The makeup of the workforce is changing, with younger generations taking up an increasing percentage of workers. According to Robert Half, in 2020, 80% of the workforce will be post-boomer and more than 20% will be Gen Z. But who exactly are these newest entrants to the workforce and how can companies prepare for them?

Members of Gen Z are those born roughly between 1995 to 2010. According to McKinsey, they are “true digital natives: from earliest youth, they have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems. That context has produced a hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences.” Check out how L&D leaders at Culture Amp and other Silicon Valley startups are training their Gen Z workforce to be leaders of tomorrow.

Other factors that define Gen Z according to McKinsey’s research include a demand for personalization and a desire to understand what’s going on in the world around them. Given their lifelong immersion in the digital world, it’s not surprising to hear that members of Gen Z are self-learners who feel more comfortable absorbing information online rather than in traditional styles of learning.

In this post, the first in our series on Gen Z in the workplace, we’ll explore some of the characteristics of Gen Z that are likely to influence their behavior at work and how to best support them as they enter the workforce. Stay tuned for a future post that will explore Gen Z’s learning preferences and what this means for your L&D offerings.

The top skills to help Gen Z employees succeed on the job

1. Communication 

Despite the fact that they’ve grown up in a digitally connected world, the majority of Gen Z employees actually prefer to communicate at work via face-to-face conversations according to the research by Robert Half cited earlier. Members of Gen Z tend to thrive on genuine relationships with authority figures, so it’s important for managers to prioritize communicating in an authentic and meaningful way with their youngest employees. 

Growing up with the instant feedback loop of media has led Gen Z to expect regular feedback on their performance. According to a study by Future Workplace, 25% of Generation Z desire regular feedback while only 3% want annual performance reviews. This means that managers will need to prepare to engage their Gen Z employees with regular check-ins about their performance.

2. Fostering diversity & inclusion

According to Deloitte’s research, Gen Z is the most diverse generation in the nation’s history. The report explains that “Diversity matters to them through many dimensions, not just isolated to race and gender, but also related to identity and orientation.” Additionally, Deloitte finds that inclusion and diversity are critical factors Gen Z considers when considering a job offer.

Consider how you can promote diversity and inclusion to your candidates and employees — are your job descriptions and careers site designed to be inclusive? Is your interview panel comprised of people from different backgrounds? How does your company foster inclusion among employees?

Unconscious bias can affect many workplace decisions such as who to hire and promote and even the language that’s used in performance evaluations. By making your managers aware of their biases, you can help limit their effects and promote a more diverse and inclusive workplace. 

3. Coaching & mentoring

Mentoring ability is the second most popular trait Gen Z employees value in leaders, according to Robert Half’s research. While Gen Z employees are independent and have entrepreneurial inclinations, they still appreciate having support to guide them along the way. 

When it comes to professional development, Deloitte finds that “Gen Z’s preferred career development is to have diverse and entrepreneurial opportunities with the safety of stable employment, and they may offer more loyalty to companies that can offer this.”

While taking a coaching or mentoring approach may not come naturally to all managers, it is a skill that can be developed. Udemy instructor and leadership coach JeanAnn Nichols explains that managers can develop a “mentor mindset” by cultivating curiosity and a growth mindset during interactions with their direct reports.

4. Career exploration

For most people, the early years of their career are a time for exploring their options and discovering their strengths and interests. And with the fluidity of skills coming and going as we undergo a digital transformation, we are moving toward a “role-less” future of work. Career paths will be defined by constant reskilling and movement into new kinds of roles, so instead of job-hopping to new companies, employees will be constantly “role-hopping” within their company. According to the 2019 Global Millennial Survey from Deloitte, 25% of Gen Z believe employers should be responsible for preparing workers for technological changes.

This means employers have two big responsibilities to their Gen Z employees: to help them explore the career opportunities that are available to them and to help them ensure their skills are up to date so they can adapt to technological developments.

5. Business writing

Gen Z employees have grown up writing texts and social media posts, but they may not be familiar with the conventions of writing in a business setting. Abbreviations, emoji, and a lack of punctuation may be commonplace in social media, but they can come across as unprofessional in workplace communications. For example, Udemy’s 2019 Workplace Boundaries Report found that 37% of employees believe their coworkers are too informal on chat and messaging.

Employers may find that offering training on written business communication helps Gen Z employees adapt their writing style to the work environment.

6. Focus & productivity

Gen Z employees have grown up with the internet and social media — the answers to questions are just a quick search away and their phones are constantly available as sources of information, entertainment, and companionship. But phones are also a source of distraction. The Udemy 2018 Workplace Distraction Report found that 69% of younger workers say checking their personal device interferes with their concentration. Millennials and Gen Z are also the most likely generations to describe themselves as distracted at work: 74% say they’re distracted, 46% say it makes them feel unmotivated, and 41% say it stresses them out. 

Employers have an opportunity to help Gen Z employees by providing training in how to limit distractions and improve productivity. In fact, the Udemy Workplace Distraction Report found that 70% of employees believe that training can help people learn to block out distractions and become more productive.

The workforce is already transforming with the influx of Gen Z employees. By understanding their unique needs, you can help prepare your managers for the new generation and create a company where Gen Z employees can thrive. Check out how L&D leaders at Culture Amp and other Silicon Valley startups are training their Gen Z workforce to be leaders of tomorrow.