Generational theory propounded by Strass & Howe was a result of their study of last 600 years of human history. It revealed regular pulse of crisis and recalibration. The duration of these crisis pulses consistently turned out to be 4 generations apart, each generation being known as Artist (Silent Generation born between 1925-1945), Prophet (Baby Boomer, born between1945-1962), Nomad (Generation X, born between 1962-1980) and Hero (Generation Y, born between1980-1997). By this logic Gen Z as generation which is born after 1997 will have characteristic DNA closely resembling Artist Generation (born between 1925-1945).
This population (GEN Z) will be part of workforce starting from 2020 & beyond. In 2020 there will be possibly 4 generations working together (with late boomers still in business), with each bringing its own value and beliefs and a different lens to the workplace. Keeping the workforce motivated by addressing their unique needs coupled with business challenges & delivery expectations will keep HR wide awake going forward.
Let’s examine the characteristic of Gen Z for us to build our understanding of them and evolve mentally how the workplace of tomorrow will transform.
Overprotection: If we look around the way this generation is raised, we realize that they are extremely taken care of, emotionally as well physically; in fact they are guarded to the maximum. They are being served beyond their own expectations by their working parents, at times against their wishes. This is primarily because there is a tendency to have one child, family income is getting pretty decent because of working parents and there is inflated connectivity. These children are treated as precious jewels & prevented from keeping a toe in the real world all alone.
Worldly: By the time these children are about to enter the employment, many of them must have visited few countries at least, as these days a good vacation means visiting Europe, Americas or South Asian Countries. They may also be connected with their cousin or friends who may be staying in one of these countries. Also due to social networking and the ‘googled’ world they are updated on the happenings around the world. In short they know more about the current status of the world than our own generation.
Pragmatic: While Gen Y is defined by a heroic with full-transparency approach to social media, Gen Z shares judiciously (and always with their geo-locator off). In this way, they are not immediately impressed by ties and titles, though are very happy to give respect to those they believe deserve it. This isn’t because they’re sceptics, but simply because they are used to filtering through and evaluating large amounts of data each time they search for an answer. They’re very aware of life’s boundaries. I can definitely observe this in my daughter as she has her geo locator off, careful about accepting connection. She is very careful about updating her profile picture. This is because they are aware of ways they can get trapped in a situation they don’t want to get into.
Connected: They are tablet or smart phone babies For a Gen Z child, everything they do goes through a platform. A regular telephone conversation is no longer enough, it’s FaceTime. Alas, even regular conversation is sometimes no longer enough, as we see children using technology to communicate with family members in the same house as them. They always discuss points with images, links and YouTube videos. An average child spends around 4 hours in front of the different sized screens. On a lighter side, the biggest punishment you can give to this generation is turning the Wi-Fi off. I can only imagine what will happen with 4G coming in.
Creative: Let’s be clear, Gen Z is active, not passive. When they’re spotted glued to their tablets, it’s all too easy to underestimate their activities. But in reality they’re socialising, creating content and most importantly challenging themselves and each other. They don’t just watch videos on YouTube; they own their own YouTube channels and are making creative waves in the wider world
Pressurized: Their parents already want to see them as an all-rounder celebrity; they want to have them designed as a customized product, so apart from securing their future, they’ve reacted with a bolstered program of activities from instrumental lessons, dance classes, sports, and supplementary academic tuition to language courses, so if you want to meet a child you need to seek prior appointment .
Communitarian: Their communitarian inclinations are a way to set free from a sheltered upbringing. Parents constantly monitor them, so when they are let off the leash, it tends to be in the direction of other people, and more precisely their peers. They frequently cite YouTube tutorials (i.e. makeup tips), showing that they’d rather learn from their peer group than their parents. If thrown into situations with strangers, they will create strong peer-group bonds among Gen Z.
Having seen some of the defining attributes of Gen Z let’s see how they will affect the future workplace through power of Digitization.
Vision of the Future
Workplace of the future that will have Gen Z as one its constituents, will be the one that provides intensely personalized, social experience to attract, develop and engage employees across generations and geographies. Some of the important attributes of these workplaces will be transparency, collaboration, personalization and hyper connectivity.
I have taken few areas of universally accepted employee engagement drivers that define the workplace of Gen Z.
Recruiting: the majority of professional jobs postings will start in one of the highly trafficked social networking sites as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. The content, interaction & social reputation could be the criteria for scouting probable candidates. Prospective employees may potentially have their first interview on the social territory that they belong to, followed by video chats and reference checks and finally offer will be made that will go in one’s data locker for acceptance and storage.
Recruiter’s necessary skills will be acquaintance, mastery of social media tools and representation of the organization on a continuous basis. Don’t ever ask him what you are doing.
Resources: Mobile devices will become office, classroom and concierge. Employees will have best in class devices with ever steeper internet speeds irrespective of their positions in the organization. You lower your position if you don’t have all that.
Knowledge workers will increasingly elect to work at ‘third places’ like Cafes, Coffee shop, hotels, bookstores. These places would have been by then transformed from eating places to meeting places and workplaces. This co-operation will save money on real estate, adopt ecofriendly policies to reduce commuting, or just acknowledge the importance of collaboration and knowledge exchange in a work space specifically designed for the purpose. In brick mortar industries few jobs may follow the suit.
Sense of Accomplishment: Gen Z being a Communitarian generation will have ‘Team Work’ in their DNA; they would have had their own team / communities which were already working on various projects with common interest. Organizations will hire entire teams than an individual to execute a particular project. NIIT is already partnering with ISB (Indian School of Business) to run a collegiate business plan competition to generate executable business ideas which they will fund. Tribal mindset of GEN Z will benefit in executing the large project in quickest time and in minimum budget.
Learning & Development: Organizations will rely on peer to peer learning for good percentage of their workforce. Employees would want to learn new skills and hence often would want to join the courses that will give boost to their career. It’s predicted that they will have 6 careers and 17 jobs in their entire working lifespan. Internal L&D function can become a serious business by exploring, curating & managing the newer arenas of leaning and can start with subscription programs for courses/knowledge beyond prevailing skill requirements of their own organization. Lifelong learning will be a business requirement.
Majority of learning will happen through a problem solving mode and people will pose a problem, build scenarios, learn, communicate through blogs, text, audio & video clips, images etc. The downside of this hyper connected Gen Z is that they will lack practical skills due to their strong disliking for doing any physical activity. (They played more on tablets than on the playground) Those who will adopt a different path of skill building that is required for physical work will develop a great differentiator and may be paid well for their efforts than those who don’t.
Leadership Development: Due to hyper connectivity and special liking to work in tribes, team will choose a leader by polling. Organizations will also select leader based on his/her social capital and on his/her followership on social networking sites.
Career Growth & Opportunities: Reputation capital will be the top currency; this will be the sum total of personal brand, expertise and the breadth, depth and quality of one’s social networks. Organizations will increasingly source, recruit, and promote employees based upon strength of their social network and their ability to leverage the same for increased business value for the organization.
Work life Balance: Work-life flexibility will replace work-life balance. Work-life flexibility revolves around the ability to multitask and assign work to various chunks of time so other personal priorities are accomplished along with the office priorities. As far as the results are delivered work life flexibility will be perfectly acceptable. There can be possibility of crediting leaves to those who need it for the purpose (Act of kindness).
There will be customized apps for managing business as well as personal life. On the business side this could include an expense report app, a goal-tracking app, or micro feedback app, learning app etc. On the personal side, if you are a working parent and as we have seen these kids were overprotected as a child they would also want to take care of their teens & parents, apps could focus on the locations of day care centers, after school programs, homework helpers, medical help etc.
Organizations will focus on more physical activity of employees as Gen Z spent most of their childhood in front of the screen and will be less enthusiastic about physical activity. Organizations have to focus on emotional and physical well-being of Gen Z to have healthier workforce and avoid potential complicated mental illness.
Summing It Up
Although technology will penetrate & drive the Gen Z employees at the workplace, there will be a realization for the organizations that their engagement has to be both Hi-Touch & Hi-Tech. Organizations will have to flourish relations starting with social connections & migrating them from virtual space to a real space, the only right way entire human race have known since the time immemorial.