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Generation Z's Tech Habits May Surprise HR

Experts say there's a nice, cautious generation behind Millennials

A woman with afro hair drinking coffee while looking at her phone.

Members of Generation Z—the generation of future workers who are now no older than 20—have never known a world without smartphones. Yet, they’re less likely to recreationally use their smartphones during work hours than Millennials are. They eschew Facebook and are less concerned than other generations about their privacy when using technologies native to them.

Interviews with experts and a recent study on the work habits of people born in the mid-90s and later—who are known as Generation Z, the Centennials or iGen—have revealed sharp differences between the workforce’s youngest members and their Millennial siblings.

The recently released study, titled iGen Tech Disruption, was conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics, an Austin, Texas-based company that specializes in generational research.

Though Generation Z members think it’s acceptable to use a smartphone in nearly any social situation—including during religious services or even at their own wedding—only 6 percent think it is OK to text, talk and surf the web during work hours. That’s compared to 18 percent of Millennials. 

“When you come of age never remembering a time before smartphones—which is true for all Gen Zers in the U.S.—it fundamentally changes your learning, communication and workplace expectations,” said Jason Dorsey, co-founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics.

“This generation has always gone to their phone first to find an answer to a question, learn a new skill, apply for a job or connect with friends,” said Dorsey, an expert on Generation Z and Millennials. “They will never remember a time when that wasn’t an option. This means that as Gen Z enters the workforce, they expect everything to be mobile first, from communication and collaboration to training, retention and engagement strategies.”

HR: Get Ready for Generation Z

Experts say this generation’s dependence on and attitude toward technology will change the working world.

“Basically, if you thought Millennials were tough on companies with their technology expectations, Gen Z will be a whole new ballgame,” Dorsey added.

HR will need to adapt, added Nancy Ahlrichs, SHRM-SCP, an HR consultant with the Indianapolis-based global talent development consulting firm FlashPoint and the former vice president of talent management and diversity for the United Way of Central Indiana.

“The world of recruiting is being turned on its head because of Gen Z’s technology preferences—the use of cellphones for everything,” she said. “Employers who are not tweeting their job openings and whose application process is not optimized for cellphones have fewer Gen Z applicants.” 

What Generation Z members don’t use is e-mail, Ahlrichs said. “Employers are scrambling to get responses when they e-mail or leave voice mails asking to set up interviews. Employers will need to teach Gen Z the habit of checking e-mail and voice mail after they are hired.” 

The Centennial generation is also more cautious with social media, she added, “because of the ‘forever’ nature of posts. They prefer Snapchat and Twitter. That is where they will read about job openings.” 

A survey from HR services firm Randstad and research and consulting firm Millennial Branding found that 28 percent of Generation Z respondents said increased amounts of money would motivate them to work harder and stay with their employer longer, as opposed to 42 percent of respondents from Generation Y.

The Gen Y and Gen Z Global Workplace Expectations Study also revealed that although Generation Z has grown up with technology, 53 percent of Generation Z respondents prefer face-to-face communication over tools like instant messaging and video conferencing. Generation Z said that they found Facebook, instant messaging and e-mail “distracting.”

“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 and author of Promote Yourself (St. Martin's Griffin, 2014).

“Additionally, since Gen Z has seen how much Gen Y has struggled in the recession, they come to the workplace better prepared, less entitled and more equipped to succeed,” Schawbel said.

“I’ve heard some folks describe this generation as very ‘nice,’ ” said Mia Dand, Google’s former community group leader. Now CEO of Lighthouse3, a digital, social media and mobile consulting agency based in San Francisco, Dand said, “Gen Z tends to be more polite, more likely to seek out a mentor and less likely to be confrontational in the workplace.” They’ve grown up in a time of “high technological innovation so they are very digitally and socially savvy. Their expectations related to technology and user experience in the workplace are also very high.” She said this generation tends to be more pragmatic and have a strong work ethic.  

The Center for Generational Kinetics’ study also found that:

  • Members of Generation Z appear to be more practical in the workplace than the Millennials. The younger generation is more willing to take lower-paying jobs and start wherever they can in a company.  
  • Generation Z thinks differently about online privacy. They are “significantly less concerned than other generations about their privacy when using technologies native to them, such as mobile payment apps and social media,” the center stated in a release. “However, iGen is more concerned than Millennials when it comes to protecting their identity when paying with a debit or credit card, and also more concerned than any other generation about online privacy when using dating websites or mobile dating apps.” 
  • Social media determines a Centennial’s sense of self-worth: More than any other generation, Generation Z says that social media affects their self-esteem, popularity and how people see them, and influences their job and dating prospects. In addition, 37 percent say social media affects their happiness. 
  • Generation Z’s preference for Instagram and Twitter as their top social media sites will impact where they’ll look for jobs and how they are likely to view a company’s brand. For this generation, a company’s reputation will largely be determined by that company’s presence—or lack of a presence—on these social media sites.

“What we find is that Gen Z much prefers image- and video-based communication and social networks—less text, more imagery,” Dorsey said. “This will extend into employment branding, recruiting and actual job applications. We are helping several companies change their recruiting strategy to fit Gen Z.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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