Survey Compares Workplace Traits of Generations Y and Z

Gen Z better prepared, less motivated by money

By Bill Leonard Jan 12, 2015
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Move over Generation Y, Generation Z is set to take your place as the youngest generation in the workforce.

And if a new study is any indication, the latter have a stronger entrepreneurial spirit, are less motivated by money, are less entitled and will be better prepared for jobs than their Generation Y counterparts.

For years, companies have worked hard to understand the wide-ranging work styles of the multi-aged workforce and to decipher a confusing generational alphabet soup. Now, it’s about to get a bit more complicated as Generation Z prepares to enter the job market.

Millennial Branding, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, collaborated with Atlanta-based HR services and staffing company Randstad to conduct a study that provides an in-depth look at the workplace preferences of Generation Y (ages 21-32) and Generation Z (ages 16-20). A report on the research results was released on Sept. 2, 2014.

Much emphasis has been placed in recent years on the members of Generation Y, also known as Millennials, and how they perform in the workplace. According to officials with Millennial Branding and Randstad, the study is one of first to compare and contrast key job-related traits of the two youngest generations

“Generations are increasingly separated along narrower age bands, requiring managers to juggle the needs and preferences of four or even five distinct generations working side by side,” said Jim Link, chief HR officer for Randstad North America, in a written statement. “This study provides an insightful picture of what employers can use to motivate, drive and inspire this newest generation as part of their overall recruitment and retention strategy.”

A key finding in the study is that members of Generation Z have a stronger entrepreneurial spirit than their Generation Y counterparts. Among the nearly 2,000 survey respondents from both generations, 17 percent of those in Generation Z said they wanted to start their own business and hire others to work for them, compared to 11 percent of Generation Y respondents.

In addition, money seems to be less important to members of Generation Z when compared to their slightly older counterparts. Approximately 42 percent of respondents from Generation Y ranked “making more money” as their top work motivator compared to 28 percent of Generation Z participants. The top work motivator for Generation Z was “opportunities for advancement” (34 percent).

Surprisingly, given that they have grown up entirely in the digital age, the report found that a majority of the survey participants from Generation Z (53 percent) prefer in-person communications over electronic tools such as instant messaging and video-conferencing.

And even though they prefer face-to-face interactions, 20 percent of Generation Z said they would prefer telecommuting and working at home over a corporate workspace, compared to just 11 percent of respondents from Generation Y.

“Gen Z has a clear advantage over Gen Y because they appear to be more realistic instead of optimistic, are likely to be more career-minded, and can quickly adapt to new technology to work more effectively,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding. “Additionally, since Gen Z has seen how much Gen Y has struggled in the recession, they will come to the workplace well prepared, less entitled and more equipped to succeed.”

For the study, Gen Y vs. Gen Z Workplace Expectations, researchers surveyed about 1,000 individuals from the two age groups. The study participants were from 10 countries—the United States, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Although the Randstad and Millennial Branding research defined Generation Y as those born between 1982 and 1993 and Generation Z as those born in 1994 and after, other studies have defined the two generations more broadly. Often Generation Y has been identified as those born between 1980 and 1995 and Generation Z as those born after 1996.

While many members of Generation Z are still too young to participate in the labor force, Generation Y now has more workers in the labor force than any other generation—recently replacing Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964). Demographers have estimated that there are approximately 80 million members of Generation Y in the United States, and some projections show that they could account for nearly 46 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, nearly 70 million workers from the Baby Boom generation will retire by 2025. This projected exodus has employers and HR managers scrambling to find ways to attract, manage and retain workers from the younger generations.

These efforts to attract and retain have led to dozens of studies examining the impact Generation Y employees are having on the workforce. The Randstad and Millennial Branding study is one of the first to compare and contrast generations Y and Z on a global scale. Examples of other studies focusing on Generation Y include Deloitte LLP’s 2014 survey on Millennials in the workplace. The Deloitte study was released in January during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The emphasis on the importance of Millennials in the workplace is apparent from the comments accompanying the study’s release.

“To attract and retain talent business needs to show Millennials it is innovative and in tune with their world view,” said Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP. “By working together and combining their different skills, business, governments and non-government organizations have an opportunity to ignite the Millennial generation and make real progress in solving society’s problems.” Deloitte followed its January release with a report examining the impact of Generation Y on public policy in April 2014.

Another example of interest in the impact of Generation Y on the workplace was an August 2013 report from the Center for Women & Business (CWB) at Bentley University. Researchers for the CWB took a different tack and examined the level of workforce preparation among men and women in Generation Y. The study concluded that women who are part of Generation Y tend to be more prepared for work than their male counterparts.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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