Generation Z are those who were born in the mid-90s to early ’00s, all of whom were basically having an easier time with tablets than walkers by toddler-age. This is the demographic tech startups like my own are still figuring out whether to woo into a job.
Why the wavering? They are risky hires, so we’ve been told. The truth of it is any generation Z-er comes with a bunch of caveats, some preconceived ideas we’ve been fed by the press, and some genuine risks for employers.
In my experience, most of these youngsters’ perceived minuses can also be major strengths. If you know how to harness them, that is. Here’s what I’ve come up with through working with a few high-schoolers come to intern for us over the summer.
Generation Z are rule-breakers, which you’d most probably find unsettling to begin with. On the other hand, the world we live in is increasingly reliant on digital breakthroughs and disruption, and what is a disruptor if not a rule-breaker?
I’ve found that adding digitarians to the mix of a tech company and keeping a watchful eye on them is a safer bet than not benefitting from their rebellious point of view at all. The sheer number of ideas they can bounce around in a brainstorming session, fueling discussion or even hitting on the best solution themselves, is worth the trouble.
Another thing older CEOs tend to grumble about when it comes to giving the young a shot at their company is the special allowances Gen Z-ers seem to need (think less open space and more fun space).
Having known no other world than the digitally-powered one we now live in, they balk at the 9-to-5 business hours or any other artificial limitations – but that’s only because they’re happy to go the extra mile from home, or whichever beach they, and their always-on mobile device, may find themselves in.
Instead of wringing our hands about whether to put in a play-room or fix our staff up with smart wear for on-the-go collaboration – we should stop and think what all this means, the unprecedented round-the-clock availability that Gen Z-ers are willing to offer in return.
Implementing the techie culture Gen Z-ers expect will only streamline the workflow overall. Accepting that employees don’t need a desk computer, or a desk, anymore to be efficient, will only improve their productivity as the digitarians, multi-tasking pros, will embrace the possibility to work and play at the same time.
For them, it’s second nature. For everyone else, it’s the future that we can’t put off.
Generation Z might come off as arrogant, and they’re also generally not ones to shy away from confrontation. Though bullish on their potential for greatness, as most young people everywhere are and have been since forever, most Gen Z-ers will also be open to constructive criticism.
By drawing them aside when they go over-board (teachable moments) and scheduling regular assessment meetings, you can separate the pig-headed from the self-assertive and start working intensely to grow and train the latter ones.
And a feisty spirit who doesn’t miss any chance to put his/her two cents in can be just the thing when you’re looking to grow your startup too. Young opinionated people who come at problems from different angles can turn out to be your biggest asset.
Not to mention that, thanks to a willingness to pick up stakes (next point), and to the rashness of youth as well, you can pretty much count on a Gen Z-er to keep their opinions frank and keep fluff to a minimum – brutal honesty is something every CEO can appreciate.
They expect to change jobs every year or so. That’s a bummer, considering the work and time you’ll probably have to put into training them – by the time they reach peak productivity, they might have one foot out the door
But the key to remember here is that Gen Z-ers aren’t flaky by default. They’re always on the lookout for new challenges.
Which is not such a bad thing, seeing as you should be able to wrangle some up, especially in a fluid startup work environment and, most importantly, to your benefit. Shaking things up every now and again keeps people on their toes and makes for a fresher, more engaged company overall.
Another common (mis-)conception about Gen Z-ers is that they’re too self-involved to commit to a company. The way to turn that to your advantage as a CEO is to interpret it as it should be interpreted: entrepreneurial drive.
When you see that Generation Z is even more careerist than the Millennials before it, you’ll also have the solution to keeping the youths engaged in the company culture and its future.
Giving youths a voice, a mentor (preferably a similar-minded Millennial) and a clear idea of the rewards along the way is key to achieving a culture that thrives on young blood.
With all this in mind, any forward-thinking CEO will embrace the idea of integrating Generation Z into his/her workforce, even incrementally – one teenager at a time. I recommend this approach for the fainter of heart, seeing as there is a learning curve to working with the younger, louder generation.
And, yes, you might feel like your dad every once in a while, telling off the rowdy young. But, just like him, you’ll be proud of the end result, and it will have been worth the growing pains.