The Differences Between Generation Z & Millennials in the Workplace

It was my privilege to meet with some recent graduates who were willing to discuss their transition from college to career. Fortunately, this informal focus group was made up of males and females from four different ethnicities and various parts of the country. I felt like I got a good sampling of the mindset of today’s youngest worker. Can you guess the number one revelation I received from them?

Their first job experiences are different than the Millennials I met with a decade ago.

After processing my conversation with them, I began searching for quantitative data to see if it corresponded with what I had heard. I came across the “Monitoring the Future” survey of teens and young adults, and it confirmed what my group had said. In fact, it was uncanny.

The Upside of Generation Z at Work

Due to the recession they experienced while growing up, Gen Z students migrate into their careers more pragmatic than Millennials at their age. In fact, the survey revealed what the majority of them were like:

1. Sober and pragmatic

While Millennials garnered the reputation of being idealistic about their career path, and they anticipated how quickly they’d move up the corporate ladder, Gen Z has been sobered by the two economic downturns of the 21st century. They recognize the path is rockier than expected, forcing them to err on the side of caution and practicality.

2. Industrious and curious

Instead of assuming they’ll be “awesome” at anything they set their hand to do (as many Millennials did), Gen Z appears to show up ready to work hard and seek out the best way to accomplish their tasks. They heard too many horror stories of employers griping about the entitled mindset of the previous generation and firing them.

3. Driven by income

I probably shouldn’t list this item on the “upside” of Gen Z characteristics, but I did because they seem to enter their career more savvy about money. They understand the need to both earn it and save it. They show signs of being in touch with reality when it comes to receiving bonuses and raises for working hard.

The Downside of Generation Z at Work

The “Monitoring the Future” data also revealed some sub-optimal traits of Gen Z on the job as well. Because they’ve grown up in tougher times, but with more smart technology than previous generations of grads, they carry with them these qualities:

1. Socially awkward

This one may not surprise you. Many college graduates today are better interacting on a portable device than face to face. Because they’re both young and inexperienced, these new professionals are a bit clumsy in conversation and with interviews. We will need to work with them on interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

2. Timid about taking the reins

Full-time work means assuming responsibility with projects and even receiving your supervisors delegated tasks from time to time. Because many have never worked a job while in school, this timidity is simply a factor of anxiety and inexperience. We will need to speak words of hope and belief to them.

3. Short attention spans

Generation Z experienced lots of change growing up, and they love mobility when it comes to projects. It is tougher for them to stick to one task for a long period of time. For many, it’s a new experience. I’ve reported before their attention span is 8 seconds. We will need to break down tasks into smaller bites and prepare them for non-glitzy jobs.

The graduates I spoke with each had anxiety about not finding the right job that will satisfy them and enable them to make enough money to live comfortably. In fact, that was their biggest fear. So, I am celebrating the positives we see in Gen Z, but working to equip them to face those negatives and overcome them.

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The Differences Between Generation Z & Millennials in the Workplace