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Opinion: Get to know Gen Zers working with you soon

Eyes & Ears

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Look out millennials. Gen Zers are nipping at your heels.

At least, that’s the word on the street.

Generation Z is just now enrolling in college and entering the workforce. There’s not too much data collected about them, but more people are beginning to talk. And the reviews are positive from a workforce perspective.

These are the individuals we will be hiring, managing and working alongside for years to come. Here are some tips as we prepare for this emerging workforce.

Gen Zers are generally born in the mid-1990s. As with any generational segment, the parameters can vary based on the source. I tend to go with the Pew Research Center, a self-described nonpartisan fact tank.

Pew social scientists this year defined Gen Zers as those born after 1997, so the oldest are now turning 22. They’re coming into their first phase of purchase power.

Comparatively, millennials are born 1981-96 and they’re entering ages 23-38 this year, according to Pew. They’re entering a phase of wealth.

A key distinction, Gen Zers were raised by Gen Xers, who basically told them the working world has a form and they should figure out how to fit into it. Millennials were raised by baby boomers, who basically told their kids they could do whatever they wanted in order to seize the world.

“They are indeed, very, very different than millennials,” says Locke Hilderbrand, the chief insights officer at Springfield-based CultureWaves, who studies the generations for workplace and consumer trends.

Hilderbrand, a self-described fossil millennial, and CultureWaves Director of Applications Kay Logsdon have an entertainingly informative take in their “Generations in the Workplace” series on sbjLive.net.

With humor, they both agree they’d rather work with Gen Zers than millennials. Particularly, Gen Zers don’t feel a need to reinvent the workplace and they’re not coming in threatening to take anyone’s job.

That doesn’t mean Gen Zers are complacent.

“They’re always looking for that next step,” Logsdon says in one of the videos, because they’re raised on adaptability with the next versions of games and apps as constants in their lives. “In the workplace, they’re great to have because they’re the ones who are going to suggest new uses for the technology you already have.”

At a recent professional development conference, I found myself listening to University of Georgia professor Keith Herndon shed some light on the incoming workforce. As the school’s chair in news strategy and management, he was addressing business journalists during the Alliance of Area Business Publisher’s summer conference in Atlanta.

Of course, his advice was on handling a younger, and socially different, newsroom staff, but the core of the content is universal: Gen Zers are highly influenced by the Great Recession, late 2007 through mid-2009, and thus have become do-it-yourselfers. What this means for the workforce is they definitely don’t want to be micromanaged but welcome mentoring and coaching from their bosses. Now that I’ve said the B-word, I should note they’re not too keen on that. Why not? Seems they don’t like to be told what to do; rather tell them how to do something, with clear expectations, and they’ll work swiftly figuring out the job.

Other Gen Z qualities: They have a propensity to work for tech-savvy companies and a desire to be rewarded for competence. Hey, they saw their parents navigate through the recession; now they want to prove their mettle.

What does this mean for managers? Professor Herndon boils it down to three changes in dealing with Gen Z. 1. The old guard of management control becomes one of management by collaboration. Because Gen Zers prefer to think about the people they work with rather than for, peer teams are effective in completing tasks. Herndon goes so far to suggest we “make them somewhat responsible for the culture of the organization.” 2. Substance is more meaningful than style. What we say matters more than how we say it. 3. Ego shifts to empathy. They want to know we understand them and others we’re working with on projects.

Obviously, not every person is going to fit these generational molds. But it sure is helpful to have a base understanding.

My take is that Gen Zers have the positive qualities of millennials with a healthy dose of reality.

I like this next generation, so far.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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