The first members of Gen Z are now entering the workforce, and everyone is wondering what to expect from this new 74 million-strong pool of workers. The population, which makes up nearly one quarter of the country’s headcount, dwarfs even the 66 million Millennials that took the workplace by storm several years ago, and it’s already been recognized as the nation’s most ethnically diverse generation in history..
While experts generally agree that this generation’s values, attitudes, and priorities differ greatly from those of their predecessors, organizations are left guessing how they can appeal to and what they can expect from this new and slightly mysterious group of workers.
According to Paula Harvey, SHRM-SCP who holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina, recruiters and hiring managers are going to have to make some adjustments to harness the loyalty and talents of this new generation. Harvey, vice president of human resources at Schulte Building Systems in Houston, has begun hiring members of Gen Z to fill a bevy of open positions at her company. She is learning that the key to success in hiring and retention with this generation is going to look very different than it did with Millennials because Gen Z has different needs than their predecessors.
In a piece for The New York Times, Alex Williams wrote about Gen Z that, “theirs is a story of innocence lost.” Harvey, who is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management talent acquisition expertise panel, agrees with that sentiment and believes that the events this generation has witnessed have shaped their expectations and colored their life lenses.
“They are worriers, and I think it’s partially because of how they’ve grown up,” she said. “Members of Gen Z were babies when Sept. 11th happened, and their whole lives have been shaped by this not-so-secure feeling.”
Also, she said, this generation has either been raised in a family that was hit hard by the recession or had direct contact with families that were. This, too, Harvey said, has left an indelible mark on their psyches.
“It has made them more careful with their finances,” she said. “They have seen first –hand that money can go away and that things can get scarce, and they want more security in the workplace as a result.”
Security, according to Harvey, manifests itself is several ways for this group. First and foremost, she said, Gen Z is a highly pragmatic generation. Whereas Millennials wanted to work for companies with critical missions and lofty values, Gen Z’s sensible nature demands job security.
“They want to make sure that their jobs aren’t going to be eliminated. They’ve seen so many people lose their jobs that security is essential to them,” she said. “This generation is way more practical than previous generations were. They are savvy, and they have a more realistic idea of what kind of job they can get. And with [salary calculators], they can get online and find out how much it pays and make their decisions from there.”
For this generation, she said, transparency is critical. Gen Z wants to know exactly what they are getting into when they take a job, Harvey insists, which means that companies are going to have to up their game with detailed information about company culture and higher quality job descriptions that give the real truth about what a job entails. If employers try to pull a fast one, this is the generation that will uncover the truth.
“These are the true, true digital natives,” Harvey said. “Some of these kids had iPads in their cribs. What I am finding in these young folks is that they want to be successful and they are great information gatherers. They really know how to do the research. They are even better than their Millennial counterparts in that way. They have no boundaries to their research capabilities and they are very resourceful.”
Since skepticism seems to be a quality that has been ingrained in this generation, Harvey believes that loyalty is going to be important to Gen Z in a way it wasn’t to Millennials.
“Because Gen Z is so practical, if you are not giving them feedback as to how they are doing or if you make their jobs feel unsafe in any way, I think they’ll walk,” Harvey said. “[Retention] with this group is going to be about loyalty – they’ll stay with an employer if they feel their employer is loyal to them. I think that because they are skeptical it might be hard at first to earn their trust, but once that trust is earned, they will be loyal, which is different from millennials who change jobs the way they change their underwear.”
What does Gen Z want out of work? Click here to read interviews with six members of Gen Z who talk about their attitudes about work, money and the future.