Born into the wrong generation

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Circle 5

It is not often that I feel that I should have been born at a different time but at a recent event I really did feel I should have my time again, and that time should be right about now…… You see, I was hearing all about the next “gen” which are on their way – we are up to Z now – and they are going to be hitting your offices right about now. Born in 1996, and beyond, these guys are very different from Gen Ys, or as some call them, Millennials.  Unlike Millennials, or Gen X or even babyboomers this grouping will be evolving very fast. This means that there probably won’t be many years of Gen Z – we will be on to A, B and C in no time at all I am sure. But for the moment employers need to be ready for this next cohort.

Some highlights  to be aware of - this group will be much more like Gen X than their closer Millennial siblings. Gen Y (or Millennials) were the internet pioneers. They brought us Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter etc. These are seen as par for the course for Gen Zs. Gen Y grew up with economic expansion and were shocked to find a diminishing jobs market with the economic downturn of 2007. Gen Zs are recession proof, or certainly more aware of effects of potential downturns – they saw their parents go through bankruptcy and live through it, they saw things failing. They have also grown up with terror – September 11 happened when they were 5 after all. As a result, they are a lot more cynical, savvy and streetwise. As you can imagine, they are true diginatives – 25% are constantly online. They are diverse as well – they will have visited an average of 11 countries before the age of 16 and are comfortable communicating with people around the world. Finally, they are social change makers – they want to work for companies that are doing good and are more “doers” than thinkers (X) or talkers (Y).

So what does this mean for employers? Well, for a start you need to be authentic. They have a strong bulls**t detector so don’t try and pull the wool over their eyes. Be open about the positives but also the negatives of your organisation. They are not going to believe you if you say you have a fully motivated, high morale workforce 100% of the time. Be clear about your values – they will want to own them if they join you so don’t waste your, or their, time on talking to people who won’t embrace your values wholeheartedly. Perhaps interestingly Gen Z are not all looking to be entrepreneurs, again, unlike many of their Millennial elders. They want to be part of something but that “something” has to have a flat structure – easy (and regular) access to senior management is key. Being listened to and having their views, concerns and ideas at the very least considered is of the utmost importance if you want them to stick around. Although they don’t all want to have their own business, they do want to be intrepreneurs – they want to “own” their own project or area of the business. Then as an extension of working practises we are seeing now, you can imagine that they prefer to work flexibly. This doesn’t necessarily mean at home, alone – they like to be part of a group – but it does mean the traditional 9 – 5 day is almost an alien concept to them. As a result of the amount of information and range of stimuli, Gen Zs should be very good at multitasking but conversely also have the attention span of a gnat. If you see a Gen Z sitting at their desk for 8 hours then you can guarantee they were probably productive for about an 1/8th of that. They need to move around (yes, I mean this literally) and often. Don’t fret if they are up having a cup of tea or coffee every 20 minutes, this is about as much as they can do in one sitting. Training and learning will be key to their stickiness with your organisation as well – online learning is normal for them and they are enthusiastic to keep learning and developing their skills.

I can’t wait for these guys to join our workforce and although I joke that I would like to have my time again, in some ways I was incredibly fortunate to lead a Gen Z- type life at the start of my career too.  I worked for authentic brands and the majority had an unusually flat structure. Straight out of university I was working with the heads of some of the world’s leading music organisations. Instead of seeing me as a lowly graduate they actually listened to my ideas and allowed me to implement, at least some of, them. I worked with hugely diverse groups of people when communication was a lot more complicated in those days – speaking to, and visiting, musicians based all over the world. I had my intrepreneurial opportunities when I had to make sure the overall project was a success, or when I launched the UK arm of a US headquartered firm.  And for those times, I was allowed to work pretty flexibly as well. I am hugely grateful to John McLaren, all the trustees of Masterprize and David Pakman for letting me be a bit of a Gen Z in my Gen X days.


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