Work Smarter//

I’m a CHRO. Here’s What I’m Learning From Generation Z.

They may love a good selfie, but they actually prefer face-to-face communication at work.

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By G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock
By G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock

American Graffiti. The Breakfast Club. Reality Bites.

Nearly every generation has a movie that is said to define them. (I grew up in The Breakfast Club years!) Fortunately, Hollywood stereotypes rarely reflect the complexity behind the ideals, behaviors, and beliefs of decades past.

That’s proving to be true of the newest generation to enter the workforce as well: Gen Z, the cohort that grew up with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. In the workplace, the number of employees who are members of the Gen Z generation is growing quickly. It’s estimated they will be more than one-third of the global workforce next year.

At their oldest, they’re only 24. But I’m learning that they’re wise beyond their years, and that their reality is a lot different than we’ve been led to believe. Notably, Gen Z is not as self-absorbed or entitled as employers may think. In fact, Gen Z’s work styles defy stereotypes, according to new research that we did at ServiceNow. They are pragmatic and eager to exceed expectations. They want to learn from older generations, despite the “OK, Boomer” meme. They are also tech-savvy, socially aware, and counting on technology to drive the future of work.

Technology should make work life as easy as real life

Gen Z grew up with smartphones in hand. Despite being dubbed “digitally native,” however, many say that apps and software at work are still too difficult to use. Especially when starting a new job: The number of to-dos and tasks just to get set up on email, IM, an intranet, and a share drive, for example, can be complex and overwhelming.

So, what do Gen Zs expect from technology at work? Simplicity. Mobile technology especially has made our personal lives simple, easy, and intuitive. Gen Z wants the same from the technologies they use at work.

Our Gen Z respondents were very clear about what types of technology they want to use. Their wish list includes 5G networks to speed up their work, connected/smart devices and wearables to let them get work done on the go, and A.I. tools to help make them more productive.

Employers who can harness the power of innovative technologies to make work life more like real life will have an advantage in attracting and retaining this new generation.

Talk, don’t text

One myth that our survey busted is that Gen Zs prefer text to talking. In our survey, while managers said they believe their Gen Z employees prefer to communicate via text or other forms of instant message, when we asked Gen Zs, they said exactly the opposite.

While some may be able to text faster than they type, the majority of Gen Z employees we surveyed prefer in-person interactions at work. That’s especially true during performance reviews and feedback sessions. Gen Zs said they prefer to have conversations face-to-face in order to avoid misinterpreting tone, and to be able to ask questions immediately, versus waiting.

For me, it was a good learning. While I may text with my 20-something daughter and sons during the day, when it comes to coaching one of our early-in-career employees, it’s important to make time to meet with them. They seek a connection that a text can’t create on its own.

We all need balance

It’s true that Gen Z has grown up in a world of on-demand. But that doesn’t mean they’re able to cope with the stresses or the pressure of being always on. Rather, Gen Zs told us that one of their biggest challenges at work, especially when they’re starting a new job, is managing stress and burnout. All the technology in the world can’t fix that.

But employers can. Managers with Gen Z employees can help by giving their employees interesting work that makes an impact. (Gen Z also loves purpose-driven companies — serving the communities in which they work!) Managers can help all employees, including Gen Z, understand the purpose behind what they’re being asked to do. Give them context so they can make better decisions. That will go a long way with Gen Zs, who told us that when choosing an employer, their top two priorities are growth opportunities and interesting work.

As employers, we can and should help shake the stereotypes associated with the newest generation to join us at work. We can listen, we can learn, and we can help create an environment and culture that not only equip Gen Zs to improve and grow, but also help their managers adapt to their needs. As a mother of two Gen Zs, I would love for all employers to embrace this generation as they are teaching me as a CHRO just as much as we are committed to developing them.

Visit our blog for some video interviews with ServiceNow’s Gen Z generation.

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