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Tech us out: 8 Generation Z characteristics to watch for

November 13, 2018

We’ve all watched millennials take over the workforce – we even gave you five tips on how to best manage these post-Gen Xers – but there’s a younger subset of employees ready to arrive sooner than you think. Get ready for the first true digital natives with a list of characteristics Generation Z will be bringing to your workplace.

Millennials, loosely defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, accounted for 35 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2017, edging out Gen X (33 percent) for the top spot for the second straight year. But Generation Z is hot on its heels.

By 2020, Gen Z will make up 20 percent of the workforce and account for 40 percent of U.S. consumers. If we define this digital generation as anyone born from 1997 on, that means Generation Z is about to hit the job market – and in some cases, already has.

Millennials certainly know their way around an iPhone and have largely cut the cord with cable – call them digital pioneers if you like – but Generation Z is the first group of digital natives. Hand them a CD or a flash drive – maybe even a flip phone – and you’re likely to get a disoriented look. Gen Z’s idea of a good stream has nothing to do with fishing. They’ve had their head in the cloud since grade school, and their #lifegoals aren’t about to change.

How can employers prep for Gen Z? And how is the so-called iGeneration different than the millennials they’re following into the workforce?

Here are 8 Generation Z characteristics you should be ready for:

1. They’re less collaborative and more independent

Millennials have a reputation for sharing ideas – and sometimes, desk space – but that’s not what makes Generation Z comfortable. Say goodbye to open layouts and close quarters, at least if the Digital Generation has its way. Thirty-five percent of Gen Z say they’d rather share socks than an office space.

That independence carries over to their attitude toward working hours. While millennials fully brought “working remotely” and “flexible hours” into the workplace lexicon, that’s largely because they value their time off the clock. Generation Z does as well, but from their constantly connected perspective, they’re more likely to stay plugged in when most workers are getting their R&R. Fifty-eight percent of Gen Z say they’re willing to work nights and weekends – as long as it’s reflected in their pay.

2. Don’t box them into one role – or one job

Wearing lots of hats within an organization is a badge of honor for many employees across all generations, but Gen Z is taking that to another level. Seventy-five percent of the digital generation say they could see themselves taking multiple roles in the same organization. Sales one month, IT the next? Don’t rule it out.

Also on the table: the so-called “gig economy.” Taking on multiple short-term roles or freelance work in lieu of a full-time job very much appeals to Gen Z. Sixty-seven percent said they’d either consider the gig economy over full-time employment or have already done so – 10 percent more than millennials.

To take it a step further, Gen Z teens got used to the “side hustle.” Rather than take part in old-school summer jobs in the community or service industry, some Gen Zers were busy monetizing a YouTube channel or teaching a specialized skill. And they might not want to give those up in favor of a more traditional career.

3, They prefer face-to-face communication

Strange, right? In a finding that flies in the face of the aforementioned independence, Gen Z seems to recognize there’s a time and place for emojis – and work typically isn’t it. The digital generation overwhelmingly opts for face-to-face communication in the workplace. You can chat via Slack, Skype or Flock, but Generation Z is more likely to walk into your office than hit you up on Stride.

4. Money still matters

Gen Z might not be able to tell you which movie made the phrase “Show me the money!” famous – Jerry Maguire came out in late 1996, after all – but that’s a mantra they’ll carry with them into job interviews. Seventy percent of Generation Z say they’re motivated by money, 7 percent higher than millennials and 11 percent ahead of both Gen X and baby boomers.

Having witnessed the housing bubble of the late 2000s and the Great Recession, Gen Z values salary and benefits.

  • 63 percent cited a competitive salary as the No. 1 factor in the first job – up from 59 percent across all generations.
  • 70 percent said health insurance mattered most.

5. Student loan debt has them reconsidering where to go to college – or if they should go at all

Having seen many millennials struggle with mountains of student loan debt in their 20s and 30s, Gen Z isn’t necessarily knocking down the doors of prestige universities hoping to be let in. With a more conservative attitude toward money and a greater fear of being buried in debt, it’s no longer the best academic situation that matters most – it’s the best financial one.

Seventy-five percent of Generation Z say there are other good ways to get an education outside of college. It’s not to say they’re going to flip the university model on its head, but there’s a recognizable need to start learning earlier. A startling 55 percent of the iGeneration feel the need for professional experience before even stepping foot on a college campus.

6. They’re entrepreneurial

Forty percent of students in grades 5 through 12 plan to start their own business, and in some cases they already have.

  • 23 percent agree or strongly agree that they’ve learned how to start and run their own business in junior high or high school.
  • 26 percent believe they’ll invent something that will change the world (ahh, youthful exuberance).
  • 77 percent of 14- to 21-year-olds surveyed currently earn their own money through freelance work, a part-time job or earned allowance – nearly the same percentage of millennials who said they’re doing the same a decade further along.

7. They value ethics and diversity more than anything

Gen Z is the most racially diverse generation in America – 72 percent believe racial equality is the most important issue in the country – so it makes sense that they’d heavily favor employers who also consider diversity a priority. Thirty-six percent of the digital generation list equality as the No. 1 cause they want their employer to support, ahead of the environment, health, students and poverty.

It also translates into longevity and employee retention. An empowering work culture is the top aspect that Generation Z says would make them stay at a job longer than three years (29.4%), nearly twice as much as a high salary and raises (15.3%).

And in this era of fake news and questionable sources, working for a company with reputable ethics matters more than ever to young employees. Thirty-three percent of Gen Z said a company’s ethical reputation was “very important” as opposed to just 22 percent of millennials.

8. They’re realists

Growing up in a recession tends to keep you grounded, so Generation Z has a more realistic portrayal of what their employment life cycle – and retirement – will look like than their millennial counterparts. For a group that leans left on many social issues, they’re more in the center or to the right on financial concerns.

Considering 13 is the average age when Gen Zers start researching or talking to others about financial planning, it’s clear that the future is just as much of a concern as the present.

As Generation Z hits the workforce, remember that you’re betting on potential as much as anything in the hiring process. To help find the right fit for your organization – and to determine if your candidate will be motivated to succeed – check out Wonscore from Wonderlic. Our powerfully simple pre-employment testing is an easier, faster way to hire better employees. By testing for cognitive ability, motivation and personality, Wonscore helps determine the best fit for your open position.

Want to learn more about how to relate to professional up-and-comers? Check out our blog, Five Must-Do Tips for Managing Millennials at Work.

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