Millennials – a self-expressive, diverse and inspired generation. In the workplace, they demand continuous opportunities for learning and upward mobility, flexibility and balance. Just as managers and learning leaders start to grasp millennial demands by implementing more lenient work schedules and innovative technologies, another generation creeps into the workforce. Generation Z – or the iGeneration – presents us with its first wave of graduates already later this spring. And, with this generation comes a whole new set of expectations.
To understand what will engage the iGeneration in the workplace, it’s important to understand what this group values, as well as the world in which they grew up. To start, the iGeneration is the first true tech-dependent generation. Unlike millennials, Gen Z grew up with smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and immediate access to games, resources and answers. Because they rely on technology for nearly everything, the iGeneration will expect to be able to take their work and learning environments with them. Mobile learning and collaboration apps are no longer an option, but a requirement for Gen Z.
Additionally, when it comes to diving right in and leading projects, the younger Generation Z needs time to learn and build confidence, as opposed to millennials who eagerly welcome a challenge. A recent report by Universum, in collaboration with INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, The HEAD Foundation and MIT Leadership Center, tells us that 33 percent of Gen Z lacks the confidence it takes to lead. Could this be driven by the fact that 34 percent say they are afraid of failing in a leadership position? It’ll be up to managers to give Gen Z the extra vote of confidence needed to reach their true potential early on.
Another trait Gen Zers possess is skepticism. In the wake of “fake news” and having grown up listening to as-it-happens reporting on issues like terrorism, social change and struggling economies, the iGeneration is skeptical and slow to place their trust in both people and processes. Expect members of Gen Z to back up what you teach them by referencing their own sources. Since fact checking is expected, it may be beneficial to provide members of the iGeneration with a platform that hosts content that is both published by expert authors and publishers, and recommended by trustworthy networks.
What does all of this mean for learning professionals?
Before a new generation enters the workforce, it is important that learning professionals and managers audit their current processes, technologies and cultures. Then, set a plan that will engage and retain both new and established generations. Now that we understand Gen Z a bit more, here are a few “to-dos” that are a must when it comes to keeping the iGeneration happy:
1. Adopt a form of modern mobile learning technology, if you haven’t already: As previously mentioned, mobile apps that support things like learning, communication and networking with colleagues or experts are no longer simply an option. The iGeneration wants access to content in multiple different formats provided by a wide range of sources, and they want it readily available on any device. Since members of this generation prefer to validate information, it’s best if the learning resources provided come from industry experts or that the resources have gone through the publishing process. Combining content with the ability to network and challenge concepts in a central location will engage Gen Z more so than if they had to log into multiple apps at once. One key point, however, is that Gen Z doesn’t want to pay for an all-encompassing, mobile learning solution. If it’s provided through the company as a perk, they’ll be happy to use it.
2. Instill confidence in your Gen Z team: Though these “youngsters” may not be confident in leading right away, as compared to their millennial counterparts who boast more experience, push them to do so by offering opportunities to “reverse mentor”. For example, Gen Z knows the ins and outs of technology. Encourage members of this new generation to share their input on the best uses for tech in the workplace, or have them teach other generations about ways to streamline processes with technology. By allowing them to teach or give input about something they’re familiar with, you’ll instill in them the confidence needed to speak up and share knowledge more frequently. And eventually, the iGeneration will warm up to taking on other tasks or roles that may be a bit outside of their comfort zone.
3. Fully support informal learning and collaboration: We spoke to a few members of the iGeneration, and learned that informal learning and collaboration are shiny concepts for this age group, maybe even more so than with millennials. Consider open workspaces that encourage collaboration with colleagues at any level. Additionally, allow members of Gen Z time to debate concepts with their team members. In universities, often times lectures run long, leaving students with no option but to sit on their thoughts. Gen Z wants to challenge what they learn, to debate with like-minded individuals and to come up with new solutions in a collaborative setting. This type of open environment is expected, both online and off.
There is still much to learn about what makes Generation Z tick and what will keep them engaged in their careers. But instead of being reactive, take what is known now, and refine your processes and technologies to accommodate your entire workforce of the future. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that everyone wants to grow, succeed and contribute –including our newest pool of talent – the iGeneration.
Heather MacNeill, a 15-year technology veteran, serves as Head of Communications for BlueBottleBiz – the first collaborative learning platform for business professionals.