Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Gen Z is here — and they’re older than you think. This new generation, starting with those born in 1996, is already up to age 21!
Gen Z is the generation that directly follows millennials, but they’re very different from millennials. In general, Gen Z avoided the Great Recession, thinks Facebook is for old people, and can’t remember a time before learning key life skills on YouTube.
Gen Z employees bring tremendous potential to the workforce, along with their Venmo account. They will be looking to you as a leader and manager to help unlock their talent — which you can do while advancing your own career, too.
Experienced leaders and managers know all too well how hard it was to adapt to recruit, retain, and develop millennial employees. I know because I’ve worked with more than 100,000 managers and leaders around the world to help them better manage millennials, almost always in a multi-generational workforce.
In new national Gen Z research study from The Center for Generational Kinetics, of which I’m president and co-founder, we uncovered that the younger generation may be a much-needed boon for managers rather than a bust. The reason? This new generation specifically says they don’t want to “end up like millennials.”
What exactly does Gen Z mean?
Our research shows that this generation doesn’t want to be known for acting entitled, end up saddled with massive amounts of college debt, or feel like they’re stuck in perpetual delayed adulthood.
While this may put pressure on millennials in the workforce to provide greater performance (which makes both Gen X and Boomer cheer), it may also create an opportunity for managers, leaders, and executives to shine as Gen Z brings a different work ethic and technological skill set to work.
What can a manager or leader do to future-proof their career as Gen Z emerges in their workplace?
Below are three key strategies we uncovered in our national research and through our work speaking and consulting with managers of Gen Z around the world:
1. Don’t treat Gen Z like millennials — and definitely, don’t call them millennials!
This new generation feels offended when you label them as millennials. This is particularly important since they say they don’t want to end up like millennials or face the stereotypes thrust upon that generation.
2. Take time to learn their technology, even if you don’t actually use it
This is a big one. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all great for staying in touch, influencing, and networking with your peer group — if you’re over the age 21, but these channels are out of step with Gen Z.
To understand how this new generation communicates, learns, influences, and works, open accounts on channels that connect more with them, including Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube. Then find and follow accounts with high levels of Gen Z engagement.
Seeing technology through the lens of the younger generation will help you connect with and show them both how and why they should take their unique skills and adapt them to your workplace.
3. Remember that you have what Gen Z needs most: real-world experience
With the emergence of a new generation of employees, the previous generations often worry that they’ll be leapfrogged or replaced with these up and coming (and less expensive) employees. This generation-based fear can be a major obstacle to a manager or executive’s ability to create trust and influence with this new generation.
The end result is that by not recognizing that you can, and should, adapt to unlock Gen Z’s workplace potential, you could actually end up accelerating your own obsolescence by showing that you are not the right person to lead across generations.
Don’t fall into this generational trap! Instead, see this rising generation as a large, emerging opportunity where you can showcase your own talent for bridging generations to make the most of your entire workforce.
By adapting to Gen Z’s emergence in the workplace, you can unlock their talent, amplify your own, and future-proof your career. You’ll also likely gain a lot more followers on Instagram.
Jason Dorsey is President and Co-Founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics, a millennial and Gen Z research, speaking, and consulting firm.