of managing employees that have worked for decades on previous generations. But Generation Z is different. They are more creative and would therefore often prefer to work more autonomously on projects and "own" them rather than being a dogsbody on the bottom rung of the ladder, prepared to put in the hard work in a job they dislike for some rewards later on. Keep them interested in what they are doing. Many Generation Z-ers are not interested in climbing the corporate ladder, so this approach will not work with everyone. Be more dynamic in the way projects are lead and tasks are dished out. Work on funneling the creativity of Gen Z to the benefit of your company. Gen Z loves to see the evolution of an idea from the start through to the finished article. Give them the opportunity to be a part of this.

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Generation Z workers are always looking for new challenges. They are not afraid of failure but on the contrary, see it as a way to learn and improve. They therefore expect their manager to entrust them with stimulating tasks with specific objectives, hoping, however, that they will be able to work independently and have more responsibility.

Don't let Gen Z communicate uniquely through technology

Yes, Generation Z is sociable online but since, in general, many do prefer face-to-face interaction, make sure you as an employer do what you can to help them connect in a more personal manner. Human contact is vital and they will need it in the future. Therefore, organise social, team-building events, project meetings or updates, strategy sessions, one-on-one conversations, mentoring sessions... anything you can think of to encourage them to communicate outside of technology.

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Be interested in how your Generation Z employees are doing

Gen Z workers want to feel as though their manager is interested in them, their progress and what they are doing, their progress on projects and so on. They see the relationship between manager and employee like a teacher-student relationship and expect real interest in them by their manager. 

Listen to your Gen Z employees

Gen Z is very sensitive to ageism. They believe that the workplace should be less about age and more about ideas and contributions. Although they are keen to learn and are aware of their status as newbies to the industry, they want the chance to be heard and taken seriously. Invigorate your Gen Z workforce by inviting them to strategy meetings, listening to their ideas about your business, and valuing their insight as much as you would someone on a more senior level.

Set up a nice working atmosphere for your Generation Z employees

Gen Z has grown up in the Google age where many modern offices have rest and relaxation areas, an outdoor break area and even massages and a spa. So stuff old office do not always appeal to Gen Z. Set up a pleasant working environment with relaxation areas, a canteen, a gym, etc. It's up to you to make an effort and adapt to some of their requirements in order to significantly increase their loyalty and performance. 

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