Going “Phigital”: What Gen Z wants from the workplace

There’s a great deal of advice online about how to get the most out of Millennial employees, but a new generation of workers have now entered the workforce: Gen Z.

Father-son team David and Jonah Stillman founded GenGuru, a boutique management consulting firm that provides insights on how best to connect with Gen Z. They understand better than most the benefits and challenges of working with employees from this generation. Here are their businesses tips for communicating effectively with Gen Z and retaining them in your workplace.

What is Gen Z?

Gen Z is the generation immediately following the Millennials and according to the Pew Research Centre (which is generally accepted as an official definition), represents those born between 1995 and 2012. Now in their mid-20s, workers from Gen Z are rapidly filling workplaces around the world, replacing the last of the Baby Boomers who are heading into retirement.

This is a generation shaped by some very different factors compared to their predecessors.

  • Gen Z grew up in the midst of the 2007 to 2009 GFC and watched their parents struggle through that period.
  • They are the first 100% digitally native generation – Gen Z doesn’t know a world without smartphones, social media, tablets, YouTube, and AI. As such they’re more comfortable with technology than any other generation before them.

What is the difference between Gen Z and Millennials?

While Millennials were parented by Baby Boomers in a time of relatively steady economic growth, Gen Z were raised by members of Gen X – like David Stillman himself.

“The Global Financial Crisis undoubtedly had an impact on the way Gen Xers parented their kids” says David. “We were in survival mode, and we taught our kids how to live through a recession. We’re more pessimistic than Boomers. In a way, this has meant Gen Z is more prepared than you’d expect for the impacts of organisational upheaval, such as the COVID-19 crisis.”

Gen X also saw the emergence of competitive parenting, leading to a generation that’s more competitive at work than Millennials. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does bring some challenges in terms of different working styles.

“Gen Z’s competitiveness isn’t just a difference; it’s also a clashing point,” says 20-year-old Jonah. “My generation has different workplace attitudes and styles, and one thing that really stands out is we’re less collaborative than Millennials. That team attitude doesn’t come as naturally to a generation that wants to be judged on their own merits rather than those of their team.”

What does Gen Z value most?

Why should recruiters and HR care about the needs and wants of Gen Z?

Gen Z is the largest generation ever, representing nearly 30% of the world’s population, and 20% of Australia’s. It’s vital to understand what motivates them and how to best attract and retain Gen Z’s top talent as their working numbers incrementally increase.

The benefits of hiring generation Z employees include:

  • They are digital natives: For the many organisations currently undergoing digital transformations, a generation of digital natives will be a welcome addition to the workforce. Gen Z will not baulk at new technology and will not face the steep learning curve tackled by their older workmates.

“An important thing to understand about Gen Z is they’ve never known a world where the physical and digital hasn’t been brought together,” explains David. “There’s even a term for this: ‘Phigital’.”

Phigital means that every physical element in today’s world has a digital equivalent,” adds Jonah. “Whether you’re communicating with others or going shopping, there’s the physical way to do it, then there’s the digital alternative. Forward-thinking brands are bringing these two elements together to create an entirely new marketing technique to appeal to Gen Z customers and employees.”

  • Their competitiveness: While some HR managers might baulk at the emergence of a highly competitive culture, Jonah says this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “There’s a higher focus on getting stuff done, but it’s on an individual level rather than through teamwork. We’re not suggesting Gen Z are difficult to work with – they get along well with older generations, and Boomers in particular appreciate their work ethic.”

The challenges of hiring Gen Z employees include:

  • Engaging them to collaborate: Companies need to find a balance between collaboration and competitiveness to accommodate intergenerational differences in working styles. “It  can be done by creating teams where everyone is empowered to work to their greatest strengths,” advises David. “And managers of Gen Z employees need to keep in mind that they value their independence.”
  • They can be impatient: “My generation has almost unrealistic expectations around the speed of change,” says Jonah. “We’re accustomed to fast updates and rapid response, but many corporates take the attitude that if it’s not broken, why fix it? Gen Z’s attitude is that even if it’s not broken, it can probably be improved.”

How can managers best engage with Gen Z in the workplace?

Counterintuitively, 80% of Gen Z prefer face-to-face communication despite spending 10 or more hours online every day. In practice, this means Gen Z prefers to get up from their desk and walk over to visit co-workers rather than send an email.

With that in mind, Jonah adds that digitally connected Gen Z is open and willing to communicate via any format. “While previous generations may have become accustomed to a single platform – such as email – and stuck with it for decades, Gen Z has grown up constantly switching from Snapchat to Instagram to TikTok and so on. They’ll be comfortable with instantly adapting to any form of digital communication the organisation wants to try out.”

This has proven particularly valuable during the COVID-19 crisis where entire workforces are suddenly having to learn to use digital collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Blink.

How can managers best retain Gen Z employees?

While Millennials have copped a great deal of criticism (usually from Baby Boomers) for job hopping and career-related selfishness, the pendulum appears to be swinging back the other way for Gen Z. Millennials set the trend for shorter periods of employment per company, but it seems Gen Z employees favour staying in their jobs for longer.

“We’re seeing a generation where longevity is back on the table,” David observes. “They are willing to stay longer, but they’re not willing to stay a lifetime.”

If Gen Z can see that there are genuine career growth opportunities they will not fear they’re missing out on something else. The key, says David, is to let them move around the business and try out multiple roles.

“Let them spread their wings to different areas of the organisation. Small to medium enterprises are better set-up to retain Gen Z employees because they’re less siloed; employees get to wear more hats.”

For Jonah, retaining Gen Z means getting back to basics. “Ensure your salary package is competitive. Gen Z want financial security.”

Companies who engage Gen Z’s competitive drive, and cater to their independent nature and desire for a customised workplace that encourages them to grow within the company will derive huge upsides from these employees. They’ll typically stay longer than their Millennial counterparts, drive change and ensure your organisation remains competitive in the digital era.

About Gen Guru

Gen Guru is a US-based boutique management consulting firm that provides insights on how best to connect with Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials – and the newest generation – Generation Z.

The company was founded by father and son team, David and Jonah Stillman, who together were voted in the top 25 most inspirational speakers and authors for 2018 by Success Magazine.

In addition to being an internationally acclaimed speaker on the generations, David is the co-author of two best-selling books including When Generations Collide and The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace.

Meanwhile, Jonah and a team of peers conducted one of the first American-based surveys exploring Gen Z’s workplace attitudes and together with his father, co-wrote Gen Z @ Work, published by HarperCollins.

David And Jonah Gen Guru Management Consulting

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