Generation Z, the generation following millennials, has begun entering the workforce. The first generation of true “digital natives,” these young adults cannot remember a time before internet, and even remembering the time before smartphones is a stretch. They will make up 24% of the workforce next year, according to Manpower Group, so learning leaders need to be ready.
As with millennials, there are many myths surrounding Gen Z. Knowing the data researchers have collected about Gen Z will help leaders understand these young learners and manage and train them better as a result. Here are five myths and the data that contradict them.
1. They Only Communicate Online
While Gen Z are digital natives who enjoy using technology to communicate, it’s not their preferred method of communication, at least in the workplace. According to Ryan Jenkins, an expert on millennials and Gen Z, 84% of members of Gen Z prefer face-to-face communication with their managers, and 78% prefer this form of communication with their work peers. Only half of Gen Zers prefer texting co-workers, according to a recent LinkedIn Learning survey.
However, in that survey, 62% of Gen Zers said hard skills were more important than soft skills, while 61% of L&D leaders said Gen Z would need extra training to develop soft skills. “Gen Z recognizes that the world of work is changing and that workers need to be constantly learning to keep up with it,” says Tanya Staples, vice president of learning content at LinkedIn. “L&D professionals are in a great position to help Gen Z understand the importance of soft skills and how to build them as they enter the workforce.”
2. They Are Lazy and Entitled
“Like the millennials who came before them, there is a stigma forming with Gen Z: They are lazy, entitled, don’t want to work hard, don’t take feedback well, etc.,” says Jessica Schaeffer, senior director of the LaSalle Network. A recent survey by LaSalle suggests otherwise; the majority of Gen Zers now in the workplace had multiple internships in college.
What’s more, Robert Half research found that 77% of Gen Zers “believe they will need to work harder compared to those in past generations to have a satisfying and fulfilling professional life.” The report notes that, due to the time period this generation grew up in, “that’s not surprising.” They experienced the economic crisis, after all, perhaps watching their parents lose their jobs or struggle to find new ones.
Gen Zers “are so persistent and determined,” says Dianna Anderson, CEO of Cylient. “If they have an idea they want to accomplish, they will buckle down and work until that task is completed.” She believes this entrepreneurial spirit stems from watching people become millionaires and billionaires by building tech companies. “This ambition will surely drive our workforce in the coming years.”
3. They Think They Know It All
Multiple studies have found that Gen Z wants to learn. They’re “assertive, too,” says Schaeffer, “so don’t be surprised if they are bringing learning and development opportunities to you and are vocal about what they want to learn.”
With that in mind, Anderson says, Gen Z wants to be able to share their opinions at work. They’re accustomed to having and sharing their opinions on important topics, and “because they are so compelled to make a difference, it can be frustrating for them to not feel valued in conversations.” She says developing a coaching culture can enable them to share their opinions while learning from more experienced colleagues.
Indeed, one characteristic of Gen Z is their openness to learning from others, says Regina Luttrell, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Syracuse University and author of a book on millennials (and a forthcoming book on Gen Z). She calls Gen Z “the Superhero Generation” and says that they need mentoring and continuous feedback to learn on the job.
4. They Are Job-switchers
Millennials are notoriously (whether rightly or wrongly) known as “job-hoppers” or “job-switchers.” On the other hand, according to Jenkins, 61% of Gen Zers say they’d stay at the same company for more than 10 years, and 31% of those people would stay more than 20 years.
Gen Zers “are looking to grow within an organization, more likely to look for different roles within an organization rather than look to the next one,” says Monica Ball, director of business development for social career platform Goodwall. She recommends providing on-the-job and informal, social learning opportunities to encourage this internal career pathing, as well as digital training tools such as video libraries for these digital natives.
Similarly, the LaSalle survey found that the majority of Gen Zers expect to be promoted within one or two years of starting their job, and the opportunity to grow is the top reason they pick an employer. “This means that they expect to be given the tools they need to succeed and the training they need to grow,” says Schaeffer.
5. They Are Full of “Youthful Optimism”
In the past, younger generations have been known for their positivity, giving rise to the phrase “youthful optimism” as well as the perception of naivety. However, Robert Half researchers call Gen Z “the reality-check generation.” Again, due to the world they grew up in, Gen Zers are hesitant to take on student debt, worried they won’t be able to repay student loans and are highly motivated by salary.
According to a Monster survey, “Gen Z differs from the Millennials before them by valuing benefits and security that have traditionally been associated with Boomers and members of Gen X. Their top three ‘must haves’ for their first job are health insurance (70%), a competitive salary (63%) and a boss they respect (61%).”
LinkedIn Learning’s survey also found, “Unlike their millennial predecessors,” financial incentives and career advancement are significant motivators when it comes to workplace learning. And because Gen Zers are not as willing to take on student debt as previous generations, says Ball, “employers need to provide educational opportunities or benefits towards learning, such as certificates, online graduate degrees and bootcamps. Investment from employers in advanced education will be crucial for Gen Z.”
Overall, Generation Z has much in common with the young members of generations before them – but is also unique in some ways, as well. Don’t stereotype the new members of your workforce; understand data trends, but get to know your Gen Zers, too. You might be surprised by how eager they are to learn.