Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2009, is entering the workplace
Not only are there are more of them than any generation before, they also wield more influence. Gen Z have already shown their considerable power on college campuses and now these digital natives have started entering the workplace. The biggest criticism leveled at colleagues born between 1995 and 2007 is that they are self-centered and unable to negotiate or compromise, which inevitably leads to conflict. Other generations often find it hard to understand them, let alone work with them. So what's to be done?
I spent a fascinating evening recently in conversation with the brilliant social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, named by Prospect magazine as one of the world's 50 top thinkers. He is the co-author (with Greg Lukianoff) of 'The Coddling Of The American Mind,' about Gen Z.
" Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. How did this happen?"Haidt asks.
Haidt believes the new problems on campus have their origins in three ideas that have become increasingly woven into childhood and education.
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These three "Great Untruths" he says "contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and run counter to ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life."
This, says Haidt, can be especially difficult in the workplace:"Working in a company requires very high levels of cooperation, and an ability to submerge your own concerns for the good of the team. Such norms are incompatible with the callout culture and safetyism that some recent college graduates are taking with them into the workplace."
He notes how petty and polarizing arguments, once confined to company message boards, have spilled out into the broader corporate culture, where the big new challenge is how to reconcile employees' woke politics with the company's bottom line.
By the end of next year, Generation Z will be the largest group of consumers globally. They will account for 40% of consumers in the US and Europe. They are also hugely influential in family spending decisions. In the US alone, Gen Z currently has $1 trillion in indirect spending power by influencing household spending. Put simply, companies that don’t engage with Gen Z successfully will fade away. *Source: Booz Co
Some leading thinkers suggest that this generation needs to be controlled and managed, screened out, even, from organizations that depend on teamwork. Yet instead of being deluded that we will ever succeed in changing or managing them, perhaps older generations simply need to get to understand Gen Z as well as we possibly can. In the process, it's possible Gen Z may get to understand us too. I currently coach and mentor two exceptional Gen Z entrepreneurs and here’s what they’ve helped me appreciate:
Connected from birth
If millennials were digital pioneers, then Gen Z are the first true digital natives – never knowing a time without technology at their fingertips, they demand seamless, on-demand connectivity 24/7.
Disconnected from their elders
Every generation has felt their parents did not understand their world. This generation is right. In the last century, parents didn't need to watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music or play the same (or any) video games, to understand a little of the worlds those programs, songs and gamesspoke of. However, to understand the online worlds of Gen Z, it's not enough to merely surf. With parents who don't even know what a meme is, it's easy to see how Gen Zs feel their elders have not walked their path before them.
Intense digital worlds
To understand their worlds, you'd need to experience first hand the intensity of online friendship and romance with people you've never met. You'd also need to suffer a kind of bullying, trolling, and shaming by strangers, which older generations struggle to comprehend, as well as the torment of feeling 'less than' brought about by witnessing the near-perfect lives (and bodies) of others from the age of 8 or 10.
Gen Z are the most marketed-to children of all time. Their shorter attention span isn’t an inability to concentrate but a sophisticated filter to help them find relevant content faster and more precisely than any generation before them.
Data shows Gen Zers are less likely to have tried alcohol, gotten their driver’s licenses, had sex or gone out regularly without their parents than teens of the previous two or three generations
The 24-hour news cycle and unprecedented access to travel, culture, and ideas has made Gen Z deeply socially aware. As a result, they put a high value on diversity and fairness, using their collective voice and buying power to champion brands that reflect their values. Crucially they fiercely challenge or boycott people or brands they don’t approve of.
Less equipped to handle uncertainty
According to an Australian study of 800 respondents, digital-natives are less able to handle uncertainty. It seems that, like the computer programs they were raised on, Gen Zs tend to process in a binary way. Far from early digital exposure having made them more prepared for life's ambiguities, whether it's video games, where you can learn patterns and restart if you make a mistake, Siri which provides answers to virtually any question or Google Maps, designed to eliminate ambiguity, it is possible that technology has compromised a generation's ability to manage uncertainty.
Scared and Hyper Sensitive
They came of age during recessions, financial crises, war, terror threats, school shootings and under the constant glare of technology and social media. The broad result is a scared generation, cautious and hardened by economic and social turbulence.
Growing up in an era of global instability has driven them to value personal resilience, financial conservatism and hard work. They save and are focused on the future.
Jonathan Haidt also comments on their hypersensitivity.'Leaders in the business world see problems like hypersensitivity and the constant conflict over small things. Bright hires go running to HR, every time there’s a conflict, and then, they won’t show up at the meeting with the person who supposedly offended them.'
Gen Z At Work:
It is a generation that has been accused of being incurious about others, asking not 'what can I do for your company?' but 'what can you do for me?' So, what can business leaders and entrepreneurs do to avoid the conflict which some of these graduates bring with them?
1.Be very clear about the values of your organization.
Send out consistent and clear messaging about what it is your organization stands for, even if some of it runs counter to the values of Gen Z. Says Haidt, 'If you don’t set the norms, you’re going to end up with all the problems we have on campus like constant conflict, constant charges, with demands for you to settle disputes. “I heard him say to her, and it hurt me, so I want you to punish him.”
2.Don't apologize for your organization's values
As a leader, invite the opportunity to be questioned and challenged. Yet, new hires need to understand that everyone on the team (including them if they join) will always put the needs of the organization ahead of their own concerns. Haidt suggests you give speeches to your people that establish norms that go something like this:“We have lots of ambitions as to how we can grow this company if we all work together. We’re doing this at a time of rising hatred. We see it all around us. Politics is tearing companies apart. America is torn apart. If we bring our politics to work, we will be torn apart.”
3.Welcome challengers but screen out oppressors
Check applicants' social media feeds. If they seem unable to compromise online, they probably won't possess the qualities necessary to submerge their concerns for the good of the team. Haidt’s proposed message to Gen Z is clear:'If we want to stay together as a team, we have to put the company first, and that might mean you leave important parts of you at the door. That’s not to say they’re not important to you, but, when we’re together, we have to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We have to hang together as a team.'
Next time, I’ll share an exciting new way for you to get under the skin of Gen Z and really understand their mindset.