Generation Z is in the workforce in a big way. About one in four workers is born after 1996, and McKinsey says the generation makes up about 40 percent of global consumers. We're already seeing Gen Z's impact in the world and the workplace, especially when it comes to communication-- and I think it's great.
First, some characteristics of Gen Z: It's the first fully "digital native" generation, it's more diverse than ever, and its members are more educated than others before it, according to the Pew Research Center. When Gen Z members show up at work, they're casual, authentic, and more likely to bring their full selves. Employers are responding: Rather than requiring these young workers to assimilate into a professional context, companies are changing to meet them where they are.
Here are three ways Gen Z is influencing our workplace, how our communication has changed, and why we're better for it.
Gen Z values authenticity and honesty at work. There's less distance between who they are in their work and real lives, and it shows up in how they dress and speak and what they choose to share with colleagues. With a front-row seat to life-altering events like 9/11, "forever" wars, a global pandemic, and climate change, Gen Z is more tuned into social and environmental causes than generations before it, according to Pew.
The generation understands the influence it has both over the economy and employment, and has no time to waste getting started. They prefer frank, to-the-point communication, "in-person" interactions (according to the BBC, researchers point out that they consider web-based calls like Zoom to be "in-person"), and alignment between their values and those of their employer. The result is more fruitful conversations among executives about how to create a more welcoming workplace, less rigid norms for job attire and grooming, and crisper, more straightforward corporate messaging.
The benefit? We see artifacts like core values prominently featured on corporate websites, crisper written communication with thoughtful "TL;DR" ("too long; didn't read") summaries, friendly in-app UX writing, and a broader shared understanding of what it means to be professional.
The first generation to grow up with a smartphone, Gen Z is used to constant connectivity, more ways to communicate (chat, text, social media, and in-app comments), and fast switching between work, friend, family, and other modes. They are more likely than other generations to carry their style-- crisp writing, abbreviations and acronyms, and emojis to convey sentiment-- with them across modes. They're more likely to tap out, "That's fire" (Meaning, that's cool), "KWIM" ("Know what I mean?"), or an imp emoji (representing anger, evil, or devilish behavior) to their co-worker (or even their boss or client) than they are to craft a carefully-written email.
The benefit? Work-speak doesn't have to be so buttoned-up. We can get to the point more quickly and have a little fun doing it. That means using a clever emoji or silly meme to capture the absurdity of the moment or to create a shared joke with co-workers. And that's worth a lot!
The most important impact Gen Z has had on our work communication is to make it more inclusive. With nearly half of the generation identifying as a racial or ethnic minority according to Pew, it is the most diverse yet. It is also the most accepting of same-sex marriage and gender fluidity, with one-third knowing someone who prefers others use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to them, and 59 percent believing that forms and online profiles should include gender-neutral options, per Pew.
Some of the artifacts of Gen Z's presence in the workplace include gender-neutral pronouns (e.g., "they/them"), the use of "x" at the end of gendered identifiers such as "Latinx" and "folx," and sensitivity to (often leading to the removal of) words and phrases with racist origins, such as "crack the whip" when talking about a tough manager or "master/slave" in the context of software development. Our workplace not only sounds more inclusive, but those words cause us to think carefully about whether it is inclusive. And if the answer is "no," they can prompt change.
Gen Z is making its mark on the world. As the generation grows up and enters the job market, it is shaping the way we write and speak in the workplace. We're more authentic, we bring our full selves to work, and we're less concerned about context-switching between our professional and personal lives. We're crisper and more straightforward in our communication, with visual cues to convey sentiment and thoughtful summaries in our longer messages.
Most importantly, we're more inclusive in the words and phrases we use, resulting in a more welcoming and sensitive workplace befitting our changing society.