Generation Z, born from 1997 onward, is the latest generation to hit the workplace. The arrival of any new generation comes with its own stereotypes, along with questions from older generations about how these newcomers’ work preferences and the impact they could have on the workforce.
According to Dr Robyn Johns, senior lecturer in human resource management at the University of Technology in Sydney, Gen Z is often labelled as self-interested, overconfident, and lacking in the personality department given how much of their childhoods were spent on and influenced by digital.
“[But] this isn’t necessarily the case,” Johns countered. “Generation Z are good multitaskers and desire constant feedback. They also want clear goals, rewards, and personal challenges to keep them involved in the workplace and their personal lives.”
What Gen Z Wants–And What Leaders Can Learn
Who better than a member of Gen Z to shed light on what Gen Z wants? Rosie Marks, a 22-year-old who works in disability services, said she is very concerned about the “casualization” of the workforce.
“For people of my generation, it’s very hard to get a full-time job, and so people will be working two or more casual jobs and constantly worrying about whether a contract is going to be renewed and where their next pay cheque is coming from,” she told CMO.com.
Workplace leaders can learn a lot from her generation, Marks said, particularly around flexibility and working with technology—so much so that Gen Z isn’t afraid to change jobs to work with the latest, greatest technology tools, she said.
This is supported by research conducted by Dell Technologies in 2018, which polled 12,000 members of Gen Z from countries including Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand about their expectations in the workplace. The research found that 97% believe technological literacy matters, 80% of respondents want to work with cutting-edge technologies, and 77% are willing to be technology mentors in the workplace.
“Most young people are interested in working with cutting-edge technology when they leave school, even if they haven’t expressed an interest in working in the tech sector as such,” said Jocelyn Macedo, vice president of human resources, Asia-Pacific and Japan, at Dell Technologies. “Employers need to be ready to accommodate this expectation.”
Despite Gen Z’s enthusiastic response to technology, workplace leaders may be surprised to learn that young people want more human interaction. But this doesn’t always happen in the modern workplace, Marks said.
“I’ve never been to the office of my employer,” she said. “Everything is done via my smartphone, text, and email. But in all that I’d like to have more human interaction with my employers.”
Macedo agreed, and Dell’s research confirms it. Members of Gen Z want to work in an office, they want to work on teams, they want human interaction—and they want technology to facilitate these connections, not bypass them.
Again, this may contradict the perception among business leaders that younger generations want to work from home, from a café, or from a co-working space. Instead, they want to work in close contact with other people, according to Dell’s research.
“This desire for face-to-face collaboration makes sense when you consider that it helps establish credibility and build rapport and trust,” Macedo told CMO.com. “We need to prioritise human connection but ensure we have the technology to enable these connections, especially when discussing and sharing ideas and opinions with global counterparts.”
More Than Money
Gen Z is highly motivated by social issues and making a difference—in their communities, personal relationships, and at the workplace. Dell’s research found that 38% want to work for a socially or environmentally responsible organisation, and 45% want work that has meaning and purpose beyond getting paid.
“They are very involved in environmental and social causes,” University of Technology’s Johns told CMO.com. “They are one of the most involved generations to date, and they are also one of the most diverse generations, having grown up in and around multiracial and multicultural parents and peers.”
He also noted that Gen Z, having grown up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York, also has an uncertain outlook on the future, which makes them less demanding and more realistic about their expectations of life. At the same time, they are open-minded, which helps to make them more resilient and pragmatic in both their personal lives and in the workplace.
Of note, Dell’s research found what Gen Z wants in the workplace differed from country to country in the Asia-Pacific region, Macedo said. In the Philippines, working for an organisation that is socially or environmentally responsible rates highly, while in Thailand, Gen Z is willing to mentor workers who are not as familiar with technology as they are. This contrasts with Japan, where Gen Z is the least comfortable mentoring others because of a perception that they should already be familiar with technology.
“What’s interesting for me is seeing how our Gen Z team members want to make a difference,” Macedo said. “While having a reliable and steady income matters to them, they are always quick to get involved in initiatives with meaning. ... Leaders, now more than ever, need to be focused on how we enable our team members to connect with activities that add more meaning to the everyday.”