Think Gen Z Isn't That Different? Think Again

The world these young people grew up in wasn't the same as yours

By Kathy Gurchiek Apr 20, 2016
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ORLANDO, Fla.—They are highly skeptical, inclined to fact-check anything and everything. They aren’t impressed by someone with a fancy title. Collaboration is a huge part of their work style. Additionally, they have a one-world mindset, their first real conception of a U.S. president is one who is black, and they grew up with unlimited access to technology.

Employers, meet Generation Z, the oldest members of whom turn 20 this year, according to Jeff Hiller, director of learning and development at Chicago-based JB Training Solutions. He consults on business skills, sales and marketing for companies that include the Major League Baseball Network, Marriott and Phillips 66.

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During a concurrent session at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Management Conference & Exposition on April 19, Hiller presented a laughter-filled but astute overview of Generation Z and the generations that preceded them. His message to HR professionals: Keeping in mind the world Generation Z was born into will lead to a better understanding of these new and future employees.

Generation Z members—also known as the Globals—were born after 1999; they grew up during the time of the Lehman Brothers financial crash, the collapse of companies once thought too big to fail, and the implosion of the housing market that left many homeowners in foreclosure. They are still experiencing that economic uncertainty,

They came of age as sports heroes like Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong fell from grace and as the shootings at Columbine High School signaled “terrorism at home by our own,” Hiller said.

Only 1 in 5 Globals live in a home with both of their parents, and they live in a world where women make up 51 percent of the workforce. As they have grown up, they have been encouraged to embrace a “fend for yourself” mentality, according to Hiller.

This generation will enter the workplace with more years of schooling on their resumes than any previous generation—an average of 16 years of education, vs. an average of about 15 years for Millennials and 12 years for Baby Boomers. That schooling has also come with a higher price—an average of $34,682 in annual college tuition vs. the $23,066 annually that Millennials grew up paying.

Generation Z has an interest in volunteering, and their volunteer and internship experiences will make them more prepared for the workplace. They have studied and traveled abroad more than their predecessors, Hiller said: 283,000 U.S. students studied abroad in 2011. In the workplace, they are expected to want practical rewards such as gasoline cards, student loan reimbursements and extra time off to recognize their successes.

This population takes nothing at face value, and they have been trained to have a healthy skepticism. Baby Boomers grew up during a time when “if you were lucky and rich, your parents bought a $400 encyclopedia set that was out of date as soon as it was printed,” Hiller said. But members of Generation Z grew up with access to technology that has always put information at their fingertips.

“This provokes a willingness to question everything, because [they] can look it up,” rather than take what they are told at face value.

“Why do they not revere these gods who walk among us at work?” Hiller jokingly asked, to laughter. It’s because there are “no more pedestals; we’re all the same” in Generation Z’s eyes.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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