The hyper-connected Gen Z
JB Priestley once said, "There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age, I missed it coming and going."
As a Gen X being, I can completely relate with it. I belong to a generation which has respected experience and appreciated a linear command and control structure. The ‘newer lot’ does not seem to believe in this world-view. It sees life in circular terms. Let me explain this with an example. Life for Gen X is like a Mumbai-Pune trip on the expressway. It’s linear and a lot less complicated. Life for a Gen Z is a journey on a giant Ferris wheel, which gives them an opportunity to view the world from different heights, possibly get down once in a while, enjoy the view, take a selfie and post it on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter while on the go…they are the quintessential multi-taskers.
This is an attempt to decode this tribe called Gen Z, also referred to as the post-millennials. They have arrived sometime in the mid ‘90s. Is this attempt a worthwhile pursuit? I believe so. In a few years, a significant percentage of the global workforce will consist of the post-millennials. A lot many of them will make their entry into organizations in the immediate future. Forbes believes that President Obama got re-elected because of the increase of millennials in the voting population. Closer home, Modi’s outright victory could be a result of Gen Y coming together and displaying a show of force. Is it not logical to assume that Gen Z will also play an equally powerful role in shaping the world, both political and business? I believe it’s a rhetorical question.
Technology has played a pivotal role in shaping Gen Z’s world view. It is difficult for another generation to understand Gen Z’s fixation with anything to do with technology. They are always connected and aware of what is going on around them. Let me dwell on a few areas that technology has impacted the way Gen Z thinks, and how organizations could respond to them.
- This generation will be much better networked than any of the previous generations. Once they join organizations, they will come across as detached from institutions and networked with friends. It would seem that their loyalties are with their friends, rather than with the firm. Organizations will need to accept this grim reality and start the process of creating an environment that allow them to network with others both internally and externally. Here are some ideas that we could use to channel this strength for the betterment of the organization:
o Hiring strategies: Some of the organizations have already woken up to this need, and have modified their hiring sources by including social media. It would be a good idea to incentivize employees to blog about their positive experiences, which could be a good reading material for prospective employees
o Access to official platforms: young employees can share their experiences and ideas using blogs, podcasts etc. which will help create a brand that attracts prospective employees. Gen Z will seek multiple inputs before deciding to join an organization, and the corporate film will no longer be the sole selling strategy.
- Gen Z, like Gen Y will also be worried about future employability, because of their intense awareness of the fast paced nature of business in a knowledge economy. An organization that looks at this specific need will have a competitive advantage over others in attracting talent. Some of the specific steps that can address this issue are:
o E-learning platforms to keep updating their capabilities
o Paid access to online content from libraries/databases
o Access to networking platforms- online or otherwise
- Gen Z will not see their managers as domain experts because they have access to a large network and multiple resources. Hence, they may look at their managers more as coaches and mentors who will help them navigate smoothly in an organization.
- Connectedness to the family: When a Gen X child went to a boarding school/engineering college away from his home-town, access to parents was limited to infrequent trips made by parents, vacations, and limited phone calls. This is no longer the reality. A Gen Z experiences a completely different reality because of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other such devices. Gen Z will be connected to their families more than his predecessors, and will have a closer connection with them. An organization can use this insight to engage with Gen Z better, for e.g., including family members during an annual Rewards and Recognition ceremony.
- Gen Z will be upbeat about their future, because there have been no major economic shakeups during their times. This population also would already be under debt because of escalating education costs. Organizations would do well in providing them access to specific financial planning tools.
These are thoughts based on my personal experience working in organizations. It needs to be validated and contextualized for the Indian workforce, since most of the studies that I have come across have the West context/flavour. One important variable for a Gen Z to display the above mentioned behaviours/characteristics also depends on elements like economic standing of parents, IT infrastructure in the country, demographics/place of origin etc. It may be a good idea for the HR practitioners to delve into this issue a little deeper. It will lead to a granular understanding of the differing world views and also help organizations get the best out of its employees. As they say, true engagement starts with a better understanding of people.