They are young. They are driven. They are pragmatic. They crave financial stability. They won't put away their laundry no matter how many times you ask them.

OK, that last sentence may just refer to the two adorable Gen-Zers who happen to be my offspring. But this next group has just started to hit the workforce (the oldest are 23), and will undoubtedly be the topic of much discussion. (We really should shut up about Millennials, because as the oldest of that group approach 40, we should realize that many have moved into middle management and are making the policies now.)

The Wall Street Journal put together information about how Gen-Z differs from previous generations. Here are those differences and what it means to you when they start coming to work. 

Less likely to be risk takers (but that's good and bad)

Gen-Z high school seniors are less likely to have tried alcohol and had sex than their previous generations of the same age. That shows responsibility. But they are also less likely to have a driver's license, which shows caution and a dependence on others.

In theory, this is because they spend so much time on their smartphones that they don't need to leave the house to interact with peers. That keeps teen sex from happening and alcohol consumption down. 

It also means they haven't had as much experience dealing face-to-face with people and problems. When you're texting, you can just walk away, but getting up and walking out of a meeting is rude and inappropriate. You may have to do some general coaching of how to behave in groups, especially where it's not structured, like at a conference, when there is free time. You may also want to increase your text communications rather than face-to-face. It's what they are used to.

Gen-Z isn't interested in self-employment, but they are interested in finances

They want financial security; 82 percent of college freshmen prioritize becoming well off. Only 36 percent of their grandparents made that a priority in 1970.

They aren't, though, terribly interested in gaining that financial security through starting their own company. This means they may be more interested in staying put and working their way up the ladder. As the oldest Gen-Zers are only 23, how this plays out in the working world remains to be seen, but they don't espouse the desire to break out on their own right now.

This goes along with their lower risk tolerance (see above). A job gives you a steady paycheck while starting your own company has lots of risks.

Gen-Z is also less willing to take on college debt. They've seen the damage of their parents and older siblings. It's still a high amount--47 percent of freshman took on loans in 2016, but it's a considerable drop from 53 percent in 2009.

This means your benefits may need to change. Companies that offer loan forgiveness may have to look toward other methods to attract the best and the brightest. 

They are more diverse than previous generations

Gen-Z understands diversity of race because they've lived it. There are far more Hispanic Gen-Zers than there were in Gen-X or Millennials. And a lot more "others." That other isn't defined but could be made up largely of mixed race people.

What does this mean? Well, they grew up with their classmates looking different. In addition to race, they also have grown up with very different attitudes toward homosexuality and sexuality in general. In other words, diversity is part of their life experience.

This, of course, will vary from location to location, as demographics vary wildly, but don't be surprised when their normal is your company diversity goal.

They are still just people

Remember, it's important not to let the "group" overshadow the individual. You need to talk to the individual to understand what is important to that person and what that person needs, not just assume that everyone under 23 is the same.

Published on: Sep 8, 2018