by Shayne Thomas
31 Oct 2019
Generation Z and the Rise of Digital Native Employees
4 tips to help you cope with the arrival of Generation Z in the workplace
If you thought millennials were a force to be reckoned with when they first entered the workplace, then you’re in for a real treat as Gen-Z’ers—short for Generation Z—make their speedy entry into the workplace as well. In fact, it’s already been predicted that by the end of 2020 this generation, which includes folks born between the mid-90’s and the mid-2000’s, will make up over 20% of the working adult population. So, it’s no longer a matter of waiting; it’s a matter of learning how to deal with a new kind of employee.
You might be asking yourself what all the fuss is about Generation Z. Or why you have to “deal” with a new kind of employee. Here’s why Gen-Z is really the next “best” thing since sliced bread. For starters, they are the first truly “Digital Native” generation. This essentially means that these kids have grown up with technology all their lives. For them, the iPhone and other similar technologies, especially mobile, are the absolute norm. You could even say commonplace. It would be hard to ever call this generation a generation of “early adopters” because, let’s face it, they never really had to make much of a leap from analog to digital. (For those of you who still remember using rotary phones, like I do, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel old for a minute.)
But tech savviness aside, while important in today’s cross-channel, multi-device, media-saturated world we live in, this generation has a critical downfall: it has grown far too dependent on technology to do all the heavy lifting. This is especially the case when it comes to communications. Despite the wonders that Gen-Z’ers can do with technology, we’ve already seen the warning signs that their interpersonal skills may be lacking. (Not a big surprise given how glued everyone seems to be to their phones and devices these days!)
Yet, surprising or not, this poses a huge challenge to the workplace. Given that working environments are highly interpersonal in nature, where communications won’t ever strictly take place only via email or chat—as is the case for many of us in our personal lives these days—one of the challenges businesses face with the influx of Gen-Z talent is teaching them how to be, you guessed it, more interpersonal beings. But that doesn’t mean stealing their devices and making them experience what life was like “way back when” in those analog days. Quite to the contrary, you’ve got to reinforce those weaknesses by reinforcing their inherent strengths.
Here are a few tips to help you cope with the arrival of Generation Z in the workplace:
- Embrace their love of technology
As mentioned above, you won’t get very far with your new, young talent if you force them to ditch the technologies that are woven into the fabric of their daily lives. In fact, you’ll probably get a lot more two-week notices if you do. So, instead, embrace their seeming dependence on technology and let them teach you a new thing or two along the way. In this era of rapid digital transformation, you actually can teach an old dog new tricks. After all, it’s a means of survival. However, all jokes aside, that Gen-Z employees are so tech savvy opens up new opportunities for you to think about how to reevaluate existing processes, adopt new tools and platforms, and change the overall flow of work—in many cases, for the better. So, as hard as it may be, let go of any preconceived notions about “we’ve always done things this way, so we’ll continue to do things this way” and embrace the new skills and talents that this young talent brings to the table. We can’t guarantee they’ll stick around forever because, let’s face it, who stays in the same job for 30 years anymore, but we’re pretty sure it’ll help reduce churn. And that’s always a huge win for any business.
- Don’t underestimate them
Although face-to-face communication may not be the strongest suit for Generation Z, it does not mean that they lack confidence across the board. They are just far more accustomed to speaking their mind and sharing their knowledge in front of a screen. And while, for many, this may seem like passive-aggressive behavior, when you think about it—that is, if we grew up surrounded by all this technology—we’d probably find this behavior to be 100% normal, too. The big opportunity here is, therefore, figuring out how you can tap into Gen-Z’s “digital confidence” and their insane ability to influence family, friends, colleagues, brands, and beyond across myriad digital and social channels. This is a superpower, one that many of us more analog-oriented folks just don’t possess. But it has become a currency of sorts in today’s digital-everywhere culture, so it must not ever be overlooked or underestimated.
- Be ready to teach them new skills
Here’s where the fun begins. If you let them teach you the ways of the digital world, there’s a good chance they’ll be more receptive to you teaching them those incredibly valuable interpersonal skills that’ll come in handy for them down the road. The good news is: they actually like to learn. Just because they’ve transacted incessantly through digital channels all of their lives does not mean that they can’t learn skills in the non-digital (ahem, real) world. You just have to figure out the best way to teach them. (And no, this does not involve sitting in a windowless classroom for hours on end getting lectured to!)
At Cornerstone, we’ve created a broad array of micro-learning courses for a number of invaluable soft skills, like communication, to help these interpersonally-challenged Gen-Z employees get into a groove in the workplace. Whether it’s how to establish their personal brand at work, communicate effectively with their manager, or collaborate in team environments, these courses, all available in easy-to-consume chunks (i.e. great for people with limited attention spans), can really help you bring out the best in these employees.
- Make learning accessible and on their terms
Building on the above and knowing just how tech-reliant Generation Z is, any learning that you provide must be easily accessible on whatever device your employees use regularly. For some people it might be their laptops, for others it may be their mobile phones or tablets—and there’s a good chance we might see the day very soon when all this can be done on wearables, too; whatever the case may be, the best way to motivate Gen-Z employees to embrace your business’s culture of learning to make learning easy for them. That means allowing them the freedom to learn anywhere and anytime. By adapting your courses to how they actually learn—via technology—you will make learning more relevant, meaningful, and useful for them.
So, there you have it. A quick peek into the lives of your up-and-coming Gen-Z employees. Now it’s your turn to take the next step. To learn more about how you can prepare for Generation Z in the workplace, please visit Cornerstone DNA today.