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Book Summary: Gen Z At Work

A new generation is starting to hit our workforce, yet no one seems to be talking about it: Generation Z. Born 1995–2012.

Until now we may have thought about Gen Z as consumers, and know how to sell toys and tech for teenagers. However, we have not thought about them as employees and what it will take to recruit, retain, manage, or motivate them.

We have concentrated on earlier generations. Baby Boomers who are now retiring and whose knowledge we need to retain. Millennials who are now graduated, are parents, have houses and are our becoming new leaders. Thirdly we have the Gen X mavericks - the parents of Gen Z who until now we have historically ignored or even avoided.

Gen Z is ready and eager to kick some serious butt at work. Careers are top of mind. Stillman and Stillman want to help us 'find' Gen Z and have identified seven traits we need to be aware of. Let’s find out what they are.

Trait #1: Phigital

Gen Z is the first generation born into a world where every physical aspect (people and places) has a digital equivalent. Gen Z lives in a world where because of advances in technology the barriers between physical and digital have been eliminated. The authors call it 'phigital'. 

It’s not that the other generations don’t know how to live in a phigital world it’s just that Gen Z knows no other world. The problem is that businesses are not forward thinking. In fact, many are still stuck trying to make a distinction between physical and digital.

More than just how Gen Z works, phigital will also change the way we communicate in business.

Traditionally, communication at work has been very formal. We cannot assume Gen Z will know that they probably shouldn’t send 'u' instead of 'you' to a client. Similarly with face-to-face communication. Gen Z will need to learn that there is an art to listening and responding in real time, and that in life, you don’t always get to take things back or make them perfect. 

We need to be open to new additions to Gen Z communication - they may be abbreviated, virtual, visual, video, or even symbolic; all of them can enhance communication and help us become phigital businesses.

Trait #2 Hyper-Custom

Gen Z has grown up in an era of acceptance and support that has encouraged them to customise their personal brand and share it with the world. Gen Z’s hyper-customisation goes beyond just showcasing their own brand for the world, and they want their employers to leverage it.              

Too often companies pigeon new employees according to experience and need. Gen Z want to share more and hope employers will ask. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is all about custom career paths. They know that in order to pull in Gen Z they have to break the stereotype that there is only one path to success. PwC work with Gen Zers to design their own path, because they are the only person who knows what is best for their career.

This has a performance upside. The more customised a career path is, the more employees can be pushed to hit results that truly match their capabilities and not be lumped together with everyone else. However, for every up there is a down. The downside to Gen Z’s push for hyper-customised career paths is that previous generations might not know how to react or evaluate them. Because it is so customised, it would be hard to know how the applicant would fit into a more traditional structure, or even if they should be taken seriously.

Gen Z approach training in a similar customised manner. Gen Z will push for more of a learn-on-the-job approach, where they are put in real-world scenarios and when faced with something they need to know, they stop and learn. Whether it is a formal learning and development department or a directory of skill sets around the office, Gen Z will want to have access to mentors who can help answer their custom questions. Show and tell.

Trait #3 Realistic

Growing up during the aftermath of 9/11, with terrorism part of everyday life, as well as living through a severe recession early on, has created a very pragmatic mindset when it comes to planning and preparing for the future.

Gen Z sees the world changing at such a rapid pace. When they pick up a used textbook that smells like moth balls from the university bookstore, it is harder for Gen Z to see how those teachings are relevant to their future. All that Gen Z hears is how the workplace is looking for practical experience and that the job they may have in later years hasn’t been invented yet.

Having got them in the door, organisations have to make Gen Zers feel their contributions are valued so much they never want to leave. Yet Gen Z thinks of a career in life phases. They could start their careers in a phase of working hard at climbing a corporate ladder for fifteen years, getting loads of experience. 

Then they could enter the childrearing phase and work for ten years at a smaller company that offers more flexibility so they can be around more with the kids. Paying for their kids’ college could then have them entering a phase of throwing their hat in the start-up ring for another ten years.

Come their empty-nest phase, they will still feel as though they have a good twenty-five or more years left in them and could try an international stint, go back to a big company, maybe even school. For Gen Z to say that they will commit to a company is normal. It may seem a 'lifetime' to us, but to Gen Z, it’s not.

Trait #4 Fear of Missing Out

Being connected to information and peers is like breathing air to Gen Z. If Gen Z don’t feel connected they feel something is wrong. The problem is that they always feel like they have to check. They don’t want to be the one who missed out on what everyone else is talking about.

What does this mean to business? It’s all about variety. So many large companies are primed to attract Gen Z because they can offer such a vast array of opportunities. However, many will miss the mark because they are still stuck in silos. It may just be that smaller companies will have an easier time with Gen Z. It’s not unusual for a smaller company to pitch thus: “Around here you get to wear a lot of hats because we are smaller”. To compete, larger companies need to turn to job rotation.

Each part of the rotation offers new learning and development opportunities, new networking opportunities, and hands-on work experience. Rotation participants may be able to travel to different offices. It would be hard to feel as though you were missing out on anything if you got to see and experience so much.

Gen Z’s FOMO will be an asset in the sales and marketing department. In fact, good sales and marketing professionals have been tapping into FOMO for years. Gen Z will be perfect for the role of staying on top of the competition and various industry information. However, Gen Z will have to understand that one post might not mean more than... well, one post. They will need to learn to monitor and look for multiple posts that they can share with their coworkers and managers and thus together identify a true trend.

Trait #5 Weconomists

Gen Z are a sharing bunch as long as it is about being convenient, efficient, and economic. This mindset will go beyond just looking for ways to be resourceful with funds to looking for ways to be resourceful with skills. If Gen Zers have a task but not necessarily the best ability to complete it they will look for someone who is more capable and ask them to do it. It will not only get done better and a lot faster, it will be less stressful as well. That’s being a weconomist.

Gen Z will walk in the door of an employer with the weconomist mentality and believe that delegating to people is the way to work. It will have nothing to do with ownership. They simply trade tasks according to who can do it best. It comes back to convenience, efficiency, and being economical.

Leaders have to decide if at the end of the day they want to control who does the job or just that it gets done right. Could Gen Z’s approach create an environment where work does get done better and faster? Could someone with the necessary skills in a different department help out even if it means they don’t change jobs? Could their skill sets be shared? 

Equally, some of the best relationships will be with clients, so why not leverage the collective good with them as well? Keep in mind, leveraging can go both ways with a client. It won’t always have to be about asking the client for something. It can be about giving something, too.

Trait #6   Do It Yourself

Gen Z is truly the do-it-yourself generation. For Gen Z, they look at everything, even their careers, through the lens of doing it themselves. 

The good news is that an independent, self-reliant bunch sounds great in a fast-changing world. The bad news is that in the world of work, where Millennials have pushed for team building and collaboration to become cornerstones, this attitude may not be so great. 

Gen Z is so used to figuring out everything on their own that they will assume their definition of a project is the right one and just go with it. We can’t afford for Millennials to be so turned off that they simply turn away. If we check in with Gen Z too far down the line, we run the risk of too much time and even resources being wasted.

Gen Z’s DIY attitude means they will push organisations to bring a lot of functions in-house that have traditionally been outsourced. Gen Z will push companies to uncover more skills within employees that have been hidden because they weren’t part of a job description. Managing DIY Gen Z will involve embracing their push to identify internal skills that could actually save time and money. At the same time, part of mentoring DIY Gen Z will be showing them how to analyse the fine line between whether a company can do something by itself and whether it should.

Trait #7  Driven

A big difference between Millennials and Gen Z is that Gen Zers are more competitive.

Millennials were told by Boomer parents that if everyone works together, everyone can benefit. The result was an extremely collaborative generation that teamed up to get the job done. As Millennials step into management, they will have to learn how to harness Gen Z’s competitive drive rather than see it as not being a team player. Ideally they can put it to work to go the extra mile.

Gen Z is wired to make decisions at lightning speeds. Their drive to get ahead will keep them from overthinking things. They will do what they can to keep the momentum going.

Gen Z’s main objective is to make a decision and drive ahead. That’s how they’ve been conditioned. Yet it’s one thing to come up with an answer; it’s another to develop an opinion or suggestion. We need to be sure to encourage and create cultures for Gen Z to take the time to form their own opinions, think them through, bounce them off people, and not feel like they have to make decisions too quickly.

As a driven generation, Gen Z has grown up to believe that if you keep things more private, there is less of a chance of things getting in your way, or even worse, getting you in trouble. Part of this comes from growing up in a world where it’s a lot harder to keep and even protect personal information. Gen Z’s private nature could be a good thing if they don’t share competitive information with the outside world, but it could become problematic if lack of sharing plays out within the organisation.

The other aspect to monitoring privacy is to be sure that Gen Z’s driven attitude doesn’t lead them to bury mistakes. Yes, it’s true that they don’t fear failing. However, that doesn’t mean they will be eager to share when they actually do fail. They would rather put it quietly behind them and move on discretely. 


It is time to explore change. Could your organisation imagine multiple career paths at the same time? Could employees come up with their own job titles? Could you create a workplace to exploit skills rather than one supporting a hierarchy? Gen Z is here. Now is the time to exploit their unique traits.


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