Gen Z: Not Just Mini-Millennials!

Someone once said to me, “Gen Zers are just Millennials on steroids. They’re just mini-Millennials.” Au contraire!  Just when we thought we were beginning to understand Millennials, we need to learn about a new generation entering the workforce. Generation Z (as it’s called for now) consists of recent college grads and high school teens—and it’s the hot new research topic for marketers and business publications.

While Millennials are very diverse (43 percent are bilingual with a substantial number who identify as “two or more races”), Gen Z is even more so. Gen Zers identify as “multiracial,” “human,” and “other” and frequently will not classify themselves racially or ethnically. Many are immigrants or the children of immigrants. They are multilingual, and many learned English not as a second language but as a “new language” in addition to their other languages.  

The great thing about both of Millennials and Gen Zers is that they want to serve on diverse teams with others who are different from themselves. We just happen to have diverse teams today!

Born from 1990 to 1999 (according to research that is still evolving), Gen Zers stand apart from Millennials and Gen Xers in many ways. One of their most welcome characteristics is their desire for face-to-face communication.  Sure they will text and tweet, and they like social media, but they want the connection of in-person conversation. They want to be onsite to do work—because they will be more connected and can learn more. In contrast, Millennials think of work as a “thing you do—from anywhere, at any time.” Both will get the work done, just differently.

In the workplace, Millennials want to be part of a team, and they want a mentor. There is much to learn, and they prefer not to have to ask their managers. Gen Zers want a teaching style of leadership from their managers. Unlike previous generations, they prefer to have expectations and even the details of a project outlined, instead of simply being told the goal and deciding for themselves how to approach the problem to be solved.

Another Gen Z–Millennial difference is how they approach social media. We have read for years that Millennials’ high trust in complete openness online is a generational distinction. Their photos and comments document their every move and meal, every tattoo and thought, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

In contrast, Gen Z is more cautious and prefers Snapchat and Vine. Snapchat has 200 million users, 71 percent of them under 25 years old; posted content disappears within seconds.  Gen Zers like that.  Vine has 40 million users and is most popular among 18-to-20-year-olds. Vine lets users create six-second videos; Gen Zers like to share these on Twitter.

Older Millennials were very optimistic and particular with their job searches after graduation. Many had record-high education debt. Unfortunately, the recession hit them hard; 40 percent of Millennials were unemployed and living in their parents’ homes. Even today, one-third of them are still living at home. After watching what happened to Millennials, Gen Zers are determined to handle their careers and living arrangements differently. Many changed majors to increase the odds of being employed after graduation; others changed schools to keep education costs low. And they want to be out of their parents’ houses as soon as possible.

Successful organizations will hire the best of each generation, train them, and offer career growth. These two generations make up 35 percent of employees today—and will soon dominate the workforce. We would be wise to get to know them and to capitalize on their merits.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is an author, columnist and national speaker. She is a Business Development Consultant for FlashPoint, a global talent development consulting firm.

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